Music is such a powerful element of the Christmas season. For weeks leading up to the Big Day, we hear Christmas tunes on the radio 24/7, piped in to stores and restaurants and at home as we decorate our Christmas trees, bake cookies, sip eggnog and so on. The holiday season would simply not be the same without the songs we’ve grown to know and love — both traditional carols and contemporary pop songs.
The other day, my family was listening to the soundtrack from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and I began thinking about the origin of this beloved music and how it’s become an enduring favorite. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was the first animated TV special based on Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip. It was a low-budget production which first aired in 1965. Most of the children who provided the voices of the Peanuts characters were amateurs. There was some controversy over whether to include references to actual Bible readings. The fact that the show incorporated the telling of the Nativity story set it apart from secular Christmas programs. And the show’s executive producer, Lee Mendelson, also went out on a limb when he decided to use a jazz trio to perform the background music.
The story goes that Mendelson heard “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by Vince Guaraldi’s trio while traveling in a taxi on Northern California’s famous Golden Gate Bridge. He tracked down Guaraldi, a keyboard player from the Bay Area, through a jazz columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and pitched Guaraldi on the idea of composing some music for the TV special. A couple of weeks later, Guaraldi presented Mendelson with the “Linus and Lucy” theme that is now so closely identified with the Peanuts legacy. That tune has been covered by other artists including David Benoit, Gary Hoey and Dave Matthews Band, to name a few.
Some of the other music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is more traditional: songs like “O Tannenbaum,” “Greensleeves” (also known as “What Child Is This?”), “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” etc. But Guaraldi’s trio gave these songs a new, breezy feel that was popular in the mid-1960s. And the arrangements and performances still sound wonderful today. Grandparents, great-grandparents and preschoolers alike can hear this soundtrack and it makes them smile, tap their feet and/or get misty-eyed about the magic of the Christmas season.
That’s what making music is all about. It conveys emotion, it takes you back to a certain place or time in your life or gives you hope for the future. What’s your favorite holiday season music? Whatever it may be, enjoy and share it with old and new friends.