Christmas Music: What’s on Your List?

One word —Christmas — and I start humming.

All illustrations Norman Rockwell

All illustrations Norman Rockwell

In my internal cinema, I’m sitting cross-legged on my grandparents’ moss green velvet carpet, my back sweating against a snapping fire while watching Grandma Belle with her lavenderish silver halo of curls list from side to side on the embroidered cushion atop the walnut piano bench.

Belle’s back is to us. I watch her fingers romp and caper up and down the keyboard while she cranes her head back to us —cousins in plaid, uncles in red vests, aunts in flouncy blouses— and while she lips the lyrics, coaxing from youngest to oldest more volume than you’d expect from a couple of dozen full-bellied folks. But no one —not the stiff uncle with a starched hair piece or the sullen fourteen-year-old with an extreme Toni permanent (me) slacks off or slips from the rhythm.

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At some point, we’re all shouting, “You better watch out/You better not cry!” and then we’re pa rum-pa-pa-pumming (even the teenagers) in unison. We’ll all be hoarse by the time the candles on the mantelpiece have wax pooling at their bases. Belle turns “Good King Wenceslas” into rag time, chords hopping and slapping in the left hand and embellishments tinkling like tinsel in the right. Her legs are jigging beneath the keyboard. She switches gears and makes “I’m Dreaming Of a White Christmas” into a tearjerker with the longest cadenza known to man. No one, not even Bing Crosby himself or my trained operatic soprano mother can sustain Belle’s last note, that over-the-top “whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite.”

Belle played like that every Christmas Eve until well into her 90s.

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It’s Grandma Belle I recall every Christmas. Belle, and all the pianists, organists, choirs and soloists, instrumentalists, quartets, trios, orchestras, street accordion players or subway pan flute artists— all the music makers who, over my half-century of Christmases, have made my holidays ring.

Now you understand why, although I don’t really get into accumulating stuff, I do collect Christmas music. I have to. I listen to it (in secret) all year long.  (Officially, only from Thanksgiving until January 1st.)

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And that’s why I want to share with you my CD titles.

A word about this list: it’s alphabetized (not in any order of preference); it’s incomplete (I haven’t included my dozens of digital files, and I note with a gasp!! that I don’t have enough jazz and what’s this? No rap, country or reggae?); and it’s eclectic (From Thurl Bailey, a hoopstar-turned-crooner to Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.)

So I need your input. Can you post your musical treasures in the comment thread? Titles, please, of single songs or whole albums, and maybe include a bit of background as to why. Why this recording? Why this version, this instrument, this language, this key, this style?

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  • Amy Grant: Home for Christmas
  • Andy Williams: We Need a Little Christmas
  • Anonymous Four: Wolcum; Celtic and British Songs and Carols
  • Barbara Hendricks: Chante Noël
  • Barbra Streisand: A Christmas Album
  • Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (von Karajan): A Christmas Concert
  • Burl Ives: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Canadian Brass: The Christmas Album
  • Celine Dion: These Are Special Times
  • Choral Arts Northwest: A Scandinavian Christmas
  • Christmas Music: Christmas Peace; Piano, Guitar, Angels
  • Concord Jazz: A Concord Jazz Christmas
  • Curnow Music: Holiday Favorites
  • Dave Brubeck: A Dave Brubeck Christmas
  • David Archuleta: Christmas from the Heart
  • David Tolk: Christmas
  • Diana Krall: Christmas Songs
  • Die Wiener Sängerknaben: Ihre Schönsten Weihnachtslieder
  • English Heritage: Spirit of Christmas
  • European Jazz Trio: Silent Night
  • Frank Sinatra: The Christmas Album
  • Garrison Keillor: A Prairie Home Christmas
  • Garrison Keillor: Now it is Christmas Again
  • Harry Connick Jr.: Harry for the Holidays
  • Harry Connick Jr.: When My Heart Finds Christmas
  • Helene Fischer: Weihnachten
  • Ingolf Jentszch (festliche Weihnachtsmusik): Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen
  • James Taylor: At Christmas
  • James Wilson: Holiday Favorites on Guitar
  • Jim Brickman: Peace
  • Jim Brickman: The Gift
  • Johnny Mathis: Merry Christmas
  • Johnny Mathis: The Christmas Music of Johnny Mathis
  • José Feliciano: Feliz Navidad
  • Kathleen Battle: A Christmas Celebration
  • Kelly Clark Parkinson: Romantic Christmas
  • Kenny G: Faith; A Holiday Album
  • Kurt Bestor: Christmas
  • Kurt Bestor: Christmas Volume One
  • Kurt Bestor: One Silent Night
  • La Chorale de Saint-Pierre: Les Plus Beaux Cantiques de Noël
  • London Symphony Orchestra: Tschaikovsky Nutcracker
  • Mannheim Steamroller: Christmas Extraordinaire
  • Mel Tormé: Christmas Songs
  • Meryl Streep: The Night Before Christmas (Rabbit Ears Series)
  • Moore Light: Christmas with Bach
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir (and the Canadian Brass): A Christmas Gloria
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Hallelujah! Great Choral Classics
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Handel’s Messiah
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Noël
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Once Upon a Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Rejoice and be Merry
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Ring Christmas Bells
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Spirit of the Season
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Great Messiah Choruses
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Wonder of Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: The Wonder of Christmas
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir: This is Christmas
  • Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song
  • Now That’s Music: Now That’s What I Call Christmas!
  • Osmonds: Christmas Album
  • Patricia Carlson: Christmas; A Creative Harp Collection
  • Reader’s Digest: Merry Christmas Songbook
  • Robert Shaw: Handel’s Messiah; Favorite Choruses and Arias
  • Sissel Kyrkjebø: Glade Jul
  • Sissel Kyrkjebø: Norsdisk Vinternatt
  • Skruk: Stille Natt
  • Sony Music: The Best of Christmas Vol. 1-4
  • Steven Sharp Nelson: Christmas Cello
  • The American Boy Choir: On Christmas Day
  • The Boston Camerata: Noël, Noël! (Noël Français)
  • The Cambridge Singers: Christmas with the Cambridge Singers
  • The Choir of Christ Church, Oxford: A Tudor Christmas
  • The King’s Singers: Deck the Hall; Songs of Christmas
  • The New Christy Minstrels: We Need a Little Christmas
  • The Piano Guys: A Family Christmas
  • The Roches: We Three Kings
  • Thomanerchor Leipzig, Dresden Kreuzchor: Silent Night
  • Thurl Bailey: The Gift of Christmas
  • Tim Slover: The Christmas Chronicles (Radio Drama)
  • Time-Life: Treasury of Christmas
  • Tölzer Knabenchor: Bergweihnacht
  • Tölzer Knabenchor: Europäische Weihnacht
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
  • Vanessa Williams: Silver and Gold
  • Vienna Boys’ Choir: Christmas Joy
  • Windham Hill Christmas: The Night Before Christmas
  • Wynton Marsalis, Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade: A Carnegie Hall Christmas

