Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Special #1: Christmas Chorale

This is easily the most bizarre traditional Christmas recording we have ever heard. First heard on cassette circa 1989—one of those things you’d buy at a gas station for three bucks—the case had no production notes or credits, just a badly spelled track listing to go with the title and distributor (“Special Music”, and who are we to argue?). Starting with a bunch of people harrumphing amongst themselves with the occasional "Tell it on the mountain!" interjection, Christmas Chorale sounds like a small adult choir singing truly unique arrangements of hymns and carols to the occasional accompaniment of a spirited piano.
It’s not easy to express just how odd some of these renditions are. Beyond the performance art aspects of “Go Tell It On The Mountain”, there’s the logjam of “God Bless The Master/Joy To The World”, which does indeed combine those songs, with “Ding! Dong! Merrily On High” sung at the same time, but not necessarily in the same key. “Ding! Dong!” is reprised later in the program, with doorbell impressions woven into the arrangement. “Good King Wenceslas” appears to change time signature with every other measure, just as other familiar melodies are stretched and chopped to the point where it’s impossible to sing along.
A friend originally brought this album to the attention of your humble correspondent, and as far as we know, we are the only two people on the planet who have spent money on it and actually enjoy it. Over the years the mystery has only grown; who are the voices coming through the speakers? Did they snag any royalties from our purchase? Do they even know this album exists?
As often happens in the public domain, the contents have been repackaged and re-sold over the years, which might make our CD version a collectors’ item. (Stop laughing. Christmas is a time for wild wishes and outlandish dreams, after all.) The latest version of iTunes offers something of a clue, crediting a few of the tracks to Neville Garvey and the Los Angeles Chorale. A subsequent Google search only brings up various e-tail sites with what appears to be yet another permutation of the program. Some listings for Christmas Chorale credit the performance to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which doesn’t make sense since the only instrument heard is that piano. Unless the choir is really the orchestra members singing. That would be something!
The closest we can figure out is that it might be the Los Angeles Master Chorale, who have had recordings released on a bunch of actual classical labels of merit, which takes away from our dream of some unknown community group that gather weekly somewhere in the Midwest to rehearse for sparsely attended concerts in front of retirees and bored children, while the best piano player in town dreams of playing on a real stage. Maybe some things are best left to the imagination. But what we wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall at these rehearsals, the recording session, and the moment when the first box lot arrived with Christmas Chorale all shrinkwrapped and clean, poised to take its place in the pantheon of holiday music.

Christmas Chorale (1989?)—3

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, can't be Los Angeles Master Chorale - they are semi-pro. This is scary: http://www.last.fm/music/Neville+Garvey%3A+Los+Angeles+Chorale