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Monday, December 31

12 Songs for Christmas

Blackbird in my garden, photographed through kitchen window.
There's all sorts of ways to express affection during the holiday season. Along with being a big card person, the kind printed on paper, with a handwritten letter inside, addressed in fountain pen, with a festive stamp on the envelope; I like sharing music. Christmas music. 

A couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, I come up with a playlist to share with friends and family. In most cases, these will be songs many people haven't heard in a long time, if ever. The exception being Handel. Handel, for me, is Christmas.

Here's this year's offering . . . 

December 13th

Song 1: Pink Martini's Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Little Candles) 

Today's rumba, seriously, it's a Christmas rumba, is from one of my favourite groups, Pink Martini. You won't find a better holiday collection anywhere than their "Joy to The World" album. The song's title is Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Little Candles) 

It's too too much fun. I will be sending several tunes from Pink Martini as it's holiday music you don't hear everywhere. I caught them on the radio here in England a few years ago. Richard and I were so captivated, he bought me most of their cds a short time later. 

Come to think of it, this tune is actually from Richard. 

I hope it delights you and brings a big smile to your lips.

December 14th

Song 2: Pink Martini's Congratulations

If this tune doesn't make you smile, you're not having nearly enough fun. It's one terrific little number, you're not likely to have heard before.

December 15th

Song 3: Heidi Igualada's Fuentecilla Que Corres

Today's Christmas tune is from Cuba. How many Cuban Christmas songs have you heard in your life? Hopefully, this tune will change that.

I'll be working in the Hospice Charity Shop today. Home tonight after 6:00 GMT.

Have a terrific weekend.
Friends Colleen, Lynn and Brandy in California.
 Colleen set up and took this shot herself. 

December 16th

Song 4: Elvis Presley's Merry Christmas Baby

The sun's shining brightly in my part of the world. It's one of those rare, sparkling, English winter days, made for strolling arm-in-arm and sipping ale in 12th century, timbered pubs. In reality, I'm doing a mountain of laundry, between making fish stock and scrubbing down my little casa, in eager preparation for Alicia and Brian. My beloved, daring duo are flying in from Cairo Saturday night, for a proper English Christmas.

The holiday tunes are keeping me rocking. Ever notice how much easier chores are with music? Today I'm listening to Elvis's many Christmas collections. He must have recorded more Christmas music than any other recording star of any era. And 99.8% of it is divine. 

If you're a fan of the blues and Elvis, but especially the blues, you'll enjoy this song. It's from his "Christmas Peace" collection of 40 Christmas songs. 

I love to hear him sing just about anything. There's nothing he doesn't sing pretty, from blues and gospel, to rock and disco. The King had it going on like no other songster. 

His daughter, Lisa Marie, lives here in England, near Rotherfield in East Sussex, with her fourth husband and a couple of Elvis's grandchildren. Wouldn't that be interesting, knowing Elvis was your grandfather?

Here's "Merry Christmas Baby."

December 17th

Song 5: Swallow Tail Jig

Today's song is short and sweet. As I will soon have a real, flesh and blood Irish musician in my house, it's an Irish jig. 

If you're a fan of Irish and Celtic music, this toe-tapper is from a collection titled: Irish & Celtic Christmas Nollag: Folk Classics,  39 recordings released November 2010. I recently downloaded all 39 recordings from iTunes, after sampling many of the offerings. 

It's a superb collection with songs like "Irish Washerwoman;" "Celtic Thunder on Christmas Eve;" "Drowsy Maggie;" "Celtic Christmas Love Song." There's also many traditional songs featured.

The real Irishman, Brian, is probably rolling his eyes at this point. He may consider this musack and feel embarrassed for me that I can't tell the difference between musack and real Irish music. 

December 18th

Song 6: Johnny Hess and Charles Trenet's Le Petit Noel

Shall we head to Paris today for a puffy, Grand Marnier Soufflé at my favourite little Parisian restaurant?