And to everyone, I wish you a blessed and harmonious holiday season.

12 thoughts on “Christmas Music: What’s on Your List?

  1. James Galway “In Dulci Jubilo” Gorgeous instrumental and choir music, some less-often heard songs. All-Time favorite!

    Charlie Byrd “The Charlie Byrd Christmas Album” Lovely, all-acoustic guitar solos. So simple, yet gets it just right.

    George Winston “December” Delightful, wistful. It was playing when I was in labor with our 4th child on Christmas morning. (He was born later that day, so that music is “his” music.)

    Can’t get through the holidays without the above 3 albums.

    • Amy,

      Fabulous. Galway is the master, and I am looking for less-heard pieces. Charlie Byrd! I needed that clue!

      And ah, George Winston …his talent is enough to send you into labor. (Even if you’re not pregnant).

      Many thanks. I’ll think of “Amy” when I listen to these.

    • And so sad to hear that Natalie Cole just passed away. From my friends in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with whom she soloed, I’ve heard she was as honest and gentle, fun and accessible as her singing style.

      I’ll go listen to her right now. Thank you so much.

  2. “Great Voices of Christmas” is a compilation of the older ‘great’ voices singing classical Christmas music. Pavarotti, Price, Tebaldi, Sutherland, Horne, Domingo, Ameling, Te Kanawa, etc. You get the idea.
    I also really love *most* of the music on a compilation I bought called: The Essential Christmas. It has fun things like Johnny Cash singing The Little Drummer Boy, Mitch Miller & the gang singing not Frosty the Smowman.

    I am curious that there is no Micheal McLean Forgotten Carols on your list. I love about half of that album, but what I love I truly love!

    Thank you for the list Melissa, and others’ suggestions, have a wonderful Christmas!

  3. Thank you for this great list Melissa! Could you identify a Top 10 or so to direct us to your absolute favorites? Here’s a few to add:
    Silent Night (Single): Clyde Bawden (largo, touching)
    It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas: Michael Bublé (some very fun arrangements)
    Christmas Collection: The Carpenters (essential holiday music)
    Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You: Katharine McPhee (pop, fun and classy)
    The Forgotten Carols: Michael McLean (I love three of the songs on the CD, the others not so much)
    – The recommended songs are: The Innkeeper, The Shepherd, and Joseph. I Cannot Find My Way is pretty good.
    Somewhere in My Memory: Home Alone
    Noel: Josh Groban (beautiful)
    O Holy Night: Jenny Oaks Baker (the Silent Night arrangement is gorgeous)
    Noel: Jenny Oaks Baker

    • Oh, dear Eric, I let this comment slip for, hmm, a couple of months! Sorry about that. And the remarkable things is that I am STILL listening to Christmas music. In addition, my top 10 favorite list is now almost entirely new, thanks to all my readers’ tasteful suggestions. I will always keep the Von Karjan Berlin Philharmonic Corelli Christmas Concert, the Tölzer Sängerknaben and Sissel at the top of my list. They aren’t going anywhere, ever. But the suggestions from everyone else rewired our exposure. So refreshing! (We went a bit crazy and downloaded the whole store…)

  4. Melissa, I love your list of Christmas songs! Here are two more that I love:
    The song “Heavenly Choirs” by Cori Connors is one of my favorite all time Christmas songs. Cori is a folk singer/songwriter and was one of my neighbors growing up (she also gave Rob guitar lessons). She truly is one of the most beautiful and talented souls I know. (you two would get along great!) 🙂
    Another song I love is the “Joy Medley” by my Aunt Wendy Murdock Shurtliff. Growing up my Aunt and my cousins would come caroling on Christmas day and would sing these songs – listening to the way their voices harmonized was pure magic. Hope you like them as well, and we hope you all had a Merry Christmas! We love and miss you!

    • Tasha-The fact that these selections are personally significant to you and link to specific memories and relationships makes these that much more exciting for me. Can’t wait to download and luxuriate. And I’ll think of you guys the whole time!We love and miss you all!

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