Sam Burnham, Curator
We’re once again in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s a season that we look forward to and that I always hope to celebrate well but always struggle to engage. We’ve made our world so hectic and intense that it is hard to stop, to focus on what matters, and to truly be in the holiday spirit. I often find myself in a spirit more like Scrooge before his conversion. While I’m not hostile to Christmas, I’m not enjoying it until it has past and it is too late.
So I have to be intentional. I have to focus on things that matter - family and faith primarily. I thought I’d share some of what I do to get my mind and heart right.
Music plays a role in everything for me. While I don’t play an instrument and lack any semblance of a singing voice, I love music and my tastes are pretty broad. But at Christmas I’m pretty traditional. So here are a few of my go-to musical works.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Annie Lennox
a few years ago, Annie Lennox released a Christmas album. Lennox is incredibly gifted and the entire album is worth a listen but this one song stands out to me. The song focuses on the story of the birth of Christ and the announcement the angels made before shepherds, proclaiming the Incarnation - Messiah. In the video, Lennox ties many old Anglo-Saxon traditions and shows the way Christianity and Christmas would have been presented in Britain long ago.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, Number 8 “Christmas Concerto” - Arcangelo Corelli
I first heard this piece played as an opening overture to a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I’ve always been partial to strings and while I don’t understand the technical merits of this work, I find it stunning. It's a shorter work, only about 14 minutes, but well worth the time.
Messiah - George Frideric Handel
This quintessential Christmas opus is really an Easter celebration that has been adapted to Christmas. It fits both. So I just enjoy it during two seasons instead of just one. This one is long. It makes good ambient music in the house while you're doing whatever but is also stirring enough to hold your interest as a concert.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols - The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
This event was first held in 1918, after the dark spectre of World War I had finally passed. In the aftermath, the Festival was introduced as a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was broadcasted for the first time in 1928 and is now available all over the world, including on GPB radio in Georgia. The broadcast begins at 10 am Eastern.
I know I have fancier tastes in Christmas music than a lot of Georgians. And that’s ok. I wanted to share some of what I love but I also invite you to share your favorites below. Tell us what music, or other traditions, help you get in the Christmas spirit.
Most of all, take time to stop, truly absorb some of the season. Take time to appreciate it. Share it with us, with others, with yourself.
(Click here for our suggestions for Christmas viewing - film & television)
On this episode we have a conversation with Georgia author and writer James Calamine about his writing, his love of music and storytelling, and the people featured in his two volume book "Insured Beyond the Grave." We talk about his interviews with big names in the arts, many of which have ties to The South.
His new book, Insured Beyond the Grave: Volume Two, is now available from Snake Nation Press.
Catch the episode here
Sam Burnham, Curator
(This is a review of one volume of a two volume set. The two volumes were released separately. For the review of Volume One, click here.)
As promised, I've returned with a look at Volume Two of James Calemine's Insured Beyond the Grave.
This volume, published by Snake Nation Press, hits the streets June 28th.
It would be advisable, as James told me when I first asked about Volume Two, to go back and read Volume One, if you haven't already. That advice is not as much for the continuity of a story as it is about having the groundwork lain and seeing what he is trying to do. It is a continuation more than a sequel. Each book could technically stand alone but are intended as two halves of a whole. Volume Two holds even more of the essays about writing, music, entertainment, and some other topics, as well as some of the people who made the stories happen. While not all of the subjects are specifically Southern, Calemine is able to help you connect the dots to see how Southerners and the South played a role in many of the featured stories and people.
Calemine opens this volume with the fascinating story of Bob Dylan's unreleased film Renaldo and Clara. His finding a bootleg copy of the film in an Atlanta video store allowed him to view the produce of what might be the most Bob Dylan thing ever - a movie made with no script. That discovery comes across as a taste of forbidden fruit. Dylan didn't release the film but you are left wondering if perhaps he somehow glad to have bootlegs running around where his true fans have a chance to see the work that seemed doomed to economic and critical failure but also destined for adoration among true fans.
I was fascinated by the book's first interview, an on record account with Chuck Leavell, a Rolling Stone turned Macon, Georgia tree farmer. They discuss Leavell's music, his own writing, his tree farming, work with UGA's agriculture department, and inducting Widespread Panic into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. (Calemine wrote Panic's official induction.)
The book has many such interviews. His interview with David Barbe, who I became familiar with back when he was the bass player with drummer Malcolm Travis and guitarist-vocalist Bob Mould in the rock band Sugar. Barbe is a Georgia music icon whose predominate work has been behind the scenes, getting other musicians produced and heard. This interview revealed a lot more about a talented musician and producer who happens to be a long time Georgian. It's possible you may have not heard of David Barbe but unless you've ignored music for the last thirty years or so, you've definitely heard from him.
This volume also contains many shorter works, including a snippet on Zora Neale Hurston's Tell my Horse and Calemine's own thoughts from the road in Email Dispatches From Appalachia. There is also an introduction to Dexter Weaver's (of Weaver D's fame) book Automatic Y'all, a collection of stories and recipes from the Athens soul food legend.
We also hear about Georgia mainstays - REM, The Black Crowes, Kevn Kinney, Amy Ray, so many great artists, musicians, wirters and the people that helped us find them.
As in Volume One, there is no shortage of the beautiful photography by the author. Even more locations of Southern yesteryear continue to inspire the nostalgia and set a sense of mood and feeling. Turning the page becomes a searching through antiques and relics to find different treasures - some new and some quite old.
To tell much more would be to rob Calemine of his thunder and to rob you of the chance to read it first hand. Get your copy from James Calemine or Snake Nation Press
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire