Oh, F**k, Here It Comes Again

Bad Drunken Smoking Santa Claus Reindeer Christmas ...

There is no place to hide.

So it is that time of year again, which means time for my annual rant about CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS blaring from every quarter until I am reduced to inarticulate shrill screaming. The silver lining of living in Coronastan is that currently all our groceries are being delivered, sparing me the endless Yuletide crap on the store PA, and I don’t expect the underpaid service workers (we try to tip well) to carol me when they drop stuff off, so there’s that. But then there’s my beloved classical radio station, which commenced at 11:43 today with an orchestral rendering (as over a slow flame) of Adolphe Adam’s well known “Oh Holy Shit Night.”

To the bomb shelter.

Really. Every fracking year. One-twelfth of my ambient musical life (I could stack CDs, and do, but sometimes you just want to tune in and be surprised by a string trio you never heard before, instead of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” set for saxophone quartet). WHY DO YOU THINK I WANT TO HEAR ADESTE FIDELES SIXTEEN TIMES A DAY? I go around humming “O come let us deplore him, O come let us ignore him,” but it keeps happening.

This is on top of the dismaying revelation of last night that the station’s listeners have a taste for schlock. Most years they have  “Classical Countdown,” and people vote for favorite pieces which are ranked and broadcast starting the Monday before Thanksgiving, working up through 100 top vote getters till the winner airs at nine on Thanksgiving.

It’s almost always Beethoven’s Ninth. This year, the station took Beethoven out of the mix because they’ve been doing  a month-long Beethoven retrospective (six different performances of the headlong, coked-up Seventh Symphony: that I can take). And I was afraid what I’d learn from that, and I did.

Brahms and Mahler, with their meticulous contrapuntal construction and wrenchingly Romantic themes? Way down in the mix. Mozart’s sublime, heartbreaking Clarinet Quintet? Even further down, barely squeaking in at 90th place. The epically narrative opium dream of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique? Almost fell off the boat at 98th.

The final evening? While I’m dressing for dinner, they’re playing Gershwin’s pandering garbage Rhapsody In Blue. Lookie me, I’m an American Composer! I can make cool noises and insert unearned climaxes and make the tempo start and stop! Tenth place? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, aptly described by my late and ex husband, a walking Schwann catalog, as mostly “deedle music” (in which the violins interminably run up and down the scale or repeat an eighth note figure over and over, deedle-deedle-deedle). I realized that this was one of the handful of pieces known to people who don’t know music when some idiot in my massage class, assigned to make the choice because someone had hear her play guitar once, selected a bouncy movement that sounds like a hopscotch rhyme as processional music for our graduation. Who the hell can process to boop-de-boop-boop? (But they used it. Christ.) I braced myself for nine p.m., after a nice interlude of Respighi, not on the Countdown.

The New World fucking Symphony.

Don’t get me wrong about Dvorak. He was amazing. The 8th Symphony? You get out of your chair and dance in places, feel like bowing down in others. The A Minor Piano Quintet? First time I heard it was an epiphany. But the New World? He tried, as an hommage to his experience in the US, to string together something that “sounded American” (fun fact: he did not use the tune of a spiritual, he wrote a melody that he thought sounded like a spiritual, and succeeded well enough that it’s now sung in churches because someone set words to it but… he was a Czech guy on sabbatical in Spillville, Iowa, people).

It’s corny. It’s tired. The New World, the war horse that every sixth grade class breaks out in Music Appreciation because it’s simple-minded enough for kids who only know what’s on pop radio and don’t have much patience for a complex piece of music.  Those kids grew up without ever paying much attention to a single other classical piece long enough to remember the title, and voted it top of the list. You know it.

Here I am in the “most educated county in the nation” and their tacky soul is laid bare. They vote up Beethoven’s Ninth when they can because they’ve been told it’s Great Music, and dang if it ain’t, but they really want cheap movie music dressed up with an orchestra. They want something that’s ‘MURRICAN ’cause ‘MURRICAN.

They want a month of droning Christmas carols. Apparently. I don’t know why else the station plays them.

I think I’ll slap Elektra, Salome and maybe Tosca on the barbie and listen to blood and mayhem for awhile, to cheer myself up.

