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Journalist discusses Christmas music classics

At this time of year, stores, malls and coffee shops all across the nation will likely be blasting Christmas music. Music plays a key role in the holiday experience, whether people realize it or not. 

Kaylie Clem | The Feather Online

Bill Crosby was the first person to award the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, for his song “White Christmas”.

Throughout the year, people look forward to things that make the wait for December worthwhile, such as Christmas lights, decorating sugar cookies and listening to the classic holiday tunes. Christmas music adds a little flair and excitement to what makes Christmas so special. The jingling of the bells, the catchy lyrics and the iconic artists create what we know today as Christmas songs.

Christmas music dates back to the Middle Ages, with carols arising in popularity in the 13th century. The 16th century brings classics such as “The Twelve Days of Christmas“, “O Christmas Tree” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

The 1600s and 1700s brought a few popular Christmas carols people still enjoy today. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Here We Come A Caroling” both emerged from these years.

The 1800s was when Christmas music really started to become more popular. “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “O Holy Night, Angels We Have Heard in High” and “Jingle Bells and Away in a Manger” are all classic hymns that came from this time period.

The 1900s introduced Christmas pop music and non-religious songs. Songs about Santa, Rudolph and love during the holidays all become very mainstream with songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!”

One of the most popular Christmas songs ever is “Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas is You“, released in 1994. Journalist in residence and professor of journalism at Mercer University, Adam Ragusea, believes the Christmas magic of Carey’s smash hit lies in the chord progression.

“The effect is going from a dominant chord, and then kind of melting into this delicious, spicy, warm, little diminished chord,” Ragusea said. “To me, the right word is just melting, it’s like snow melting by the fire. It’s these jazzy chords that give Mariah Carey’s song that classic, early 20th century Christmas jazzy sound. It’s just the most Christmassy thing in the world, I don’t know why.” 

In the following tweet, artist Michael Bublè presents his Christmas album.

NYC-based bass player and composer Adam Neely disagrees with Ragusea’s statement through his Youtube video

“There is no such thing as intrinsic emotional meaning in chords, or chord progressions, it all depends on context,” Neely said. “The juxtaposition of happiness and sorrow is kind of a hallmark of early, 20th century songwriting, also known as Tin Pan Alley songwriting. So many Christmas songs evoke bitter sweetness, in one way or another.

“There are hundreds of songs that toy with this feeling, and for a good reason, most of these songs were written for the stage,” Neely continued. “The context for a lot of these songs has been lost throughout the years unless you actually see it on Broadway. So perhaps because of this the vast majority of the songs that have survived and persisted in the public consciousness have been Christmas songs from this era. Because of this the harmonic melodic devices that were used in that particular era of American songwriting are now closely associated with Christmas.” 

Senior Macie Thompson is well known on campus for her love of Christmas, and the music associated with the holiday.

“I love Christmas music because it is so cheerful,” Thompson said. “When it gets turned on it makes people happy. I love how it has such a pleasing tune that makes people want to sing along or listen to. I also love the fact that you can either make it super present, or you can make it simple background music without changing anything too drastic. I think that one element in Christmas songs that make them Christmassy are the words.

Kaylie Clem | The Feather Online

In 2017, an animated film was released based on Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.

“In a bunch of Christmas songs you hear words like, ‘holly’, ‘mistletoe’, ‘Santa Clause’, ‘snow’, ‘Merry Christmas’, and I think that that is a big factor in making it a Christmas song,” Thompson continued. “I also think that a big element that makes a song Christmassy is if it makes you get into the Christmas spirit and makes you pumped up to celebrate and have fun.”

Pop artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Michael Bublé, Sia, Paul McCartney and many more all have popular Christmas content of their own. Some sing covers of holiday classics, while others seek to make a new classic with an original song.

When talking about Christmas music in a modern context, there is no ignoring acapella powerhouse Pentatonix. With four full length Christmas albums all soaring in popularity, they have become the soundtrack to many homes during the holiday season.

So what makes a Christmas classic? Is it the chord progression? The lyrics? The instruments? Or is it the memories attached to it? That is for each individual to decide. Next time you hear a Christmas tune on the radio that you like, think about what makes it magical to you. 

For more articles, read Campus teacher shares personal story of faith, hope and Landon Goldsborough leads basketball team at center position.

Logan Lewis can be reached via email and Twitter.

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