Here, one late winter evening, Richard and I each devoured a soufflé starter; a soufflé entreé and a soufflé dessert. The waiter left the bottle of Grand Marnier on our table for us to add as much as we wanted to our last souffles. By the time he returned, we had nearly polished it off. He nonchalantly added another 40 euros to the bill and comped the coffee, which in Paris can cost nearly as much as the booze. 

Though our hotel was in the neighbourhood, we got lost walking back and ended up forking out a small fortune for a horse and carriage ride through the city of lights. It was the best birthday of my life.

This reminds me to order a bottle of Grand Marnier. Think I'll make souffle for New Year's Eve.


We can get to Paris in about two hours, by train, from London. Or, we can treat ourselves to a bit of French music. I give you Le Petit Noel by Johnny Hess and Charles Trenet. 

If you saw the silent film "The Artist," winner of this year's Academy Award for best film, this song would be right at home there.

Amusez-vous bien! 

December 19th

Song 7: Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Wonderful World

Wonderful World has been done by everybody from Louis Armstrong to Eva Cassidy and the Hawaiian singer known as IZ (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) My dear friend, Lis, says this is the song she wants played at her wake one day. 

Though not technically a Christmas song, I can't think of another song that better expresses the gratitude of being alive than this sweet poem to life. 

IZ died in the late 90's at the age of 38. 38.

Here's the lyrics to What A Wonderful World

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

December 20th

Song 8: Greensleeves

"Ready for Christmas?"

This is the questions I've been asked daily for the past week.

Nooooooo. Not by a long shot. I over do Christmas the same way I over do everything I love. I exhaust myself with the decorating, the baking, the cards, the feasting, the feasts, the feast. A friend recently commented the world is divided between Christmas people and non-Christmas people. I agree. Fortunately, most folks I know are very much Christmas people. 

All 73 of my cards have been mailed. If you haven't received yours, you will any day. I'm a big card person and can happily report the English share my enthusiasm for cards. 

Most people here seem to have their mailbox in their door. Cards are slipped through the slot at all hours of the day and night by friends and neighbours. 

When I first moved here, it startled me to hear something drop through the mail slot around midnight. I thought it might be a prankster with a little parcel of dog poo. Richard rolled his eyes and commented, "This isn't America, Darling. The English are a  civilised people."

Even people I don't know, put cards through my mailbox. This inspires me to do the same. I left a card last evening in the new neighbours' box, thanking them for doing such a terrific job decorating their house. They recently moved across the street from me. It's a big street. I love seeing all the twinkling lights. I have no idea who they are, but appreciate their spirit.


If I played an instrument, it would be a cello. If I composed a song, it would be Greensleeves. Henry The VIII is often mentioned as the composer of one of my favourite tunes, but then he would say that, wouldn't he? In truth credit goes to one Richard Jones, 1580 London.

In spite of the global nature of the songs I've chosen to share, I mostly listen to what can be broadly called classical music, with heavy emphasis on Baroque and Renaissance. Handel's my favourite composer (we'll get to him shortly) I'm also quite fond of the usual foursome, Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Beethoven, with plenty of new age style Enya and Yanni for variety.

I go in for fun music when cooking or doing chores; classical music when working, contemplating, relaxing, and driving. 

Do you have favourite music genre?

Favourite Christmas recording?

My friend, Bernadette, reminded me of The Pogue's "Fairytale of New York" yesterday. Oh yes. I too love that song. 

Several friends have mentioned they don't usually listen to music with words. If you're one of them, we could be heading in that direction.

Here's the elegant, slightly ethereal, transporting Greensleeves. 

About the attached photo: While visiting Veneda last week, her cat, Rue, spontaneously jumped on her head. Apparently this is a common event in the Harris household. Their cat likes to perch like a parrot. Here's one more reason I'm a dog person. Dogs do not take such liberties.

