A Guide to Bill Huot’s
Seasonal Music Samplers
For 20 years I was the senior policy analyst with British Columbia’s Heritage
Branch, developing legislation and programs to conserve aspects of our
tangible cultural heritage (archeological sites, heritage buildings, shipwrecks,
etc.) On my own time, I became interested in traditional Christmas songs as a
manifestation of our collective intangible cultural heritage. I really like the
fact that we collectively preserve songs that are decades or centuries old as
part of our living tradition.
In most areas of pop culture we jerk along from fad to fad, with the old
constantly being pushed aside by changing fashions. Through media exposure
and marketing, entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurial artists) create these
changing fashions, and through this, shape our culture. However, our
traditional Christmas songs have a staying power that seems to be immune to
corporate marketing and media manipulation.
I became intrigued that (since the early 1950s) we have been resistant to the
introduction of new songs into the canon of “Holiday Favourites.” By and
large, nn album comprised mostly of new songs is unlikely to sell well. The
formula for a successful Christmas album requires that the performers
interpret the standards that we know so well (and that they do not even stray
too far from the familiar arrangements).
Somehow, for reasons that I do not understand, Christmas songs preserve
themselves as part of our living traditions, despite efforts of publishers,
songwriters and performers to innovate. This also means that old songs stay
as part of our living culture, but also that many good new songs are not able to
gain acceptance and are quickly forgotten.
In 2000 I decided to put out a special millennium sampler that included songs
from each of the past 10 centuries, along with liner notes explaining the
history of the songs and their times. Since then, this has turned into a major
hobby. My collection of recordings (mostly commercially-recorded) has
grown by leaps and bounds (now numbering about 500 albums). From these,
each year I compile one sampler of songs, old and new, that I send to friends
and relatives as my annual “Christmas card”, and which I sell locally (with
100% of the proceedings donated to charity).
Here are the ones that I will have available this year:
***NEW*** Bill's 2012 Christmas Music Sampler
This years theme is Christmas carols – they are all songs related to the
Nativity story. They tend to be upbeat and sign-along-able. Angels and
shepherds abound. The songs come from before, during, and after the 19 th
century movement to reinvent the “keeping” of Christmas (the celebration of
which had been prohibited during the Reformation) and its parallel movement
to revive the medieval custom that had turned wassailing into carolling.
Bill's 2011 Christmas Music Sampler
This is a “children's album for grown-ups”. It is all about Santa Claus, as
well as reindeer, elves and the other attendant themes. This topic proved
to be more difficult than I expected – finding songs that are lighthearted
without being juvenile or sugary-sweet. Most of the songs are from pop-
music sources (mostly, unfamiliar and not from children's music). The liner
notes trace the history and background of the seasonal gift-bringer.
Bill's 2010 Solstice Music Sampler
This sampler is not Christmas music – it is music that relates to the much
more ancient custom of celebrating at the time when Nature is at her lowest
ebb, and marking the winter solstice as the New Year. Unlike my 2005
Solstice Sampler (which is somewhat cerebral) this one mostly features songs
that are festive in nature. Selections include songs about mid-winter rituals
and ceremonies, wassails and other luck visiting customs, and songs
celebrating seasonal community and conviviality.
OUT OF PRINT Bill's 2009 Christmas Music Sampler
My working title for this was “the lullaby sampler”. It has gentle, restful
songs reflecting the close relationship between the young mother and her
miraculous baby, and songs portraying the Nativity story within a scene of
peace and tranquility (i.e., little mention of the hustle and bustle from visiting
angels, shepherds and kings). The selections aren't all lullabies, but all are
soothing and relaxing (but not boring). Simple, intimate arrangements.
