What goes on at your house this time of year that lets you know the holiday season is upon us? Your house is probably a lot like our house, or any other household in America for that matter. We got our tree up the day after Thanksgiving and my two kids check it every day after school to see if there are any new presents underneath. There’s frost on the roof most mornings now in Healdsburg. The mail every day brings cards from old friends and I feel guilty about not getting my own cards out as promptly.
There are other signs of the season though which are more specific to bluegrass lovers. My eight year old son Ethan has been playing fiddle tune after fiddle tune throughout the year for his almost daily violin practice. He is a big fan of the Brian Wicklund fiddle series (I am too), but now he never even looks at those books. Instead, he plays songs out of his Fiddling Christmas book that he got in his stocking last year. I miss the Cripple Creek and Old Joe Clark, but that is more than made up for by We Three Kings and Ding,Dong Merrily on High.
My own routine has changed too. Instead of Turkey in the Straw, which got old right after Thanksgiving, my fingers are struggling to remember versions of Yuletide music that I really didn’t have down when I had to put it all aside last holiday season. I put on Roland Whites’ Christmas CD and play along as best I can from the instruction book. When my fingers get tired I can listen to Roland tell about how he got an unexpected Christmas gift from Bill Monroe when he spent his first Christmas in Nashville as a member of the Bluegrass Boys. Being from Maine, Roland didn’t understand something about food that Bill Monroe probably took for granted as a Kentuckian. Since a country ham is cooked and cured, it’s all ready to eat. Instead, poor Roland put his country ham dinner in his oven and ruined it!
My secret family shame is that the distaff side of our family does not like bluegrass music. I have to hide my CBA card so it doesn’t get taken away by CBA officials. But the nice thing about the holiday season, is that we can finally all play the same music, together as a family. My daughter Juliet is 11 and plays piano. My wife Joyce (older than 11) plays violin (not fiddle) and piano. When we all played together for the first time last year it was the high point of the season for me. It hasn’t happened yet this year but I’m hoping soon.
A couple of years ago I outsourced some of my CD storage to Juliet’s room upstairs. She has her own collection of preteen music, bluegrass and jazz. The bluegrass is only there because I told her it’s not bluegrass, it’s “newgrass”. You see, if she thinks it’s cool enough, she’ll actually listen to some of it like Crooked Still for example. And she loves to go to Grass Valley every year, but mostly because she loves being a social butterfly and hanging out with kids her age, even if they might like bluegrass. (By the way, if you heard a jazz trombone player offer up Old Joe Clark as reveille last summer at Grass Valley, that was my Juliet).
I’ll have to go up to Juliet’s room today and rescue my Butch Baldassari Evergreen CD. The play along book is pretty good too, but I want to try to learn Beautiful Star of Bethlehem this year and it’s not in the book. Fortunately Juliet can spare it. I think she could listen to just the Temptations Christmas album over and over and that would be Christmas music enough for her. They have an arrangement of Silent Night that will knock your Christmas stockings off.
Soon the season will be over and we can get back to “normal”. I hope you get some good CDs in your stockings this year, a downloading gift card, or maybe some tickets to a good festival. I figure the official end of the season will be January 7th. After that I’m going to start playing the Eighth of January. Happy Holidays to all! <