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Music Professor Martin Sweidel Picks his Holiday Favorites

Ella Fitzgerald, Paul Simon and B.B. King headline the downloadable playlist

Music professor Martin Sweidel often embraces digital technology to craft his high-tech compositions and interactive artwork. But this time of year the associate dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts also favors a digital assist for creating playlists of favorite holiday tunes. So here, for our listening pleasure, are his top picks for the holiday season’s soundtrack.

  • “Let Ella Fitzgerald put you in the mood for the holidays,” Sweidel says. “Anything from the 1960 album Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas will do the trick. All of the songs are familiar Christmas favorites; it is hard to choose just one. My favorite is probably her cover of Frank Loesser’s What Are You Doing This New Year's Eve.”
  • “Don’t overlook the blues during the holidays,” he suggests. “Check out the album Yule Be Miserable and I promise you’ll be anything but miserable, especially when hearing B.B King’s Merry Christmas Baby and Louis Armstrong’s Zat You, Santa Claus?”.
  • “The DFW band Brave Combo has a holiday album called, It’s Christmas, Man," he says. “Support local music and give a listen to their fun covers of Feliz Navidad and a Ska version of the The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”
  • Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming) is a 16th century classic based on a Marian Hymn,” Sweidel says. “For a great recording check out the album Christmas Angels by the Vienna Choir Boys, where you’ll find many other classic Christmas carols beautifully performed.”
  • “For an instrumental recommendation, enjoy Oscar Peterson’s solo piano cover of Thad Jones’ best-known jazz standard A Child Is Born.”
  • “The 1971 recording by the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, Happy Christmas (War Is Over), written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, is now a holiday standard, with a growing number of covers by contemporary artists,” Sweidel suggests.
  • “This song and the next have one thing in common: Paul Simon. The first is from his new album So Beautiful or So What. It’s the opening track, Getting Ready for Christmas Day. Simon combines an upbeat tune with a 1941 recording of the preacher/gospel singer, the Rev. J. M. Gates,” he says. “The lyrics remind us of what many among us are dealing with while getting ready for Christmas Day.”
  • “My all-time favorite Christmas song is Silent Night. Franz Xaver Gruber composed this simple melody on Christmas Eve in 1818 to lyrics by Joseph Mohr. The story goes that the organ at the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria, was not working, so the song was composed for guitar accompaniment just in time for midnight mass,” Sweidel says. “There are more than 300 recorded arrangements and performances out there from which to choose, but one of my favorites is Seven O’ Clock News / Silent Night from Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme. With a simulated 1966 radio broadcast of the 7 o’clock news as a backdrop, the story of a mother and child somehow radiates heavenly peace.”
  • “And while I enjoy many styles of music, I’d be happy to get through the holidays without hearing any Christmas songs performed by small furry animals — that includes cats, dogs, hamsters, and Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

LISTEN UP: To download all or part of Sweidel’s favorite holiday songs on iTunes, click here.

To read more holiday-themed SMU stories, click here.

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