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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 angels' perspective. 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 musical interludes. 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 frivolity. 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.
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