The final interlude concerns a group of people who aren’t disenfranchised from Christmas one bit; in fact, the holiday is considered by many to be “just for them.” Children win at Christmas, hands down. But for all that, they’re somewhat underrepresented in the music of the season.
For a child to take an important vocal role in a Christmas song, s/he must be one extreme or the other — either very, very good or very, very bad. That is to say, we can hear near-professional choirs, or we can hear schlock about a hippopotamus. If you give a child shmaltzy material to work with, you’re going to get a shmaltzy recording as a result. (This explains why the only version I truly like of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is by an adult ensemble.)
Kids are at their best when they’re at their most sincere. Give them good, heartfelt lyrics and music, and they will soar. Better yet, let them write all of it themselves. There’s a mix of both in this entry, and I wish we could hear a lot more like them.
Patti Page recorded a song called “Christmas Bells” that made great use of children not in the lead, but as a “responding” choir in a call-and-response. It’s a catchy little song that might annoy some people, but that I love. I could swear a child or two is a tad off-key, but that makes it all the more genuine to me. Rough around the edges, but warm and glowing inside.
Cyndi Lauper’s “Early Christmas Morning” starts off with children in the first verse before Lauper takes over, but it’s an effective, engaging start. And it’s perfect for a song about children singing and enjoying Christmas. The lyrics convey some great imagery, and the song captures the magic of Christmas Day.
The children skating! The snowflakes falling in time with the lazy piano notes! The boys leaning on the fence, in sincere discussion of issues that no child should face — neuroses that are far too adult. Yep, I’m talking about A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that fantastic opening song that generates a Pavlovian response in me, hearkening back to those December evenings of my childhood. That was a time when the only way to see this wonderful Christmas special was to wait until CBS had its one annual showing. How delighted was I that day at 23 when I discovered a Vince Guaraldi Trio CD that included “Christmastime is Here” in its entirety? About as delighted as the day years before, when I found a VHS tape of the show itself, and knew I could watch it whenever I wanted….
Aselin Debison sang for the queen when she was 13. That was about the same time she released Sweet is the Melody, which included a cover song called “The Gift.” If you’ve heard it, you know why I’m including it here. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. It starts with Aselin singing a cappella, in a sweet voice as clear as a glass bell. The producer added a little bit of instrumentation later in the song, but it was wholly unnecessary. Her vocal talent is unmatched. The song grabs me from the opening “A poor orphan girl named Maria…” and gives me goose bumps — plus a few tears — throughout.
Lastly, the classic. A necessity for any seasonal event, and a staple background song in countless Christmas movies. The lyrics aren’t the most insightful ever, but I don’t care. Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a tour de festive force. Having gotten married during the Christmas season, my wife and I wanted to include one Christmas song among the official, announced dances, and we went with this one. It was our bridal party dance, and it was a blast. Like Debison, Lee’s voice sounds older than she was at the time she recorded this; she was only 13.
Kids are amazing when we let them be.