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?