This time of year, I often hear, and you likely do, too, about how to cope with frazzled nerves while scurrying to get ready for Christmas. All the shopping, cooking, company parties, family gatherings, church services, and futile attempts to keep everyone happy, can really put one on edge.
Or over it.
Every Christmas, I try not to mentally and emotionally slip over the abyss from which I may not return until summer solstice. What helps me, in part, to remain sane is an old phonograph record whose sonorous quality quiets my hurried mind and gently nudges me into a softer, heartfelt place where the magic and wonder of Christmas can ease in. The nudge also gives light to dormant childhood Christmas memories that thankfully haven’t vanished despite my getting older and not so much wiser.
The phonograph is “Christmas Joy” by George Melachrino and his Orchestra. If you’re familiar with Melachrino’s work, the composer/arranger was born in England in 1909 and died in 1965. Music was the man’s life, and reportedly he wrote his first composition when he was 5 years old, according to a biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine on allmusic.com.
Early in his career, he played for several bands and orchestras. After World War II, he formed the George Melachrino Orchestra, which became famous for its lush, rich strings that gave his music “a luxurious, romantic quality.” Melachrino also wrote several film scores, and produced a long list of professional musical accomplishments.
Yet, he is perhaps most widely known for his “Music for Moods” series in the 1950s. Want special music for a romantic dinner at home, for relaxing, or reading a book? Melachrino had specific albums for them. Customized music channels on iTunes and Spotify are nothing new.
But for me, Melachrino’s “Christmas Joy” beats all. Released in 1959, the year I was born, the album features 16 religious and secular Christmas songs, the names of which, most or all, you already know by heart. Each is performed in full orchestral flourish, with strings, woodwinds, horns and percussion. From dramatic to whimsical, Melachrino’s masterful direction brings vigor and passion to every piece. The album was released nearly 60 years ago, but its indelible sound that celebrates the joy and wonder of Christmas remains timeless to me.
In addition to music that calms your nerves and tugs at your heart, the album cover is like a Thomas Kinkade painting — but better. It features a color night photograph of a country home ensconced in deep, pristine snow. Warm, yellow light emanates from the home’s frosted windows, and long icicles hang from the roof. The scene kindles thoughts of past snowy Christmases, the hope of a white Christmas to come, and all is right and good in the world when one is tucked safely inside their home.
When I was a kid, I always knew Christmas was next on the calendar every time my mother pulled “Christmas Joy” from the album library, and carefully placed the record on the RCA phonograph turntable. I remember her being in the kitchen while the album played, making Danish Christmas cookies like Klejner and Vaniljekranse, or fresh Leverpostej (liver paste). Her Christmas cookies and other treats were an expression of her Danish soul, a yearly gift to the family from her being born and raised in Denmark. And of course, they were delicious beyond compare.
My mother passed away in March 2016 at 91 years old. I love and miss her, and this Christmas will be hard like the last without her. But sweet, cherished memories come quickly every time I play “Christmas Joy,” and even more so when I play it and then step into the kitchen and try to match my mother’s Christmas cooking mastery. The music, and smells of cardamom, almond and vanilla, transport me to a family era I’m forever grateful to have experienced.
If you’re looking for a way to unwind this Christmas, which may be acute with the holiday only a few days away, take a comfy seat in your darkened living room, light the tree, and tap into Melachrino’s “Christmas Joy.”
The old album is long out of print, but CDs are available on the internet, plus you can download it from iTunes, Google play, Spotify and other sources. If you’re a big fan of Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” album from 1961, Melachrino’s “Christmas Joy” may give you one more reason to scurry less this holiday season.