some things are sacred

I hate to act like the stereotypical “old person”, constantly harping on the “good old days”, but I just have to say something.

When it comes to Christmas carols, songwriters, please leave the greats alone.

Yes, feel free to perform the classics in your own voice, with your personal style.  But please quit altering the lyrics of beloved Christmas songs. Don’t put the lyrics to “O, Come, All Ye Faithful” or “Joy to the World” with some terrible melody that you created just for the sake of so-called “originality”.  The fact that something is new does not automatically make it better (or even halfway decent).  There’s a reason so many of these songs have stood the test of time.

I’m a carol purist.  The words and the music to our yearly favorites deserve our respect.  They were intended to work together, in harmony, to convey messages about Jesus and about Christmas.  When people decide to divorce the music from the lyrics, the results are often not pretty at all.

We are creatures of habit.  We like things to remain the same as long as nothing is wrong with the original.  It’s a challenge to remake a movie or TV show or song and have it be as good as the first version.  Imagine taking on the remaking of “The Godfather” or “Gone With the Wind”.  Just listen to the myriad criticisms of the recent live broadcast of “The Sound of Music”.  Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be so hard on poor Carrie Underwood, and I did not see this performance, so I cannot comment on its success or failure.   But some things are amazing just as they are and cannot be improved.

All I know is, I like a song as it is, which is usually the first version I’ve heard.

Changing a classically-known song detracts from the unity that song can create.  Isn’t it wonderful to be a part of a group singing along to a piece that everyone knows and loves?  We all carry our own personal memories of that song, but we can draw together in enjoyment of it.  Even secular songs hold their own sacredness.  Wouldn’t the scene in “Elf” when Jovie leads the crowd in “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” have been pretty weird if she had broken out into her own tune? (Plus, no one would have been able to sing along, which is what ends up saving Santa and Christmas!).

Using well-known lyrics but throwing them into some random musical arrangement is like putting garlic on cinnamon rolls–the just don’t go together.  It’s quite jarring to have to try and pick up a new melody at a church service or other musical event, especially one with congregational participation.  It doesn’t encourage me to enter into worship or any kind of shared experience or emotion.  If you’re going to make me get out of my comfort zone, you might as well just write an entirely new song.  It seems lazy, not refreshing, to steal the words or the music from someone else.

I’m trying to imagine that final scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” without “Auld Lang Syne”.  Or worse–with a bubble-gum pop version sung by Justin Bieber or One Direction.  How depressing!

My high-school madrigal group always concluded our show with “Silent Night”.  Don’t even try to convince me that any remake could be more beautiful…the holiness of those moments as we fanned out, voices echoing  around the auditorium, each holding a single candle, haunts my memory to this day.

Songwriters, musicians, I implore you:  keep working at your craft.  By all means, continue to pen new music.  But be original.  If you absolutely can’t come up with an entire song without pilfering pieces from music we’ve already come to know and love…I don’t know what to say.  I guess you’d better make it good.  (Or find yourself a skilled collaborator, like Hugh Grant did in Music and Lyrics.)

I have to concede that occasionally, a good songwriter’s reworking of a classic turns out beautifully.  Please, if you have examples in mind of awesome “remakes”, whether in music, movies, or otherwise, let me know. I know I’m probably much too set in my ways…


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