Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas music


It was always called "Christmas music," and it was always the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Nothing put us in the mood for Christmas more--not the tree, not snow, not shopping, not candles or cookies or lumpy sticky ribbon candy. We loved Christmas music so much that we tried to play it, sometimes, in July, just to recapture that feeling, and so at some point Guv decreed: No Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and no Christmas music after Epiphany.

In between, we made sure it was nonstop.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, maybe as early as 8 in the morning, Up went the lid of the record player, and Out slid a black record from its jacket, and On went the disk to the turntable and Down went the needle and Scratch went the sound and then the melodic choral voices burst forth from the speaker and Whoosh went the joy that instantly flooded our hearts.

No John Denver, no Elvis' "Blue Christmas," no Santa kissing anyone--no, no, no, those were worse than a travesty; they were anti-Christmas. Give us "Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," and "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

I didn't know what Mormons were, nor a Tabernacle, but those words belonged together in my mind, and any tabernacle needed to have a Mormon, preferably a bunch of Mormons standing on risers and singing.

I sat cross-legged on the living room floor in my red feeted pajamas, my back against the window seat, and lost myself in the record jackets. One in particular entranced me--the picture showed pine trees heavy with snow, and the sky behind the trees an intense, vivid blue. The scene looked both familiar and much more peaceful and beautiful than anything I'd ever seen. In my world, deep snow on branches was always knocked off by small boys, and deep snow on the ground was trampled by children in boots, including me, and the sky, while blue, was never indigo.

And then the needle scratched over to the middle, lifted, returned to its resting place, and it was time to get up and flip the record over.

There was always tension at Christmas, ten children, too many presents to buy, too little money, the house hot and crowded, the Mormons forever in the background, singing away, not a moment's peace for anyone, and one year Guv had had it, maybe he'd heard "The Little Drummer Boy" more times than any person could possibly stand to hear (except, maybe, me), and Guv swatted the needle off the rcecord (Scriiiittttch, went the scratch) and grabbed all of the albums of Christmas music and stormed out through the back door to the garbage cans and tossed them in.

The house was utterly silent.

I wept upstairs, quietly, in the Girls' Room. How could there be Christmas without Christmas music?

My mother waited a day or two before acting. She walked out the back, lifted the garbage can lid, rescued the records, and then stuffed them behind the refrigerator. Relief filled my little heart. All spring, all summer, all fall, I walked through the kitchen and gave the big autumn-gold fridge a friendly little nod. Come winter, Christmas would be back. The music had been saved.

14 comments:

Thomas Benjamin Hertzel said...

You should not have posted this.

Shirley said...

For me, Christmas isn't Christmas without the music. The more spiritual, the better. I do enjoy all the variations of Christmas music, but the closer we get to Christmas, the more I enjoy the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and other more religious songs of Christmas.

Irene said...

That was a wonderfully told story, Lautie, and I am sure if we had the talent and the skill, we would all have one like it to tell.

Canadian Chickadee said...

One of my favourite Christmas albums is by the King's College Choir, in Cambridge, England. On the version we have, the choir enters the Cathedral singing "Once in Royal David's City." To me, this is the most beautiful carol in all Christendom, but I had never heard it until I met and married my English husband.

I think special music for special seasons adds so much to the emotional and visceral feel of the days.

Though I can sympathise with your father's feelings towards "The Little Drummer Boy," I'm glad that your mother was able to salvage the beloved albums.

Have a wonderful Christmas! xoxo

Berts Blog said...

What a fun and lovely post. It is a sweet memory. I have to agree, I love Elvis music, absolutely adore anything John Denver, but they never really had it for me in their Christmas Music. Choirs and orchestras....Now thats Christmas.

Klecko said...

As a "Guy", I pretty much just wait for The Little Drummer Boy, even Joan Jett covers this epic classic

Cait O'Connor said...

I like In The Bleak Midwinter

Sandy said...

Bing Crosby for me and some old albums by unnamed groups of people - just title Christmas Music or some such....

Thanks for this, Laurie. A lovely post.

Deborah said...

Mom always lamented how the radio stations' Christmas music started so early, sometimes even before Thanksgiving (horrors!) and then ended promptly at noon on Christmas Day. For most everyone we knew Christmas Eve was the biggest deal, but for us it was always Christmas morning.

And The Little Drummer Boy was her favorite Christmas tune.

Pamela M. Miller said...

Christmas music was a major part of my childhood, too, and a treasured part. I still listen to the old German Christmas music my parents came to love when we were stationed in Germany. Great posting; I'm sure many folks can relate to it.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That must have been a terrifying moment to see your dad break apart like that. Your mom sounds like a smart lady, though. Wait. Breathe. Rescue.

Flea said...

No Dominic the Donkey, huh? ;) Christmas hymns always mean Christmas. What a smart mom you have.

Byf said...

Mormon Tabernacle is what I must have playing when we decorate the tree.

Far Side of Fifty said...


Your Mother was brave to save the music. I never liked Christmas music..so it is good to read that someone enjoys it:)