28 December 2005

"Voices of Christmas Past"

I've been listening here this afternoon to this novel CD of old Christmas recordings—and I do mean old, since the newest song here is from 1922; the oldest is from 1898. It begins with Santa Claus addressing children and telling them he is hiding in the phonograph (1922). In an era when an Edison phonograph or a "Victrola" and records in the house was still high technology, imagine the faces of the small children of the house when they played this offering!

This is not the only spoken word selection in this collection. Recordings of comedy bits and scenes from plays were common in those days, and rural and ethnic humor was very popular. Two of the selections are about a country town called "Pumpkin Center" and loquacious old "Uncle Josh" narrates the stories, and another is an Irish dialect schtick. There is also a recitation of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and an interesting piece from 1917 about British soldiers around the campfire during the "Great War," telling jokes and singing.

Others are instrumental pieces, and some have the jazzy ragtime beat that was the rage in that era, and there are standard carols as well, one sung by the leading tenor of the "teens," John McCormack. One is an unabashed love song "Come and Spend Christmas With Me," also sung by a lush tenor, which was the fashion.

Two of the spoken pieces are duplicated on this page of .mp3s, which contain other songs not on the album. (One of the songs is from 1944 and the other from 1938, but the latter is done in the style of the older recordings.)

It is interesting listening to the voices of the singers and noting how the sound of people talking or singing has changed. The group singing sounds much like what we would call today "barbershop quartet" style. There is also an interesting accent in the voices which reminds me of Jerry Colonna when he was on stage (but it is not a "funny" effect like Colonna). I can only term it as kind of a warble. The spoken pieces are also what we might consider stagy today; it was the typical recitation voice of the time and even children, learning "pieces" for school, were trained to present their offerings thus.

This is a wonderful album to listen to if you are interested in history in general or in the history of sound recordings. The selections take you back to the time when our great-grands wound up the gramophone and enjoyed the "hits" of the day, scratchy record surface and all!

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