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EXPLORING MUSIC: MUSIC BOXES - TINKLING AND TWINKLING by David White
MUSIC BOXES: TINKLING AND TWINKLING by David White (3 min read)
I’m torn as to what to explore in this Exploring Music. Certainly, the music included here is, at very least, a heavily hiked pathway. That is not to be held too much against this or any Christmas music compilation – familiarity is the pathway to success when offering Christmas music. The roads are littered, and warehouses used to be overly filled with CDs, cassettes and LPs of Christmas recordings believed to include “the next great Christmas song”, because we all can’t stand listening to the same old Christmas music every year, now, can we?
And yet, when it gets to the Christmas music listening season (which seems to start in March), we grasp for the comfortable. We’d rather hear a bad Silent Night than a well-crafted original song. I once had the ability to peek at Amazon’s Best Selling/Streaming Songs for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day a few years ago (it was in this decade) and found that only one song in the Top 25 had been recorded in this millennium. Only two songs were less than 25 years old, and the vast majority were from a “sweet spot” between 1955 and 1970. (This also served to remind me that Bing Crosby’s recording of White Christmas is over eight decades old. And yes, it was on the list.)
So, Rita Ford…these recordings, when issued by MHS in the mid-1980s, became instant best-sellers, second only to Paillard’s recording of the Pachelbel Canon. Without fail, these recordings check off a few boxes required for Christmas listening. It’s nostalgic and sentimental, to be certain – there’s an instant reaction (see my essay in this collection about brass music at Christmas) – the tinkle and the twinkle that is unmistakably associated with a sugar-coated Christmas moment. These are musical Hallmark cards, like the ones that you got for Grandma with about a pound of glittery snow on the outside, with a Currier and Ives look on the front.
And it becomes part of our Christmas celebrations, based on the memories we make over the years. And I can’t help but find a metaphor in this music, and the memories it enforces, or possibly even creates, when you include Rita Ford’s own story. At first her hobby, then out of necessity, her love of music boxes became a commercial enterprise. She began to work out of her New York location, and became perhaps the world’s leading expert on the mechanical music box, creating them for dignitaries, restoring historic boxes and for theater and movies.
As you listen to these Christmas favorites – heavy on the German Christmas tradition – you hear the familiar that we seek, of course. The music is distinctive, and memorable (some might say not always in a positive fashion). But you begin to envision the machine making the music, the mechanisms, the design, the workmanship. You don’t envision Perlman’s violin when you hear his recordings, but this is like listening to a vocalist. You find a picture in your mind’s eye, and you come away with a short movie, a holiday mental YouTube clip, of a highly crafted tiny machine, sending forth an indelible musical moment. Picture the metallic tines, honed by hand to the precise key, a small soundless motor, and the outer decoration, in ivory, or wood, with perhaps a jewel encased. (Our liner notes add details about the history of the music box, and its nearly five hundred year history, and it’s worth a read.)
Sweet, sentimental, unmistakably “Christmassy”.
(Rita Ford’s music box store is still open (online only), at www.ritafordmusicboxes.com. The boxes shown here are from her collection.
Christmas time is a great time to indulge in something sweet, like this album. This release is a great additional to the soundtrack to any Christmas get together. And the boxes are masterpieces of craftsmanship, and fine orchestras unto themselves. --DW
SOUND SAMPLE: ADESTE FIDELIS
SOUND SAMPLE: GOOD KING WENCESLAS
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