Friday, December 25, 2009

"Angels We Have Heard On High...and Higher...and Higher...and..."

Twelve hours to go.

Give or take.

Twelve more hours of listening, enjoying, cherishing and/or enduring Christmas music.

Depending, of course, on your personal tastes, personality and/or thresholds.

I readily admit that there is some Christmas music that moves me to tears.

And some that moves me out from whatever room it plays.

But, as a writer and composer who understands the basic tenets of the subjectivity of any art form, I long ago stopped passing judgement on people for their inexplicable enjoyment of certain musical works.

There really are, it turns out, people who can listen to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" for three straight months and not head for the roof with the sniper rifle to start killing innocent bystanders.

Waterboarding, my a**...that's some folks who can be tortured and deal with it.

Allowances for taste aside, I really do love Christmas music. Secular and non.

And there are certain pieces that, to my ear, cannot be improved upon.

Usually the non-secular, ie; "The Lord's Prayer", "Ave Maria", "O Come O Come Emmanuel", et al.

Provided, of course, that the interpretation of said non-secs remains reasonably true to the composer's original vision.

"O Come All Ye Faithful" as rendered by The Sex Pistols, for example, might bring the envelope pushing to shove.

That said, I'm one of those folks who isn't sorry to see Christmas music get packed up and put away with the diligently rolled tree lights (which will come out of the box next November in a gnarly mess in spite of the about your holiday wonders...).

Because there are times, during the season, when the sounds of the season conjure up, simutaneously, visions of sugar plums and dreams of taking a ballpeen hammer to the CD player.

And for that, I pin the blame on Sam Harris.

Sam was the uber talented wunderkind who upped the ante, big time, on winning the vocal wars on Star Search, the 80's talent show that was American Idol before there was American Idol.

There ain't no question that the kid had game.

Give him a listen and you'll see/hear.

Serious chops, n'cest pas?

But just as Pandora ooopsed when she de-boxed the previously boxed, Sam, inadvertantly, not only set the bar for vocal peformance higher, he unleashed that which had previously been leashed.

Yes, I'm talking about...

The Sam Harris Lick.

The insertion, at some point in the song, of a single note that encompassed all other notes in the known, and unknown, musical scale, starting low and gliding, seamlessly if executed flawlessly, up, up and up to a vocal moment that was part climax, part plaintive wail while teetering periously close to the sound of an adorable, but clearly wounded, small animal.

Admittedly, used sparingly by the right talent, a hair raising, chill down the spine moment.

A sincere sensory stimulation.

Used frequently by the wrong talent...

Musical masturbation.

And the thing about singers who make things look easy on national TV?

They make it look easy.

And the next thing you know....

...what started out as an earnest attempt to create a signature sound, to put a personal stamp on a style flows like a virus through the vocalist mainstream and starts to show up at any time, in any place, in any voice.

The sweet simplicity of the human voice now includes bells and whistles as standard equipment.

And bells and whistles start to get in the way of the sound of the music.

The "lick" eventually mutated into a variety of forms, scattered throughout the presentation sugar frosting on the flakes, sometimes to the point where the vocal gymnastics start from moment one of the song.

Sam Harris always came off as a nice guy.

I have no reason to doubt that he was/is.

I'm pretty sure, too, that no matter how many people forget who he was/is, he will always be in my thoughts at Christmas time.

If, at no other time, when I hear Mariah and her fellow licksters take me walkin in a wailin wonderland.

Merry Christmas, Sam.


Twelve hours to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment