December is upon us and Christmas music seems to be following us wherever we go. So it seems like time for a “Winter Holiday” 5 Song Set podcast episode to brighten up the cold dark days! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, this set of winter warmers will keep your ears cosy and active on these long winter days.
In this episode you will hear 5 songs about the winter holiday season. Just like you don’t have to be an engineer to enjoy songs about trains, you don’t have to be of one religion or tradition to appreciate songs about that tradition.
Daj vám Pán Bůh, milí páni by Cimbálová muzika Stanislava Gabriela
This is a great short uplifting song to open the set. The song has a simple waltz rhythm and classical arrangement (cello, violins, flute) giving it a traditional Christmas Carol sound. This combined with the strong male vocal chorus gives it a real celebratory “drinking song” feel. The contrast of the low-pitched vocals and cello with the higher-pitched instrumental fill keeps things varied and your ears engaged. The song’s strong lilting rhythm makes you want to grab a partner and spin them around before singing and stamping your feet along with the final part of the song.
Pour Noël by Löhstana David
After an energetic start Löhstana David’s Pour Noël invites us to cosy up to the fireplace and reflect. The simple introduction with jingling bells instantly suggests that Christmassy mood and they continue shaking throughout the track if you listen close. The gentle fingerpicked acoustic guitar accompaniment provides a warm calming mood. The two guitar parts, arranged left and right in the stereo mix, complement each other perfectly to form a smooth surround for David’s soft vocals. The warm guitar and voice versus the sharp bells and tinkling piano somehow create a blend of cosy and cold, perfect for a warm Christmas night snuggled up inside.
Long December Nights by Daniel Versteegh
This song also opens with a classic Christmas song combination of bells and a glockenspiel, which I’m sure we will not get bored of any time soon! Although it seems like a simple voice+guitar combo in fact there is quite a lot happening in the mix if you listen carefully. Close your eyes, open your ears and see how many different elements you can identify as the song progresses.
Daniel’s upbeat rock ballad talks about wanting to spend the holidays with his loved one. It seems like the mood of the song follows the changing emotions in his relationship: from very bright, happy sections with the bells and glockenspiel, to the tense and almost spooky-sounding bridge climax towards the end of the song. It works well to leave the listener wondering whether they will end up together or not this Christmas.
Holiday Overload by The Phil Aiken Army
A powerful distorted slide guitar opens this track, so we immediately know we’re in the “Slade” vein of Christmas songs more than the more traditional sounds of the last few songs! A classic rock-and-roll piano joins in and we’re thrown into a 50s-sounding Christmas blues rock song complete with rock guitar solo midway through. Listen for the gospel-style backing vocals in the chorus and how the thick mix actually changes continually to highlight different instruments at different moments.
This is a perfect track to try playing by ear or improvising over. Give it a go!
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
And lastly a classic. Like the host Felicia I have been listening to this song since I was a child. It feels so familiar that at first I wasn’t sure what to write about it! This is a great example of why active listening is so valuable. You can passively listen to a song hundreds of times and completely miss out on its many layers and diversity.
Listening actively to this song today I listened past the vocals and violin backing to the little tinkling piano and woodwind melodies scattered to ornament the song and the rich choral humming which ebbs and flows with the rises and falls in dynamics. Also listen for the soft slow bassline which seamlessly blends with the rich texture of the harmonies. Actively listening to this song definitely gave me a new appreciation of it.
This five song set has definitely put me in a Christmassy mood and opened my ears to holiday music from different countries and traditions. The classic sounds and songs we all find so familiar at this time of year challenge us to truly open our ears and listen past the obvious for the gems and surprises buried underneath. Next time you notice Christmas music playing, don’t just tune it out or take it for granted: challenge yourself to hear something new and become a more careful and sophisticated musical listener. Now that is truly a Christmas gift!