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The Auction, The Dreidel, And "silent Night"...


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Bay City Arts Center’s auction/dinner is over. 61 people for the dinner—biggest crowd ever, I understand—and 80 came for the documentary movie (ditto). A number of people who came said they did so because of my front-page article in the paper (nice to know the paper did that). I spent most of my time designing the graphics for everything, and fighting with the printer. (I finally figured out the problem wasn’t the printer: it was because my Sotheby’s-style auction brochure was so huge—the Arts Center’s 1999-vintage PC did not have enough RAM to handle it. I think I can get the extra RAM locally.)

And for me? One of my apparent fans got the Deathgrass CD for $5.00 and another one won the Joe Concert for $25.00. Both were happy. (I told them they should be. They got a real good deal.)

I decided I might as well immortalize this Christmas’ search for a dreidel (the Jewish Hanukkah top) in song. The search was unsuccessful—and long—but I did get to go some different places and meet different people in the process. Ultimately I was told by a Presumably Knowledgeable Person that there appeared to be a Dreidel Shortage and I should dust off my woodworking skills and make my own, because that was the only way I was going to get one. (They are pretty simple to make, though I haven’t tried it. At this point, I have a whole ‘nother year before I may need one again.)

Yes, there is probably a song in it (one without any dead things, even). It already has a chorus, thanks to Wednesday night’s long and harrowing trip back from Portland. I had wanted to write a Jewish folk tune, anyway, because it is fascinating music—happy dance music in a minor key?—and the unsuccessful search for a dreidel by a Gentile boy is probably an appropriate subject for a Jewish folk song. At this point, though, my chorus is traditional bluegrass music (I haven’t steeped myself enough yet in the folk melodies), and in fact the melody my chorus has is one I’ve already used in another song. That will have to change. Every song must be different.

I suppose that’s a niche market—but I’m not after a market in this instance so much as I’m trying an experiment. When I wrote “Last Song of the Highwayman” last year, I was deliberately trying to master the medieval ballad. I’m after a similar result in this case. I want to master the Jewish folk song. In one take, of course.

And for next Christmas… I learned this year (in the course of collecting Christmas trivia for the Netarts show) that the 19th-century Christmas carol “Silent Night” was originally written as a JIG. That’s pretty fast-moving music, there—that song would rock. Reportedly when it was first played in public, the younger church-goers really liked it, and the old folks hated it, and this may have been why. These days, of course, it’s done as a very slow waltz—no doubt to pacify those old folks, who are the majority of church-goers.

Envision a music video, with “Silent Night” played the way it’s supposed to be played. We’d set it in one of those Live Nativity Scenes, with the Happy Couple, the Famous Baby, some animals (we will need sheep), and a couple of shepherds. The shepherds pull out instruments—a banjo and trumpet—and another hauls in a standup bass, and they play one verse of “Silent Night” the slow, waltzy way. And then the bass player launches into the jig. First lead by the trumpet (I do know a trumpet player). The Wise Man drift in with electric instruments (guitar, fiddle and keyboard) and a drum set appears (hey, it’s Christmas—magical things happen); second lead is by the keyboard player, or maybe the fiddle, or both. By the end, we’ve got Mary and Joseph dancing a jig with each other and with shepherds and angels, the sheep doing backup vocals (sheep baa in A, I found), and Baby Jesus’ halo flashing in time to the music. It’d be tons of fun to do.

Joe

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