Local Musicians Create CDs for the Season
Rauschart, Lisa, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Lisa Rauschart
Holiday music offers a chance to give a fresh spin to classics, revisit childhood favorites or create a fresh sense of wonder with new works for accomplished musicians of any genre.
Through the years, a wide spectrum of local artists have offered their own takes on the holidays, from soprano Denyce Graves' "Cathedral Christmas," performed with the Cathedral Choral Society and the Duke Ellington School of the Arts' Show Choir, to the Celtic-influenced, intimate stylings of hammered-dulcimer player Maggie Sansone.(spade)
If you are ready to run down to your local record store looking for the latest holiday offerings from Washington-area artists, though, you may be in for a surprise.
"People aren't buying holiday music the way they used to," says Lucas Hayes, a manager at Olsson's in Bethesda, a book and music store that is known for promoting the works of local musicians. "They're the kind of thing you don't listen to all year, and it's easier and cheaper just to download the song you like on an MP3 or from the Internet."
Even the Smithsonian Institution, once known for its collection of esoteric holiday CDs from many genres, has confined its offerings to just a few solid standards.
Fortunately, a few hardy souls are continuing to work in the holiday-music tradition. This year's "A Holiday Sampler," from Robin Bullock, Al Petteway and Amy White, ranks among the very best holiday music albums of any year. It offers sparkling acoustic treatments of traditional carols, along with a couple of original compositions by the musicians.
"I'm drawn to the older carols, things like the `Coventry Carol' or `Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming,'" says Miss White. "There's a certain sensibility about those older carols that really resonates with us."
Together, Miss White and Mr. Petteway, a fixture on the Washington acoustic music scene whom she married in 1995, have produced two award-winning albums and served as artists in residence at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage.
In live performance, the two are as much known for their stories as their songs. Mr. Petteway, the recipient of more than three dozen Washington Area Music Association Awards, often draws upon his experiences playing with various musicians, from Mike Auldridge to Mary Chapin Carpenter.
"I got a lot more into the holidays as an adult than I did as a kid," Mr. Petteway says. "I remember we all used to get together [Miss Chapin Carpenter and others] and go through our Alexandria neighborhood caroling. People had no idea who was singing in their back yards."
Miss White grew up in a musical household. Her mother was a soprano and gave voice lessons, and her father was principal English horn soloist of the National Symphony Orchestra.
She credits her parents with instilling in her a love for the less well-known carols, many of which appear on the album. In fact, her mother, Jane White, supplied the music for many of them.
Carols such as these, originally sung by cloistered monks or neighborhood choristers out a wassailing, seemingly cut across the ages, especially when played with the range of instruments used by Mr. Petteway and Miss White. Along with familiar instruments such as the guitar and mandolin, the two make use of bouzoukis, shakers, a bodhran and cowbells.
Mr. Petteway and Miss White found themselves digging deeply into the history of Christmas celebrations, exploring the old carols and studying long-forgotten traditions to prepare for their holiday offering.
"It's really been fascinating," Mr. Petteway says. "We've been studying Christmas and the holiday season like a course. We've been so inspired by all the different traditions."
The result is a multilayered but introspective approach to music similar to the sensibility that has served them well on their last two albums, "Racing Hearts" and "Gratitude. …