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Music of the season – Yule

Posted by Erik on December 18, 2007

[Note: this is a lightly edited repost from my old LJ. I am hoping to make this an occasional series here, as warranted.]

Good Winter Solstice music is hard to find. In general I do not include filked Christmas carols in the “good” category, although there are a couple of exceptions (and completely new pagan words set to an existing melody are a different matter altogether). Good *Christmas* music abounds, of course… and some of it is even reasonably pagan-friendly.

Here, then, are the few tracks, either explicitly pagan or just pagan-friendly, that I have found so far to liven up my Solstice season. If you know of others, PLEASE pass them on!

PART I – SOLSTICE

Gaia Consort – “Gathering” (from Gaia Circles)
GC is one of the few really rockin’ pagan bands I know of outside the metal/hardcore genre; if this track doesn’t have you drumming on the steering wheel you’re probably dead. Free lo-res download from their website.

Gypsy – “Bring Back the Light” (from Enchantress)
Yeah, yeah, I know, this track is a hundred years old… but it’s still good.

Loreena McKennitt – “Snow” (from To Drive the Cold Winter Away)
Pretty, secular, wintry – it works.

Jethro Tull – “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” (originally from Songs From the Wood, latterly also from the Jethro Tull Christmas Album in a prettier holiday-ish arrangement)
You knew this was coming. Admit it.

The Revels – “L’Homme Armé” (from Sing We Now of Christmas)
A medieval French melody – some of the best Christmas music ever written is in the French carol repertoire, IMO – with completely new words by Susan Cooper. The original French lyrics are pretty cool all by themselves, although completely secular.

Hilda Marshall/Columbine – “The Holly and the Ivy” (my recording is from Epic Arts Repertory Theatre‘s production “A Mad, Mad Madrigal” – you may be able to order a copy from their website. You can see the words here, though.)
This is pretty much the lone exception to my dislike of filked Christmas carols – it’s just so pretty I can’t hate it. I have seen both names attributed as authors in different places, so I have listed them both here (for all I know they may be the same person?) EDITED TO ADD – apparently they are the same person. Thanks to Cat for clearing that up.

The Beatles – “Sun King” (from Abbey Road)
I freely admit that this is a stretch… but I wanted a Beatles track, and the English lyrics work perfectly (and “Here Comes the Sun” is so obviously an Imbolc song that it just doesn’t work). And yes, I know some people speculate that it’s yet another drug song… but I don’t care. So there! ;)

PART II – CHRISTMAS

Traditional music
I have a personal fondness for “Good King Wenceslaus”; outside of that there is (not surprisingly) not a lot in the actual Christmas carol repertoire that is not confessional (i.e., that includes statements affirming one or more theological beliefs about Jesus). I also listen to a lot of French carols at this season (see comment above regarding ultimate coolness of medieval French carols – “Il est Né le Divin Enfant”, “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella”, “Belle Qui Tiens Ma Vie”, etc), and a few songs in Latin (“Adeste Fideles”). This allows me to do as hired singers do all over the country, and ignore what I’m listening to and just wallow in the beauty of the music.

Modern music
There’s a lot of traditional secular “Christmas” music that works for this purpose, of course -Frosty, Rudolph, Silver Bells, Winter Wonderland… (j/k on the last, I like to stick to good music whatever the purpose ;). I assume you already know what you like in this area.

Dar Williams – “The Christians and the Pagans” (from Mortal City)
Rapidly becoming a holiday standard, a bit overplayed these days but if you limit yourself to only listening to it between Thanksgiving and New Years it’s still great.

Chris Rosser – “Christmas in the Ashram” (from The Holy Fool)
This is a very funny song. The rest of the album is kind of average, though. He was obviously inspired by David Wilcox.

John Lennon – “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (originally from Shaved Fish; I have it on Lennon: Legend)
Not much to say about this that the title doesn’t say better.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie – “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (from an old Bing holiday special – available on several collections).
Sigh.

Love Spirals Downward – “Welcome Christmas”
Free download from http://www.projekt.com/excelsis.

