Christmas Music for the Jaded Musician

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Musicians tend to have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music.

…Ok, so most lean more towards the hate side of things. It’s done to death. You’ve heard the same songs over and over again since childhood. Every new cookie-cutter cover, or sappy original take on the same theme (“It’s Christmas and I’m lonely!”) is enough to make you want to tear your own ears off.

It’s also incredibly commercial. Just about every mainstream artist puts out a Christmas album at some point because it’s basically mandatory, even if you’re not Christian. And of course many musicians get lots of well-paid gigs at this time of year as airports and hotels suddenly have big budgets to hire us to play holiday music in their terminals and lobbies. And let’s not forget the music teachers whose young students seemingly only ever want to learn Jingle Bells. Christmas music is great for beginners, and students actually want to play it.

And so we do it. Begrudgingly. Soullessly. Half-alive.

But I have a secret…

I actually love Christmas music. Not all of it, and not all the time. But here is some of the Christmas music that I still get excited about.

  1. The Charlie Brown Christmas Album Vince Guaraldi’s inventive jazz arrangements and improvisational pianistic style mixed with realistic children’s voices completely reinvents these classic Christmas carols. There are also fantastic original piano pieces. Perfect for: Party background music or studies for the young pianist.
  2. Chipmunk Christmas. Ok look, I know this is all children’s music so far, but it’s really hard to listen to Chipmunks sing Christmas carols and not feel better about life. If you don’t like this album you’re basically a monster. Perfect for: Watching backyard chipmunks do their thing, or when cheering up is needed.
  3. The Phil Spector Christmas Album. Now I know that Phil Spector is a convicted murderer, and he really screwed over Darlene Love. But these Christmas covers are magical, and her vocal performances are unmatched to this day. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)?” Come on! Also the Crystals “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is delightful. Perfect for: Rep for female vocal groups, or a very 60s Christmas party.
  4. This Jazz Christmas playlist. Norah Jones. Harry Connick Jr. Sting. What more do you need to feel like your troubled artistic genius self? Perfect for: arrangers, self-loathing, etc.
  5. Sharon Aaronson’s Christmas Stylings. These books of jazz arrangements for solo piano are really beautiful and fun to play. Probably at the Grade 5 or 6 level. I always come back to these around this time of year. Perfect for: the piano hobbiest who wants to play a few tunes at parties or public pianos and not be kicked off.

Please enjoy Christmas music responsibly.

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