December 21st

Song 9: Chanticleer's Ava Maria

Ah, the Winter Solstice is here. It arrives at 11:12 a.m. GMT. The sun is now as far south as it can go. This is the beginning of the end of our long, dark nights (unless you have the good fortune to be in New Zealand, like Diane and Lucy) Of course, this being England, where day often looks like night, alleviating the darkness part is something of an empty promise.

I treated myself to a hot citrus bath this morning, popular in many parts of Asia this time of year. If you don't have lemon, or orange oil, try combining a small handful of sea salt with the juice of four lemons. Soak in your hot, citrusy tub for at least 15 minutes. You might be surprised how invigorating this is, especially in deep, dark winter.

Consider making a gift of your favourite oils to yourself. Natural peppermint and pine oils are an excellent way to give your home, or office, the uplifting smell of Christmas.

I realize this has absolutely nothing to do with today's song. There's no way for me to tie them together. I should probably attach a Gregorian Chant. I have plenty of them, but they're not at the top of my list. Today's song has a bit of that in it, but takes it up a few notches. 

I've seen Chanticleer, the all male, San Francisco choral group, in concert a number of times. They put on a good show. if you get the chance to see them perform, you'll enjoy yourself.

This is the longest recording, at nearly seven minutes.
Happy Winter Solstice.

December 22'nd

Song 10: Yo-Yo Ma with The Silk Road Ensemble and Wu Tong performing Kuai Le from Yo-Yo's Songs of Joy and Peace Album

Christmas is coming a couple days early as Alicia and Brian arrive tonight. I've about a half dozen projects to wrap up before our reunion. Veneda and Mike are due here any minute to hoist a bunch of stuff into the loft. That's what you do when you live in a sweet hobbit house. You talk your best pals into climbing a rickety ladder, into a drafty loft, in the darkness of English winter, to hoist up Rubbermaid crates of non-essentials. I wish to be a minimalist, especially on mornings such as this.

Shall we head east for a little breather?

Who doesn't like Yo-Yo Ma? He's such an appealing, versatile artist. I love his openness to new things. This is an unusual and (to my ears) appealing song; one I'm willing to wager you haven't heard before, unless your have an extensive Ma collection. 

December 23'rd

Song 11: The Christmas Cello, Pachelbel Christmas Canon

Like Greensleeves, I never tire of listening to Pachelbel Canon. There's a romance to this song I adore. Needless to say, you're in for more cello here. This may not be one of the more original choices, but it's too beautiful to resist.

December 24th

Song 12: Hallelujah

You knew I couldn't resist George Fideric Handel's Messiah, didn't you? I confess, it's my number one Christmas oratorio, even though he didn't compose it for Christmas. He created it for Easter. Some 250 years later, it remains his best known work. Plug it into iTunes and you'll see a hundred different cds on offer for The Messiah. 

It is said Beethoven, citing Messiah, claimed Handel to be the greatest composer that ever lived. He created over 40 operas during his five decades living in London.

I've gone to Messiah sing alongs in Sacramento, San Francisco, New York, and London. I've bought the sheet music, even though I don't read music. My favorite part is probably everybody's favourite, the Hallelujah chorus. 

The last happy new year Richard and I shared was spent feasting while listening to a Handel-A-Thon on an excellent classical radio station. This inspired the essay, Ham and Handel:

I'm attaching the Hallelujah chorus. If you love it half as much as I do, sing it out in full voice. I'll be listening for you. I'll be listening.

Happy, Happy Christmas.

December 31'st

Song 13 for the New Year: Mae West's My New Year's Resolutions

I gave up making New Year's resolutions in the early nineties. Instead, I like to go for a stroll and think about a couple of things I'd really like to accomplish in the coming months. It's probably the same thing, but it feels different. 

There's something about a brand, spanking new year I quite fancy. It's like staring at a beautiful, handmade journal, with all the blank pages waiting to be filled with ideas and observations; recipes and reminders; a poem; a sketch; a bird's feather; a pretty leaf; a tear drop; life.

Here's to a year of living lustily and loving with a brave heart.