Five Rules for Christmas CDs

I hope many of you enjoyed our seasonal programming this year with Sonic Seasonings, An Echoes Christmas and An Echoes Winter Solstice. WEXT in Schenectady ran 30 straight hours of Echoes Christmas programming. WXPN in Philadelphia scattered at least 8 hours of programming throughout Christmas day.

These programs tap into a more contemplative and often nostalgic side of Echoes that we don’t always quite evince during the rest of the year. But it’s become increasingly difficult to program a spiritually uplifting, atmospheric show that draws upon new materiel. 2007 was a great year for Echoes music, as evidenced by our Year End polls, but it was a horrible year for new winter music. I think we only added a few new releases this year. Among them were Jeff Greinke’s Winter Light and Patrick O’Hearn’s Glaciation. Greinke’s album was a perfect seasonal CD of all original chilled ambient chamber music. Patrick’s album was possibly unintentionally seasonal, but its title, Glaciation, and its mood, austerely chilled, certainly conjured up the season.

Peter Janson’s Winter Gifts and Autumn’s Child’s An Autumn’s Child Christmas-Greatest Gift were the only new albums with carols on them that got played. Both discs were pleasant, and Peter did a great set for us on Sonic Seasonings, but suffered from the usual seasonal malaise, too many warmed-over Christmas chestnuts.  How many variations of “Silent Night,” “Greensleeves” and “O Come Emmanuel” can there possibly be. Possibly an infinite number, but most Christmas CDs, even from usually more creative sources, eventually fall on tried and true, by-the-numbers renderings. And how many of them can we play? Not too many. This year, not one new release made A Christmas Echoes. When you compare renderings of the last year to earlier releases by Al Petteway and Amy White, R. Carlos Nakai, Ottmar Liebert, Mediaeval Baebes, the Dark Noel collections or the Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice, Christmas and Celtic Christmas collections, the new materiel just doesn’t hold up. And even the best of those were often original tracks, new carols for a new era.


So let me put this out to musicians contemplating seasonal collections.

We don’t need another “Carol of the Bells,” “I Saw Three Ships” or “What Child Is This.” It’s been done, thousands of times.

Draw upon your own Christmas experience, the landscapes where you live, the spirituality you find in the season.

Create a seasonal concept to wrap your themes around instead of trotting out an assemblage of carols or even a disconnected assortment original themes. I want an original image I can latch on to.

If you are going to record carols, reimagine them with arrangements that take them out of the nostalgic middle of the road path they naturally want to travel and take them somewhere new. Listen to R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton’s Winter Dreams as the best example of this. George Winston’s December is another good point of reference.

Winter Dreams for Christmas

Comment posted by
at 12/28/2007 10:10:06 AM

I think of my (Sensitive Chaos) “Nightshift At The Baby Mecha Nursery” as a Christmas song for robots;^)

Happy New Year!


Comment posted by
at 12/28/2007 9:13:06 AM

Tony-I knew about the Robin Bullock piece but I’d forgotten about it. Thanks for teh reminder. I’ll put it on the list for next year.

Comment posted by
at 12/27/2007 9:06:46 PM

Normally I’d agree with you about “Carol of the Bells”. but have you ever hear Robin Bullock’s version on “A Guitar for Christmas”? It’s something very special. He even uses a unique tuning that he doesn’t user for any other song. Listen to 30 seconds of it on iTunes and see what you think!


Tony Heatwole

Comment posted by
at 12/27/2007 8:33:53 PM

i agree with your christmas cd rules. good post!

Comment posted by
at 12/29/2007 10:59:22 AM

Great advice and comments on holiday music, John! I don’t know if I’ll ever do a full length album of Christmas music, but I’ll certainly keep your thoughts in mind if I find the motivation to record one.

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