Silver Bells


This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.

I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.

We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.

I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.

2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!

As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.

During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.

You can click here to listen to “We Need A Little Christmas” and click here to listen to “Winter Wonderland” if you are curious.

I’ll also be sharing a few holiday songs in blog posts.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Today’s song — “Silver Bells” — was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.

Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”

They were also both Jewish.

Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.

They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.

This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.

I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”

In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.

His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.

In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.

However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.

Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…

Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.

But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:

“Christmas makes you feel emotional…

It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…

Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.

One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.

I found these rather stunning statistics on the web site of a waste disposal company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
  • It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
  • People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
  • Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).

Yikes!

A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Future says, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”

And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:

“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”

Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.

So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.

Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.

Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.

Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.

Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…

Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.

Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.

Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!

We Need A Little Christmas!

We Need A Little Christmas!

 

Although it is still autumn for another two weeks here in the northeastern United States, last weekend we had our first big snow storm.

SnowonBranchesatFarm

So it feels like winter has already begun, with the holidays of Solstice and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Christmas looming on the horizon…

As recent readers of this blog may recall, my two sisters live on a farm in upstate New York.

SnowBranchesBarn

One of them has lived there for many years, is a terrific photographer, and has agreed to let me use her photos in this blog post. You can click here to read a post from two years ago which also featured her photos and the song “Winter Wonderland.”

StellaWalkingInSnow

My sisters take at least one long walk with their dogs each day.

Stella, a very large black Lab mix, is unfazed by rain or snow.

StellaInSnowByFalls

My younger sister and nephew moved from California a couple of summers ago.

He, too, is unfazed by snow…

RyderTassoinSnow1

Their beloved dog of 14 years recently died, and after some reflection they decided to welcome a herding dog into their lives.

This is Tasso.

RyderandTassoSplitWood

Right now he’s still growing.

But eventually he will help with these woolly beings..

SheepEatingHay

My older sister works in Cornell’s department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design.

Wool8

This is one of the reasons why she invited several pregnant Icelandic ewes onto the farm last winter.

SheepArrivingInTruck

Here is a sampling of their un-dyed wool…

They have a soft, insulating undercoat as well as a hardy outer coat which helps them keep warm during the winter months.

SnowFootprints

My older sister also has a very hardy flock of Australorps who are willing to venture out into the snow if someone offers something delicious such as sunflower seeds.

SnowChickens

They have been very healthy and generous egg-producers.

My sister has learned firsthand how intimately connected with sunlight their egg-laying cycles are.

Egg production drops off as the days get shorter and gradually picks back up after the winter solstice.

TwoFreshEggsCloseup

I continue to be amazed that hens can create such enormous and beautiful and nutritious objects inside their bodies ON A DAILY BASIS!!!

ChickenEatingSquash

My sister feeds them organic grain from a local mill and lots of left-over vegetables — and in non-snowy months they forage outside all day long, too.

She sells some of the eggs to local customers, and her family consumes a goodly number of them, too.

During the holidays my grown up nephew and niece and her husband return to town to partake in various family rituals.

JasperHoldingTree

The cutting of a tree..

MakingGingerbread

The baking…

And decorating of cookies.

FirewoodatFarm

The chopping of wood…

SIngingwithCandles

The singing of songs…

SolsticeTorches

The lighting of torches with cousins to drive away the winter’s gloom…

ChristmasOrnamentCloseup

The trimming of the tree…

PieWithLeaves

The baking of pies…

PomegranateSeeds

The eating of pomegranates…

StellaWinterWoods1

And those daily walks around the farm with the dogs…

SnowPondReflection

Past the irrigation pond…

SnowyBlueFieldAt Farm

Along the edge of a field…

BittersweetWithSnow

Admiring the beauty of an invasive species…

MerandTassoShovelingSnowatFarm

Sometimes shoveling a path…

SheepSniffingJasper

Sometimes visiting with a sheep…

SquirrelTobaccoShed2

Or watching a squirrel’s adventures on the side of one of the barns…

SquirrelTobaccoShed1

Under which Stella is taking a break…

StellaSnowTobaccoShed
I have long loved the song “We Need A Little Christmas” — written by the songwriter Jerry Herman for Angela Lansbury to sing in the musical Mame.

AngelaJerryCarol

Here he is with Angela and Carol Channing, who starred in another one of his hit musicals — Hello Dolly.

Pianist/composer Doug Hammer and I recorded the version in the player at the beginning of this blog post several years ago.

I also perform it each December as part of an hour-long program of winter holiday songs written or co-written by Jewish lyricists and composers which jazz pianist Joe Reid and I bring to Boston-area retirement communities and public libraries.

SheepWhiteCloseUp

In our current era of cultural polarization, I am grateful to remember that some of our favorite winter holiday songs — including “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and all of the other songs from that animated TV special), “The Christmas Song” (a.k.a. “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire”), “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and “White Christmas” — were written or co-written by Jewish-American songwriters.

I thank them for their creativity and their appreciation/respect for the loving spirit of Christmas.

I thank my older sister for letting me grab all of these photos (except the one of Angela, Jerry and Carol) from her Facebook archives.

WillInSnowyFieldAtFarm

And I — standing in snowy field during a visit to upstate NY — thank you for reading and listening to another blog post.

May you enjoy healthy and happy holidays during this season of short days and long nights…

BarnSnowSkyTrailsatFarm

And maybe some pie and tapioca pudding and colorful root vegetables, too…

StrawberryRhubarbTapioca