Kaleidoscope: Rock operas, tunes brighten holidays

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

For the last few years, my Christmas Eves and Christmas Days have consisted of relaxing at home and listening to holiday tunes on the radio.

Nowadays, a handful of Northeast Ohio radio stations play continuous holiday music from Thanksgiving to Christmas night. At midnight on the latter day, the festive music stops and the stations go back to their usual format.

I sometimes tune in to a station to hear holiday music in the couple of weeks before Christmas Day, and I play my Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller CDs in the car while driving.

But my major fill of holiday music comes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For the last three years, my radio listening includes the broadcasts of TSO's "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," "The Christmas Attic" and "The Lost Christmas Eve" trilogy. WNCX has airs it on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

These rock operas contain TSO's unique music intertwined around poignant holiday stories. Conceived in the mid-1990s, they were created by TSO's Paul O'Neill. TSO performs them around the holidays across the United States.

One of the many musicians and singers who are featured in the original recordings is Mark Wood, a former TSO member who has brought his rock opera camps to the Aurora schools in the past.

"The Lost Christmas Eve" is my favorite, and that's the CD I have. It contains 23 tracks, including songs such as"Wizards in Winter," "Christmas Dreams," "Queen of the Winter Night" and probably the best known, "Christmas Canon Rock."

THIS OPERA tells the story of an angel who comes down from heaven and observes the goings-on in New York City on Christmas Eve.

The focus is on a businessman who lost his wife during childbirth, placed his handicapped infant son into a state-run institution and had a tearful reunion with him many years later on Christmas Eve.

The narration, in the form of poetry, is very emotional at some points. For example:

"It is this way with each of us

We all need to be held, at least twice

Once upon the day that we are born

And once more when we leave this life."

"That in the very end

The message Christmas is sending

Is that it is never too late

To change any life's ending."

"For they say that without it [a heart]

No one can truly live

And it also has been rumored

That without it, we cannot forgive."

The songs on the CD are spectacular, and I'm told TSO's live performances are fabulous. The live performances combine classical, orchestral, symphonic and progressive elements into hard rock and heavy metal music, plus add an amazing light show.

But one cannot enjoy the overall effect with just the music; one must hear the narrative, too. If you've never heard the music and the narrative, take time next Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and tune in to WNCX 98.5 FM.

FAVORITE HOLIDAY TUNES

Over the years, dozens of famous singers and groups have recorded America's most loved holiday tunes. But my favorites remain the originals, many of which were first recorded in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

In my mind, you just can't top Gene Autry's "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Up On the House Top" and "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer," Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas" or, of course, Bing Crosby's "White Christmas." The latter, which came out in 1941, was sung in the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn." It is the best-selling single of all-time, with more than 50 million copies sold.

Andy Williams and Perry Como are two guys who are legendary as singers of holiday songs. I love Como's "12 Days of Christmas" and "Home for the Holidays" and Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Happy Holidays."

Jimmy Durante did my favorite version of "Frosty the Snowman," I love Percy Faith and his orchestra's "We Need a Little Christmas" and Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmastime is Here" and "Oh Tannenbaum."

"Sleigh Ride" was especially done well by the Ronettes and Karen Carpenter. I enjoy Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper," Nat King Cole's and James Taylor's "The Christmas Song," Mannheim Steamroller's "Joy to the World" and Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby."

Then there are the Harry Simeone Chorale's "Little Drummer Boy," "Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" and "Here Comes Santa Claus," Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and Paul McCartney's "A Wonderful Christmastime."

"The choir of children sing their song

They practice all year long

Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding, dong."

There are a handful of novelty holiday songs that are much beloved, including "Momma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," "Snoopy and the Red Baron" and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." The later was first performed by 10-year-old Gayla Peevey in 1953.

"I Want a hippopotamus for Christmas

Only a hippopotamus will do."

A PART OF my listening to holiday songs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day includes tunes by country singers since that's the type of music I usually listen to.

Vince Gill with his beautiful voice does a great "O Little Town of Bethlehem," Garth Brooks a wonderful "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy," and Jim Reeves a magnificent "Silver Bells." I've always loved Grandpa Jones' and Reba McEntire's narrative "The Christmas Guest."

I heard a Sugarland version of "I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas," which included the golden tones of Jennifer Nettles.

Christmas instrumentals with a guitar, steel guitar, fiddle and banjo are quite enjoyable for me.

In addition to the emotional "The Christmas Guest," a couple of other songs played during the holidays bring tears to my eyes. They are Newsong's "The Christmas Shoes," a song written for a TV movie which tells the story of a little girl wanting to buy her dying mother a pair of shoes for Christmas, and "Angels Are Among Us."

"She's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes will make her smile

And I Want her to look beautiful

If mama meets Jesus tonight."

Who wouldn't get a lump in their throat when hearing that?

"Angels Are Among Us" is not really a holiday song, but it's played a lot during the holidays. It's an Alabama song which goes:

"Oh, I believe there are angels among us.

Sent down to us from somewhere up above.

They come to you and me in our darkest hours.

To show us how to live, to teach us how to give.

To guide us with the light of love."

Lyrics that I truly believe.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-542-9400 ext. 4189

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS

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