Yes, ’tis the season to not only be jolly, but to play and sing the joy of the holidays. Christmas carols waft galore over the airwaves of the television and radio this time of the year, as well as on home stereo equipment.
I certainly have my share of Christmas music, much of it being on old-time 33 1/3 LP record albums, some of them classics such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Alabama, the Carpenters, and generic albums, compilations by various artists with cute names like Music to Trim Your Tree By. But my most favorite of all Christmas performances are those presented by the group Mannheim Steamroller, recording Christmas music following the successful releases of their Fresh Aire series of Neoclassical new-age music, fusing modern popular and classical techniques.
THE MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER
The group Mannheim Steamroller was founded by Chip Davis who originally worked writing jingles for an Omaha, Nebraska, advertising agency. One jingle was for a local bakery featuring the fictional trucker C. W. McCall, the voice of McCall being performed by advertising writer William Fries.
Davis and Fries began writing non-advertising songs featuring McCall, releasing five albums between 1974 and 1979, one of them containing the novelty song Convoy, co-written by Davis and “McCall”, paying homage to all those highway truckers and their CB radios. Part of Davis’ success included being named SESAC Country Music Writer of the Year in 1976. But Mannheim’s presentation of Christmas music so reminded me of being in my high school’s concert and marching bands, as well as the chorus, and our yearly performances in celebration of the season.
As a member of the Clyde A. Erwin Warriors’ Marching Band.
Every year the marching band would march in the Asheville, NC, Christmas parade. Back in those days, the parade took place on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, in the afternoon after the schools had let out for the holiday. It was always a big event with the streets lined with people. I truly enjoyed it, though when it was cold I had fears of my fingers not properly working on the valves of my baritone horn, and I sure didn’t want to be the one being out-of-time or blowing a sour note!
I’m 4th from the left, top row. My best friend, Lewis, who also married a Filipino, stands at the right end of the 2nd row. And why Gene, the kid beside me is staring, I never found out.
But even more, I enjoyed our Christmas concert presented in the high school auditorium, the chorus performance followed by the concert band. Though I never excelled at either, singing or playing, I had a love of music that lives to this day. One of my most favorite Christmas songs of all time is Sleigh Ride and I so enjoyed playing the arrangement by Arthur Fielder, the noted conductor of the Boston Pops.
I’m 2nd from the right in the back row.
I so miss those days of musical performances. Though to this day I still pluck my guitar, I just do it sitting around here at the house with only my wife and son as an audience. But one thing is for sure: they’ll always give me a standing ovation and tip me well! Merry Christmas, y’all!