Bill's 2008 Christmas Music Sampler
This sampler is perhaps the hardest to summarize of any I've compiled. When
described, it sounds just plain weird. There are three movements: the first has
cowboy and country songs; the second is from tropical lands; and the third
section has a social activist edge with songs about christian and community
values. In contrast to 2007 the songs are unfamiliar, but like the previous
year's Sampler the overall mood is light and "dancey". I warned you it sounds
weird, but trust me, it works.
Bill's 2007 Christmas Music Sampler
This sampler is different from the others. It is an all-instrumental sampler,
focusing on the familiar Christmas songs that were American pop hits during
the 20th century which still comprise about half of the Christmas “classics”.
While the melodies are familiar (in fact -- over-familiar) these arrangements
are not – they range from a Hawaiian slack-key guitar version of Jingle Bell
Rock to the NORAD military band’s Carol of the Bells. Liner notes focus on
the professional songwriters who created these lasting favourites.
Bill's 2006 Christmas Music Sampler
This one features songs related to the Nativity story, from Isaiah and the
Sybil's prophesies to the flight to Egypt. Emphasis is on harmony vocals, with
several a cappella selections. While the theme reflects the religious meaning
of the holiday, most of the selections are non-liturgical and are fairly lively.
Instead of my usual interpretive liner notes, this sampler is accompanied by a
humorous episodic story I wrote depicting the Nativity as seen from the
Bill's 2005 Solstice Music Sampler
This is not a Christmas album. It features customs and celebration of the
Winter Solstice, as distinct from celebrating Christmas. It sets the stage by
drawing listeners back in time to the world of our ancient ancestors,
challenged by a season when they were deprived of the Sun's warmth and
light, when fire was sacred and essential to their survival. Our ancestors
huddled around hearth and communal fires, and developed customs of
seasonal ritual, celebration, and sharing that are still with us today.
OUT OF PRINT Bill's 2004 Christmas Music Sampler
This is a children's Christmas album for grown-ups. It is the musical
equivalent of a Christmas stocking overflowing with toys and treats. It begins
on Christmas Eve with sing-alongs and games, then there are lullabies and a
bedtime ghost story, sweet dreams of children bringing peace to the world,
then a day-long sugar-buzz. Lots of fun -- my daughters' favourite!
Bill's 2003 Spoken Word Christmas Sampler
This is a spoken word sampler, but reflecting a similar broad range of
selections from our rich heritage of Christmas oratory and literature. It is
organized into three sections (plus a prelude and an epilogue): historical
interest and reminiscences; the Nativity story; and Christmas fiction. Brief
OUT OF PRINT Bill's 2002 Christmas Music Sampler
Primarily acoustic and folk music celebrating both the Solstice and Nativity
aspects of the mid-winter holidays. It includes new songs and modern
arrangements of old ones, as well as authentic traditional music. It is not
chronologically structured. As with all of my samplers, the selections
emphasize less-familiar songs, and I have researched the sources of the songs
and written detailed liner notes.
Bill's 2001 Christmas Music Sampler
Non-religious seasonal music – old and new. The collection is a musical
journey, beginning with modern country and bluegrass music and going back
in time through the American folk music that it comes from. Then we go back
further, tracing rural British traditional music that descends from the season's
pre-Christian Solstice festivities and rituals. Its a return trip, but we come
back to the present via professionally-composed urban music of seasonal
A Millennium of Christmas and Yuletide Music
A historical review of the development of Northern European and North
American Yuletide and Christmas seasonal music over the past 1000 years.
There is a bit of everything from medieval plainchant to 1960's Rock 'n' Roll,
and from raucous wassailing music to elaborate choral harmonies. The
instrumentation, arrangements and style of presentation reflect the time
periods of the songs.
OUT OF PRINT Bill's 1997 Christmas Music Sampler
This sampler focuses on the secular celebration of Christmas. The songs are
arranged in musical "movements": early music and medieval songs; wassails
and marches; lullabies; and playful celebratory songs. For this re-release on
CD (the original was on tape) I included additional songs of historical interest,
and I added my usual style of interpretive liner notes.