At this time of year our ears can be assaulted from all sides by the schmaltz of supermarket muzak, but music has a magic that cheers us up year after year, writes Julie Houghton.
Christmas music comes in so many guises—for some of us it’s the classical beauty of Handel’s Messiah or a carols concert in a cathedral, while for others it’s joining a few thousand of their fellow Australians on a balmy night for Carols in the Domain or Carols by Candlelight, or belting out much-loved carols at their local church.
If you prefer your Christmas music in the quiet of your own home, there is a plethora of contemporary albums with new interpretations of Christmas songs by popular artists such as Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham, or Silvie Paladino with a brass band and choir. And, it wouldn’t seem like Christmas without the strains of a Salvo brass band sharing its joyful music in the local park.
The beauty of Christmas music is that it has something to say to everyone, a fact noted by television’s New Girl star Zooey Deschanel, who says that what she loves about Christmas music is that it has a tradition of warmth. Zooey also sings in the band She and Him, who released an album of Christmas music last year, so she practises what she preaches.
American pastor and self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale was also a firm believer in the power of Christmas on the human race, saying, “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”
Royal Melbourne Philharmonic (RMP) artistic director and chief conductor Andrew Wailes is well placed to give an opinion on why Christmas music is so powerful, as the RMP holds the world record for its sequence of performances of Handel’s Messiah—this December’s performance is the 238th.
“Many folk see it as an important part of their own worship regimen. They may not go to church necessarily, but they will go to a Messiah performance. For others, it is the great carols and hymns that never fail to remind us of the importance and meaning of Christmas,” Wailes explains.
“Hearing Once in Royal David’s City, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing or watching Silvie Paladino at Carols by Candlelight brings people these beautiful tunes and words that bring us joy in a stressful world and remind us that Christmas is a special time of year.”
Wailes is adamant that Christmas music is a vital part of society.
“It’s terribly important! Whether it’s a fun tune that reminds people of family and brings a smile to people’s faces or beautiful carols which inspire and uplift.”
Due to this, conducting a Messiah performance or Carols in the Cathedral has its own special magic for Wailes.
“There’s something very special when you sense the audience rise behind you during the famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ or hearing an audience bellow out their favourite carols. You know you have touched them in some small way and made their lives richer for a few hours.”
Music has always been an integral part of The Salvation Army, with a long and proud tradition of instrumentalists and choristers—most readers will have had the pleasure of hearing a Salvo brass band bring the joy of Christmas as they play carols in local parks at this time of year.
There is a way for everyone to be connected to the music of Christmas, whatever their musical or spiritual tastes.
The Salvation Army founder, William Booth, was a staunch advocate for the power of music, saying, “Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us.”
Therein lies the power of music, especially at Christmas, because it can transcend the difficulty of our earthly lives, bringing us joy and comfort.
While carols were originally the domain of the Church, in 21st century Australia they can be enjoyed in so many different settings, by believers and non-believers alike.
Sunday 17 December at 7.45 pm sees Sydney’s famous Carols in the Domain kick off in front of an audience of 50,000, plus many thousands more via the televised coverage. The Salvation Army is proud to be the charity partner in Woolworths’ Carols in the Domain. It’s been a popular part of Sydney Christmas celebrations for 35 years, and always attracts big-name performers.
This year’s concert features high-profile pop singer and Salvo Christmas Appeal ambassador Samantha Jade, as well as Todd McKenney, Dami Im, Adam Harvey and Beccy Cole, plus boy band CDB and performers from the musical Jersey Boys.
On Christmas Eve, Melbourne has its much-loved Carols by Candlelight in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Now in its 80th year, the concert is a major fundraiser for Vision Australia, and this year includes regular stars Silvie Paladino, Marina Prior and David Hobson. People love their carols, and the event is so popular that people who can’t get tickets often buy dress rehearsal passes for the day before.
But just because you may not live in Sydney or Melbourne doesn’t mean you miss out on Christmas musical cheer, as every town and city hosts Christmas concerts. These include the Hillsong Church’s Christmas Carols Spectaculars in several states, as well as very popular community Carols in the Park events, featuring local singers, choirs and bands.
If you prefer to listen to or sing along with carols in the privacy of your home, there are many fine Christmas recordings to enjoy. For 24 years, Myer have produced their annual Spirit of Christmas CD, with traditional carols given a contemporary spin, plus a few fun surprise tracks, raising more than $8.1 million for The Salvation Army. Australian pop music royalty Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham released a delightful recording last year, aptly titled Friends for Christmas. And hot off the press is the newly-released O Holy Night, featuring Silvie Paladino, The Salvation Army Melbourne Staff Band and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir.
These diverse offerings mean that there is a way for everyone to be connected to the music of Christmas, whatever their musical or spiritual tastes.
For music-loving Christians, the lyrics penned by the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, remind us of the true message we hear through the power of Christmas music.
“Good news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.”
May your Christmas season be filled with the joy of music.