Saturday, November 22, 2008

Are you ready for Christmas yet?

I was sitting there one day this week, and it hit me - Christmas was five weeks away! Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday I was out in shirtsleeves doing yardwork and now, everything is Christmas for the next several weeks. I guess I had better get a move on here.

Now, I usually look forward to Christmas and revel in the magic of the season and especially the music of the season. Last year, however, I just didn't find the Christmas spirit until almost the last minute. Perhaps it had to do with my Dad being in the hospital right through the holidays last year, and when I wasn't working I was at the hospital with him. Nothing like hospital food to turn you off the holidays, right? So this year, I want to get into the spirit of the season early, and I have already started listening to Christmas music to try and make that happen. I have also been to several Christmas Bazaars this season already, with another at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in about an hour after I finish in the office. There is something about those smiling faces behind the table pushing everything from yesterday's appliances and magazines to some amazing gift baskets and baked goods to help spur you to start enjoying the season. I often don't buy too much; just the feeling of being around kind souls with warm smiles is enough to do it.

As for the music, I have already found a favourite this year, and it is a new one: the latest in the Naxos Leroy Anderson series, to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1908. The new one is titled, not surpisingly, "Sleigh Ride and other Holiday Favourites". This all-orchestral collection featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra with Leonard Slatkin conducting sounds terrific, and includes some very familiar Christmas music, as well as some non-seasonal pieces by Anderson that still sound great. The Christmas Festival medley, still performed by school bands the world over, sounds fresh and sparkling here; even Sleigh Ride sounds pretty spirited. But I also love Anderson's Suite of Carols for String Orchestra, which he produced in 1955. If it has been awhile since you have enjoyed some of Anderson's great seasonal music, this disc is a must have. It is getting great reviews in the press, and is bargain priced at $ 12.00 plus tax on my website, Just go to the Mike's Picks page and you'll find it there. I plan to add more Christmas titles this weekend to the page, including the classic Dean Martin Christmas disc featuring A Marshmallow World, finally back in print again. Next month the picks will be all Christmas, of course, including one I am looking forward to hearing when it comes in this week: A Buckingham Palace Christmas. This choral disc looks quite interesting, and I'll have more to say on it once it arrives and I have a chance to listen to it.

I also delve into my extensive collection of Christmas CDs for discs that are unfortunately long out of print, but still sound great: The Philadelphia Orchestra with the Temple University Concert Choir is still one of my favourites. It came out on Columbia in the early 60's with a lovely gatefold album jacket with extensive liner notes and some of the best arrangements (by Arthur Harris) I have ever heard. I found it on CD a number of years ago, but now it appears to be history. What a shame! A fun disc I found at Lee Valley in Burlington a couple of weeks ago still brings a smile to my face: A Toolbox Christmas. Yes, all your Christmas favourites played on actual tools, like the electric drill, saw and other generally unmusical tools. Don't laugh - it actually sounds good! Glad I picked it up when I was down there.

Next week, we'll look at some of the live performances coming up to get you out of the house and amongst friends for live music at Christmas. For now, if you have a favourite Christmas disc you remember but have not been able to find, let me know and I will see if it is available and I might even be able to get it in time for Christmas. Just email me at And don't forget, my website for A Web of Fine Music ( has extensive listings for events coming up this month and next in the area and beyond, and lots of tempting musical treasures on the Mike's Picks page.

Enjoy the holidays, and may music be a big part of it!

November 22nd, 2008.

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