Musical AIn’t

Boston Ballet’s Paulo Arrais and Kathleen Breen Combes. The Nutcracker!

“Okay, Alexa, play The Nutcracker Suite.”

Alexa has been really pulling out all the Christmas music options. I found this by accident. 

Alexa, my kitchen cylinder speaker, functions primarily as my DJ who takes requests. I say, “Alexa, play Erykah Badu.” And she does. (Yes, I know I said she and not it. JSYK, I’m very aware that it’s a machine, okay??!) Or I say, “Alexa, please play The Hamilton soundtrack,” and she plays it without missing her shot. 

So, how smart is this stupid cylinder? She has artists and albums down. So I tried, “Alexa, play Aretha Franklin radio,” and she did. And it was good. No. It was very good. 

I asked for Ella Fitzgerald radio, less good, but Duke Ellington radio? Most excellent. She played a great mix from the prompt Mumford and Sons radio. One of my favorites, “Alexa, play nineties music.” I got grunge and gangsta with some pop to fill the gaps. Eclectic and what I needed. 

So, after Thanksgiving–I wait until then out of a sense of decorum and because I don’t need two months of Christmas, but that’s another post–I took a chance and said, “Alexa, play Christmas music.” And I’ll be damned, but she did. 

Right out of the gate, it was Bing Crosby. She played the music I wanted. I was overwhelmed and impressed, like when the 20 questions orb got my answer right. It was magic. Beautiful and surprising magic. 

The next day, I requested Christmas music and I got “Country Christmas.” I like pretty much any kind of music. Except country. It’s not fair, I know, but I’ve tried. I get Johnny Cash, but not that guy who buys himself a whiskey and his horse a beer. But that’s not my point. 

The magic was gone. 

I thought the metal machine knew me. It didn’t. It couldn’t apply the right logic to its wrong behavior. Air was leaking out of my balloon. I coreected her, “Alexa, play classic Christmas music.”

Crap. She played classical Christmas music instead. And there were weird interloping versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that missed my mark of specifically Christmas music. I wanted Winter Wonderland and Nat King Cole singing Adestes Fideles. This was quickly remedied by a slight syntax adjustment, asking for “Christmas classics.” Boom, Bing. But the shine was off the penny. Maybe she’ll learn. 

I’d asked my techno DJ to play The Nutcracker. She complied with the correctly ordered ballet in full. Another day, I thought the suite would make a great dinner soundtrack. And it did. For a while. 

“Wait. What’s that?”

“Whuh?” responded The Spouse. 

We both listened harder. It was definitely Tchaikovsky. It was a famous ballet. But this was the swan one, not the Christmas fantasy. 

Close, Alexa. You got that artificial down, but keep working the intelligence part. 

“Alexa, next song.” Sigh. 

Musical Spread

Toy Peanuts band with Lucy on flute, Linus on horn, Snoopy on electric guitar, Charlie Brown on sax and Shroeder on piano, of course.

The Christmas concert was cheery. The very large community band was decked out in Santa hats, reindeer antlers and green and red garb versus their standard concert black and white. There were clarinets and french horns, piccolos and sousaphones, oboes and xylophones, and, my personal favorite, the timpani drums. You don’t get to a better crescendo than that.

The players were very diverse, ranging from a fresh-faced late teen through a skinny and slightly stooped octogenarian both with full heads of hair, one straight and black and the other a fluff ball of white curls. There wasn’t a cluster around any age cohort–eyeballing the performers they were well distributed across the last sixty or so years. There was an even number of men and women, perhaps five more men than women if we’re nitpicky. And while the majority of the musicians may have been white, it was minor majority. People of color were represented across all sections of the band, from winds to brass to percussion. It was America.

The performance was in the band room rather than the theatre. The program was a light selection of Christmas and seasonal tunes with specialty turns by quartets, sextets and an octet full of various-sized saxophones. A few pieces were clearly well-rehearsed, and well-liked, by the band. A few were a little less beloved, and two of the chamber pieces started and stopped and restarted. The lady on the recorder called a mulligan on one song as did the first clarinet on another. It was all quite relaxed.

The audience was a bit fewer in numbers than the band. They were moms and dads, partners and children, and friends and neighbors who gathered to support their hyper-local musicians. They were welcomed not only with elf-suits and carols, but also with six buffet tables filled with post-concert nosh provided by the band members.

There were trays of to-go chicken, including the wings that disappeared before the trumpet was able to store her instrument. There were pre-cut squares of mild cheeses with triscuit crackers. There were a few dips, mostly of the bean and chick pea varieties, with accompanying chips and pita wedges. The black bottomed trays piled with pre-cut vegetables, like broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, celery, ranch dressing and the cauliflower that was always leftover, posted up one or two looming large on four of the tables. There was a dearth of serving pieces, so nobody ate the popcorn that would have required manhandling the entire contents in the tin.