12 thoughts on “Oh, F**k, Here It Comes Again

  1. Ah. I listen to a lot less classical music on NPR here in Red State, mostly because I’ve heard Everything.So.Many.Times. I’ve been more pleased and surprised by what I’ve discovered at Knoxville Symphony Concerts. That’s where I heard Mysterious Mountain by Alan Hovhaness and The Berliner Messe by Arvo Part, both of which I found emotionally moving. I also am partial to Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” and just about anything by Sibelius. It’s difficult to find contemporary music that is at least listenable and even better, inspired. As far as store background music, there are a couple of chains I always avoid because of the non-stop sappy Christian music. I can’t imagine being employed at someplace like that; I wouldn’t last a day.

    • I remember talking to a clerk at Trader Joe’s, back in he Before Times, about the relentless Chrostmas pop on the PA and telling her how sorry I felt that she had to put up with it, Her response was fervent. I thought she almost might cry.

      I discovered Hovanhess in my 20s because of a college friend who I think is now a classical recording reviewer for some website, and Part when Thomas Moore put out a CD of meditative music. It always cheers me when a living composer, or at least one who lived in my lifetime, produces something other than a collection of disjointed, immediately forgettable dissonances. I don’t know when that became a thing; the Engineer and I have a running joke about the Monday night program on the local station which curates live-recorded performances from around the area at various small venues, mostly chamber stuff. Almost inevitably, we groan “Here comes that old atonal music.”

      The station plays a lot of war horses but periodically discovers a good, obscure composer and runs through anything recorded over a month or so, hence that’s fun.

      I love Sibelius. He always sounds to me like the purity of winter, leaving out the rendition of Finlandia I came across performed by a steel pan band.

      • That song was spot-on–hysterically so! Much of modern music can share the description of the Hydrogen Sonata (from the eponymous book by Iain M. Banks): “As a challenge, without peer. As music, without merit.” This is the common name of T. C. Vilabier’s 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, MW 121. The instrument ultimately invented for the Hydrogen Sonata is the Antagonistic Undecagonstring for four hands, commonly known as the elevenstring. The piece and instrument are a key running joke and theme within the book. As a further afield aside, Banks’ Culture series, beginning with Consider Phelbas, is well worth the investment of time for anyone with a taste for the science fiction genre.

        • The Engineer’s got at least some of it. I suspect your sci-fi tastes overlap with his a bit more than mine do: we have a running discussion about my bent towards character-driven plots (how do people evolve and relate when science makes such and such a thing possible) vs. his “what sort of shit happens” preference. Think Asimov vs. Zelazny, or Heinlein vs. Sturgeon.

          • That series has a nice balance of space western and space opera. It’s witty, erudite, emotional, violent, sexy, and weighs in on some of the Big Questions. Plus being exceptionally well written. I’m totally captivated.

    • I believe the only Christmas movie I ever watched was “Love Actually” and that was under duress, I was riding herd on tweenagers who picked it out. I have not even ever watched “It’s A Wonderful Life” and might maim someone who tried to make me.

  2. We are obviously great minds that sink in the same (polluted, no doubt) waterways.

    No mention of good ol’ J.S. Bach? Did he not make the list, or was he just lost in the midranges? (I have a horrible feeling you’re going to say he was represented by the Tocatta and Fugue in d minor. Fun, but not truly representative, and woefully overexposed.)

    And, PS: Love the ornaments!

    • Bach is a giant, but I enjoy him only in small doses. The Baroque aesthetic doesn’t really do it for me most days. Monteverdi, okay. So his placement in the Tom Hundred didn’t catch my eye as much. He’s also one of those names, like Beethoven, that people tick because they think they’re supposed to.

      The ornaments are a photo grab off eBay, and the one on the left is the closest I could find to a hand-drawn Christmas card I once got from a college friend who was in the School of Arts. I like to think she went on to a lucrative career of perverted illustration work.

  3. I’m with you. The entire holiday needs to be rescued from Christianity anyway, and given back to celebration of the Winter Solstice where it belongs. But the music … gah. Further, some of it has nothing to do with Christmas but is just sentimentalism about wintertime as you have it around the Atlantic. I don’t mind Christian music — I once sang Biebl’s Ave Maria and it always moves me — and of course love Bach, especially the Contrapunctus series which when played by brass quintet — which I also used to do, I’m sensing a pattern here — stops me doing anything else. That said, my short shameful confession: I recently let one of the Xmas channels at SomaFM.com run for almost an hour. Probably won’t happen again. I think they’re embarrassed to have any at all, but apparently people requested it.

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