Many people have that one performer or one song that throws the switch and instantly takes them to their Christmas place. Were we to ask amidst the eggnog, cookies and candy canes of a Christmas party, we would find people offering multiple suggestions as to their one. Some would be widely shared performers like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and songs like Silent Night, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and Sleigh Ride while others would be unique to the person responding. Where do the ones in each of your heads fall as you read this? Would you say shared or unique?
For me, the one performer is Andy Williams of whom I have previously written, “God said let there be Christmas carols and created Andy Williams to sing them.” Having to choose one song, it would be Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer which not only is the song for me but brings in the TV special as well including Santa zooming through the snow on that upside-down head of a Norelco shaver.
Chances are the switch throwers are not a single instance but rather they represent a type or class of performer or song that we associate with Christmas. My combination of Andy Williams and Rudolf suggests traditional Christmas music and this is very true. When I think broadly of Christmas music I am drawn to the likes of sung carols such as We Three Kings and I Saw Three Ships. However, I am also drawn to orchestral versions and alternatives such as the George Winston version of Carol of the Bells.
In seeking to listen to a type or class of Christmas music, our usual method is get an album by a particular performer—The Andy Williams Christmas Album, or a compilation from either a genre—Jazz To The World, or from different but similar performers—A Windham Hill Christmas. Where those wonderful albums came from are so many others from a variety of performers, genres, and performance types.
Most of the time, the compilations are selected by someone at a recording company though there are some who make their own compilations, what we called back in the day, a mixtape. Whether a tape or now a set of MP3s, the concept is the same: create a set of related individual songs from multiple sources. While enjoyable and ultimately rewarding, it is also time-intensive and most of us leave the compiling to someone else.
Over the past decade and a half, however, a compilation built in a different manner has become available making it relatively easy to create them. While still based on a performer, genre or performance type, this type of compilation is built using science, specifically the science of genetics. Enter the music genome.
A genome is an organism’s DNA, the genetic blueprint that makes it a human, a dog, or a daisy. In the same manner that scientists mapped the human genome, a musician, Tim Westergren, and a software engineer, Will Glaser, set out in 1999 to map music genomes. They believed that by doing so, they could create individualized music experiences built on a single performer or song, and build them through an automatic process rather than hand selection. The technology is owned by Pandora Media and while it was once licensed outside the streaming service, it is now available only within the Pandora application.
What it does for us in terms of Christmas music is to allow for the creation of stations that can be tightly tailored to a specific type of performer or song or performance of a song. It can be even be the same song but in different versions. For example, the aforementioned Carol of the Bells can be used to create a station of new age piano Christmas music if the George Winston version is the basis or classical piano Christmas music if a classical version is the basis, or an acapella Christmas music station if an acapella version is the basis. Each version of Carol Of The Bells possesses a unique genome that the selection software uses to create the compilation.
In short, you can create stations to match the different ways you enjoy Christmas music by using just one example of it. Some of the stations I have are Luciano Pavarotti (Holiday) which you can easily guess is an operatic Christmas station, Sleigh Ride based on the great Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops version with the trumpet player mimicking a horse that is a light orchestral Christmas station, and Traditional Christmas based on an instrumental version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
The Traditional Christmas station is the one I like to listen to late at night because it reminds me of my childhood when my mother, a Mrs. Claus if there ever was one, would have our house decorated with lights and trees and figures accompanied by various Christmas albums seemingly played non-stop. I especially enjoyed sitting at night back then with only the lights from the decorations blinking and flashing, listening to instrumental versions of traditional carols including the one that stands out, a bell version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.
Little did I know that years later I would be able to recapture some of that Christmas magic by way of a musical genome. I suppose instead of the classic Currier and Ives Christmas we can call it a Watson and Crick Christmas. While you’re pondering that, I will crank up my Andy Williams Christmas station. It is all in the DNA, you know.