1. 2020

    God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen by Mannheim Steamroller

    So what’s up with that comma?

    Today’s song, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen by Mannheim Steamroller, comes with an interesting historical anecdote on the side. “Rest ye merry” was a standard phrase in the English of the 16th century, when this carol likely originated, so the original meaning of the line would have been something like “may God grant you peace and happiness, gentlemen.”

    In contrast with “ye olde-style” punctuation, this arrangement is very modern, in the driving rock style that Mannheim Steamroller does so well. It also adds a bridge in the middle that modulates into a major key, which gives the song a really interesting splash of color.

    As a bonus, the album also includes a different version of this song which mixes modern punctuation with a lighter and older musical style.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  2. 2020

    Parade of the Wooden Soldiers by the Boston Pops

    For today’s Christmas song I’m tapping in one of the classic titans of the Christmas music scene: the Boston Pops Orchestra. Their annual Holiday Pops concert, started in 1973, is one of the most famous Christmas concert series in the US, but holiday music has been a staple of the orchestra’s repertoire for much longer.

    This recording of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers — originally a piano march, but now frequently associated with Christmas — was recorded in 1959 and comes from one of the earliest Boston Pops albums available in digital form. The song features a lot of soloists and individual instrumental sections, but skillfully interleaves them with riffs played by the full orchestra. When you listen to the sophistication of the music, it’s easy to forget that the recording is 60 years old. You’ll want a few loops through this one.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  3. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Mannheim Steamroller

    Yes, this one is that “Hark!”.

    Mannheim Steamroller’s arrangement of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing takes the classic carol, mixes it up with a modern rock groove, and comes out with something fresh, exciting, and amazing. I particularly love how all the different synthesizer riffs interact in the bridge in the middle. It’s the perfect followup to yesterday’s “Trumpets”. In fact, I think the pairing of the two pieces takes another spot on my short list for all-time favorite Christmas song.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  4. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Hark! The Herald Trumpets Sing by Mannheim Steamroller

    Running with the theme of spectacular brass fanfares, today we have Mannheim Steamroller’s Hark! The Herald Trumpets Sing.

    Yes, I said trumpets.

    No, it’s not that “Hark!”.

    While it does borrow some melodic elements of the other song, this one is a Steamroller original. It’s done in the antiphonal brass style, where you have two separate brass ensembles on opposite sides of the listener (or one in front and one in back) playing different parts of the same song in a call-and-response pattern. I’ve listened to, and performed in, a couple of these, and the effect is really cool. It literally adds a whole new dimension to music.

    You won’t get the full antiphonal brass experience from a recording, but this composition is extremely well done and I thoroughly enjoy it even as a “plain” brass carol. The best part, though, is that it forms the perfect pair with a certain other song which I’m going to present tomorrow, so stay tuned....

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  5. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Carol of the Bells by David Foster

    I count every Christmas song in this series among my favorites. But today’s arrangement of Carol of the Bells by David Foster is on the even shorter list of contenders for my single favorite Christmas song of all time.

    That might seem surprising since it’s nothing like Mannheim Steamroller’s style. It’s a classical orchestra piece with piano accompaniment. What I love about it, though, is the masterful way Foster weaves together different musical themes. He starts off with the traditional melody of the carol, which is in a minor key, but goes back and forth between the melody and an original bridge written in a major key, sort of a roller coaster ride of musical moods. Then the bridge leads into a piano interlude which culminates in a spectacular brass fanfare. Even though the song is only two and a half minutes long, it feels “complete” in a way that I’d expect from songs twice that length; all in all, a truly satisfying musical experience. This is another one that you’ll want to play on nice speakers if you have them.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist …

  6. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Good King Wenceslas by Mannheim Steamroller

    Mannheim Steamroller is such a titan of the Christmas music scene that there’s no way I can get through this list without having a couple of multi-day Steamroller runs, so here goes. Today’s song is Good King Wenceslas, another classic from their first 1984 Christmas album. It’s a spicy modern take on a traditional(ish) carol.

    I love what Chip Davis wrote for the liner notes of this song:

    I have no idea why I chose to do such a silly rhythmic treatment of this, but we sure had fun recording it.

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Have a listen.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  7. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Catching Snowflakes on Your Tongue by Mannheim Steamroller

    Mannheim Steamroller may be known for their progressive rock, but they’ve put out some great lighter pieces as well. Today’s song, Catching Snowflakes on Your Tongue, is a musical interpretation of whimsical fun in a snowfall. Despite the similar subject matter, it has a distinct musical feel from First Snow; it’s less intense, smoother, and more “sparkly”. When you put it up against some of their rock standards like Deck the Halls, it really shows off the musical range of Mannheim Steamroller, and that’s part of why they’re my favorite.

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  8. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Thankful Heart by The Muppet Christmas Carol Cast

    Today’s song is a little different. The reason I picked Thankful Heart is not so much the song itself as the movie it represents: The Muppet Christmas Carol, which has to be my favorite holiday movie of all time, my favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol of all time, and one of my favorite Muppet movies of all time. It’s got everything: romance, drama, redemption, time travel, ghosts, ice-skating penguins, a self-described omniscient narrator, and of course a perfectly suited musical score. This particular song is rather catchy and also wonderfully captures the spirit of the Christmas season. Plus, it leads up to one of the most heartwarming and amusing scenes at the end of the film, but I won’t spoil that part — if you can get your hands on a copy, check it out and see what happens!

    You can now get the entire series of songs as a Spotify playlist.

  9. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: First Snow by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

    I’ve chosen today’s Christmas song from the repertoire of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who — along with several other artists on this list — are enshrined in the pantheon of Christmas music for their trilogy of holiday albums and the live shows created from them. First Snow comes from the first of the trilogy, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Like most of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s holiday music, it’s an entirely original composition, and this one is rock ‘n roll to its core, standing in stark contrast to the typical traditional carols. Even so, the song really captures the excitement of a snowfall. Heavy snow was one of my favorite things about growing up in upstate New York, not only because it makes the whole outdoor world look fresh and unspoiled, but also there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of waking up and finding out that school is closed so you get to sleep in. When I listen to this piece, you can bet that’s what I’m thinking of.

  10. 2020

    Christmas Song of the Day: Faeries by Mannheim Steamroller

    Today’s song is another Mannheim Steamroller remix. Faeries is, of course, based on Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Amazingly, this arrangement keeps nearly the exact original melody and a lot of the original accompaniment, while putting a unique Steamroller spin on it: instead of pairing the celesta with orchestral instruments, it features (what sounds like) a glockenspiel in a very high register paired with a bass guitar in a low one. The contrast between extreme high and low pitches gives this song a spectacular and unique feel.

    With this one in particular, I highly recommend listening to the full song if you can. The 30-second preview from Spotify doesn’t do it justice.