Avoiding Turkeys on Thanksgiving

I haven’t suddenly converted to vegetarianism—I ate the trad bird and all the fixins on Thursday. In fact, this isn’t even about food. Rather, it’s about the problem of choosing appropriate music to listen to on Thanksgiving.

The looming series of holidays at the end of next month have musical selections for any possible taste: from the ubiquitous Handel Messiah sing-alongs to the must-have season-themed albums by James Brown and the Beach Boys to—for we new music minded folks—John Adams’ El Niño and Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night. But there’s really nothing appropriate to go along with November’s annual gobble fest.

The Thanksgiving music lacuna became abundantly clear when I was asked to bring music to fill up a 5-CD changer for the party we attended at my friend Julia’s apartment. For our own home listening earlier in the day, after coming up with only one appropriate piece—Charles Ives’s “Thanksgiving Day” movement from his Holidays Symphony, my wife Trudy suggested we listen only to things with holiday in the title. After Elliott Carter’s surprisingly Americana-tinged Holiday Overture from the early 1940s and Art Blakey’s amazing Holiday for Strings sessions, I cheated a bit and put on some Billie Holiday, and later—ignoring the spelling inconsistency—the original cast album for Jule Styne’s Bells Are Ringing starring Judy Holliday. I couldn’t locate my soundtrack for Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, conveniently forgot Madonna’s early hit single “Holiday,” and completely neglected the Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia,” which didn’t seem appropriately festive, and had only just learned about the band Her Space Holiday. Although, admittedly, their album Home is Where You Hang Yourself would probably not have worked out either.

I wound up bringing along a group of discs that did not reference the holiday directly at all. I took one of Hesperus’s recordings of colonial American music, since it seemed to set the mood, and the new Naxos CD of Fred Hersch’s concert music, because Julia is obsessed with Fred Hersch. Ted Nash’s Double Quartet disc Rhyme and Reason seemed apt since it joined a jazz quartet and a string quartet, a nice metaphor for the coming together of two communities on the legendary first Thanksgiving. A disc of Joanne Polk performing solo piano music of Amy Beach made the cut since she lived to see Thanksgiving officially declared to occur on the fourth Thursday of November by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and approved by the U.S. Congress in 1941.

I thought about bringing along some Turkish music for the fifth disc, but the pun ultimately seemed silly. Instead, just to be a contrarian, I chose the American Brass Quintet’s reconstruction of brass band music from a North Carolina regiment during the Civil War. Brass bands and Thanksgiving Day parades are almost synonymous in people’s minds. But the one time and place during the history of the United States that Thanksgiving was not celebrated, either officially or un-, was in the Confederacy. Turns out the legislators in the seceded Southern states believed that this Puritan-tinged holiday violated the separation of church and state. Go figure.

I put the discs on random shuffle and a great time was had by all, especially when the Confederate marching band came on. It was always somewhat jolting, but in a good way. What would you have put in that CD changer? What did you listen to last Thursday?

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4 thoughts on “Avoiding Turkeys on Thanksgiving

  1. mryan

    Thanksgiving music
    I released a children’s album entitled “Thanksgiving!”, but it would hardly have fit the bill for a party CD. I think there are quite a few choral bits that would have been nice, noteably the folksong, “How Can I Keep from Singing?” which is decidedly sectarian (Enya did a version once and there are great choral arrangements of this tune). Of course there’s a lot of hymns that would work, but it sounds like you really came up with a good mix as it is.

    I think with what Thanksgiving is all about, any music you’re grateful for would be appropriate. In fact a compilation of the tunes you are most grateful for might be the most appropriate compilation for the day.

    M. Ryan Taylor

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  2. Somebody

    Indian Music Plug
    Well Frank, how about American Indian music. Those would be the ones that gave the food to the hungry and then got blasted off the earth. But, you are such a logo guy, you took the time to plug away. I still can’t believe you get paid for this. You should sell cars or something, or perhaps you could have dreamed of your favorite American made products after stuffing.

    Reply
  3. philmusic

    You could try Bacharach’s “Turkey Lurkey Time” but on close examination it’s an Xmas song. If one feels at one with the Turkey, there are several beheading scenes in opera that just might do; Electra and Dialogue of the Carmelites. My Wife Janet suggested these.

    I am myself; please forgive the shameless self-promotion, to busy working on my solo performance for the ISIM too casual listen at this time.

    On the other hand, as you can see, perhaps there are some Turkeys one just can’t avoid.

    Phil Fried

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  4. mdwcomposer

    Although not during the meal itself, my recent Thanksgiving soundtrack was multiple listenings of a piece of mine that was just premiered the previous weekend: large community choir (130+ voices) & string orchestra. I took a CD of one of the performances back with me during my visit to my folks.

    What was unusual for me was that my mother actually wanted to listen to it several times during the days I was in Kentucky – which is a first. And wanted one of her neighbors to hear it too (more listening).

    Anyone else share “unusual” music on those we see around this time of year? Those (like “see-only-at-holiday-time” friends and family) whose definition of “unusual” is considerably different than our own?

     &nbsp – Mark Winges

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