Jackson Browne – “The Rebel Jesus” (originally recorded with The Chieftains on The Bells of Dublin; can also be found on The Next Voice You Hear… : the best of Jackson Browne)
As you can see from this list, I like songs that remind Christians what their holiday is supposed to be about. This is one of the best of them.

Jethro Tull – “A Christmas Song”, “Another Christmas Song” and “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow” (all found on The Jethro Tull Christmas Album; “A Christmas Song”, in a somewhat different arrangement, first appeared on Living in the Past)
Ditto.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “I Believed in Father Christmas” (from Works Vol. 2)
Perhaps my favorite of this batch of Christmas music.

Elvis Costello with The Chieftains – “The St. Stephen’s Day Murders” (from The Bells of Dublin)
Not strictly a Christmas song – St. Stephen is the 26th (cf. “Good King Wenceslaus”) – but it captures perfectly the occasional strains of the large family holiday gathering. Cracks me up every time.

George Winston – December
Yes, the whole album. Just listen to it.

Enya – “Oíche Chíun (Silent Night)” (CD single)
“Silent Night” in Gaelic. Just lovely; finally, a good use for Enya’s overly breathy singing style (well, that and her version of the lullaby “Marble Halls”).

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” (from Christmas Eve and Other Stories)
I don’t listen to a lot of TSO, but I truly love this electric “Nutcracker” medley.

Mannheim Steamroller – “Stille Nacht” (from A Mannheim Steamroller Christmas)
Again, an act that normally leaves me kind of cold, but all is paid for with this one luminous track. Listen to it and just try NOT to envision gentle snow falling on Christmas eve night. Bet you can’t do it.

Whirling Dervishes – “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (from the Grinch EP)
Fun! Dance to it!
There’s probably more that I’m forgetting right now, but this will hopefully make a good beginning.

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9 Responses to “Music of the season – Yule”

  1. Hi,
    Hilda Marshall is indeed the same person as Columbine–a very creative woman, who also runs Sun Spot Designs, a place to find unusual gothic jewelry. She’s an old friend of my husband’s, and a woman of deep integrity. I think she’d be tickled to find a Pagan who actually cites a source instead of just republishing without credit!

    It was a pleasant surprise to encounter her name here for me, at any rate.

    Thanks for the music tips–most of them (other than Dar Williams and Jethro Tull) are new to me.

    Blessings!

  2. Hmmm… Looks like the link for Sunspot Designs didn’t go through. It’s at http://www.apocalypse.org/~hilda/ssdcat.html

  3. The 2 Witches said

    A wonderful wonderful list ….. saw many personal favorites as well as some new songs to explore

    Mama Kelly

  4. executivepagan said

    Cat,
    She has some *very* pretty things – thanks for the link and the confirmation!

    Mama Kelly,
    So – the $64 question is, what do you like that *isn’t* on my list?? :D

  5. Hugh Jass said

    Christmas at Ground Zero – “Weird” Al Yankovic
    Ive Burl’s – Mr Grinch
    Leroy the Redneck Reigndeer – Joe Diffie

  6. executivepagan said

    Thanks! I generally put novelty songs in a separate category, though… but thanks for stopping by!

  7. Jan said

    Here’s a nice video — “Happy Yule/Winter Solstice” — that features a wonderful song called “Winter Solstice” by Druid.

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  8. executivepagan said

    Pretty – thanks for sharing, and Happy Solstice to you!

  9. jus me said

    ‘k, I’m jumping in on this real late, but I came upon this in a search for “rockin pagan” music. I’m familiar with the classic rockers you mention here, plus the George Winston, and I have heard the Gypsy song before though not in a long time. I’ll definitely look into the other suggestions come next Solstice.

    But, one of my favorite “Christmas” songs is more an ode to nature, quiet celebration and belief in general. It’s John Denver’s “Aspenglow.” There’s a version on YouTube which is slightly different from the one that was originally on Rocky Mountain Christmas, but you’ll get the gist. Oh, and I also loooove Johnny Mathis’ version of “Sleigh Ride” that was on an old Columbia House-exclusive album that my parents had. Go figure. :)

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