'Tis the season
…for lousy Christmas carol arrangements.
What is it about Christmas music that leads arrangers into the ugly back alleys of kitsch? Is it simply that it takes a genius to make a good arrangement of a good tune? Copland’s handling of the great Shaker hymn tune in his Appalachian Spring would suggest that. (Speaking of Shaker hymn tunes, we did a concert with the Canadian Brass last night which included a medley of Shaker tunes; I was surprised to find that one was called “The Happy Turkey.” Turns out that my better glasses deciphered that as “The Happy Journey”; more accurate but much less evocative.)
Perhaps it’s just that, in arranging as in performing, semplice is better. As the aeronautical engineers say, “the best thing that can be added to an airplane is some lighness.” The best thing that can be added to most Christmas carols is… nothing. This rule can be waived for geniuses, but there are precious few of them writing Christmas music arrangements.
Oddly, the very worst of the arrangements we’re doing on this year’s Christmas Pops concert were all from the Oxford University Press. It felt a little like going to the Bolshoi and finding oneself watching a burlesque show. Perhaps cash trumps image, but I would think they’d want to make sure they were on the right side of the art/kitsch divide.