Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Special #4: Festival Of Carols In Brass

A holiday tradition in the New York Metropolitan area for many years was The Yule Log. Every night on Christmas Eve (and again on Christmas morning) channel 11 would show a looped film of a fireplace with brass fixtures, while a seamless program of what used to be called “beautiful music” played in accompaniment. (The music was simulcast in FM stereo on the station’s radio affiliate—pretty high-tech sh-t in those days.) Even though our house had a working fireplace throughout my youth, stoked to perfection by my dad, we still had the TV tuned in to The Yule Log, with the music blaring from every radio available. A Google search reports that the artists supplied were usually along the lines of the Boston Pops and Percy Faith; we recall a few select vocal pieces, like “The Little Drummer Boy”.
As with many mainstays of one’s childhood, we don’t truly appreciate certain things until they’ve gone missing, and there was an outcry when certain local TV affiliates removed it from their programming. By the ‘90s, enough homes had VCRs anyway, and could easily buy a cheap tape of a fireplace for kitsch purposes, the show having been originally designed for Manhattan apartment dwellers without hearths of their own. But the original was still the best, and after a decade of mismanagement at the station—during which even Beavis and Butt-Head referred to it on one of their holiday episodes—The Yule Log officially returned to the airwaves where it’s remained, albeit only on Christmas morning.
That dark period when it was nowhere to be found didn’t have the convenience of the Internet and digital technology, much less YouTube, so us sentimental types had to rely on our own mind movies to experience The Yule Log and become a kid again. The Mantovanni qualities of those old records didn’t always hold up, but one vintage album always managed to set the mood. A Festival Of Carols In Brass by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble is a perfect soundtrack for a roaring fire above which stockings are hung with care. The epitome of simplicity, it stayed in print through the digital era on a “Nice Price” CD with basic artwork and no credits outside the 25 tracks. The selections are crisp and not at all overbearing, and like any good instrumental collection, just as satisfying to have in the background as for close listening. It always seems to end too quickly, but that’s why CD players have a repeat function.

The Philadelphia Brass Ensemble A Festival Of Carols In Brass (1967)—5

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