The youngest in the audience were big-eyed at the tables full of sweets. A bowl full of kisses, a plate with green and white filled oreos, cupcakes with eggnog icing that looked straight out of a TV show bakery, brownies, Tupperwares topped off with chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip and oatmeal craisin cookies. Some desserts were from old country recipes, while others represented the latest paleo or gluten free trends. There were fruit and custard pies, which all looked store bought, and round and bundt cakes that evidenced the love of homemade icing and gaily placed nuts. There was also a fruit tray that became more and more desirable as a palate cleanser after the sugar course.

The band members congratulated each other and laughed through their quick debriefs of their successes and foibles, speaking the shorthand developed after many hours of rehearsals and their common, musical, patios. They mingled with their guests, jostling over that last wing and handing a plastic fork over the table to a stranger who was searching. Turns out that everyone found what they were looking for on this December evening.

Bing Bells

Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album cover.

The baritone of Bing brings Christmas to my house. Every year, for as long as I can remember, he croons Christmas to me as I string the lights and find the exact right ornament placements on my WTF-themed Tannenbaum.

My mom had what might have been an original press of the 1955 12-inch LP. It definitely was before my time. It always was in our house. Mom said that when we were little, she’d start playing Christmas music in October so we’d know all the words to the songs by the time the tree went up after Thanksgiving. There were other Christmas albums–that Sing Along with Mitch with the printouts of lyrics we’d pass around, a jazzy compilation headed by Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack and, of course, Elvis. Her technique worked. We knew all the words.

I didn’t know that the Bing was my favorite, though, until I left home and put up my first tree in my college dorm. I went out to buy my own copy of the album. I couldn’t feel Christmas until he sang Silver Bells. I remember walking across campus at dusk with the first real December snowflakes, city sidewalks dressed in holiday style the internal soundtrack to my first adult holidays.

I bought this album first on vinyl, then on cassette tape so I could listen in the car. We added it to our old reel to reel Christmas party tape. And, a decade or more ago, I purchased it again, this time on CD. My next car didn’t have a tape player. I ripped the CD, so I had digital files first for my iPod and now on my phone.

Tonight, I asked my new friend Alexa to play it for me from Amazon Prime. She went to the depths of her collection and served up Bing and the Andrew Sisters (theirs is the only version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town that beats The E Street Band‘s). I mumbled and stumbled along to the second and third verses of a Latin hymn. I was good, as usual, on the first. And, like I have since I was a teeny-tiny tot, imagined the holidays from Irish blarney to Hawaiian greetings. I remember that year I realized that you could have Christmas without snow. I thought that all your Christmases would be white. Wouldn’t Santa be too hot? And the reindeer? Mind blown.

I’ve infected or inoculated–maybe both?–the Boyz with this set of holiday tunes. Even the Spouse adds his baritone to our home choir that accompanies Bing. Turns out this was his dad’s favorite Christmas record, too.

I was going to rant a bit about owning music, since it doesn’t seem that I can actually own it, even though I buy it. I was gong to get righteous about buying multiple soon-to-be-obsolete media just to feed my fix. And then, I realized that I don’t even feel ripped off. Now that’s some charitable Christmas spirit there.

Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.

Shade Friday

The beast. A bit too relaxed. On the couch.

I didn’t go shopping today. In fact I don’t know anyone who did. But that could just be because I stayed close to home.

I rolled out of bed and made some coffee. We have three different coffees available. I knew it would be a volume day, so I used the grocery ground. It is too fine for the french press, but so be it. It was the first of three pots this morning. Know well that I shared.

I finished the book that I began a few weeks ago. Remind me to never again read a dystopian novel around election time. I think I read too much into it.

I went to the post office. I asked the Big Guy if he wanted anything there. He said, “some stamps.” And then doubled over with laughter, as if he would ever use a stamp.

I mailed my niece her birthday present. Her birthday was in July. She’s a baby. She doesn’t know any better. I told the woman at the post office that I bet she’d get her Christmas present by her next birthday. We both thought that was funny.

I held the door for a man as I was leaving the post office. He wouldn’t look at me. I motioned for him to walk through. He looked away as he told me he could hold the door for himself. I let the door go. As I walked down the steps to the sidewalk, a man on the other side of the handrail told me that I could hold the door open for him, any day. I took that as a compliment.

I ate a piece of pizza. It had more things on it than I generally eat. There was pepperoni, onions, mushrooms, olives and sausage. Truthfully? It was excellent. After all that I ate yesterday, you’d think I would be full, but I just wanted to eat more. I stopped at one piece, though. Seems like I was exhibiting moderation.

I drank a can of Dr. Pepper. It wasn’t even diet. Full-sugar baby. I love Dr. Pepper. And the sweet effervescence encouraged a most amazing belch, from the depths of my belly, traversing my esophagus, out of my mouth and through my nose at the same time. Baby Bear looked up. He was quite impressed.

I decided it was now the Christmas season. I asked Alexa to play some Christmas music and she obliged with Charlie Brown’s Christmas and Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole and Brenda Lee rocking around the Christmas tree. Damn that Alexa, she totally gets me.

I tried to get The Beast to relax. Wait. No. He was relaxed. Me too.

And that’s how I do me some Black Friday. Easy.