Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Bobby Chang

On Tuesday, the fire department put the Nativity back up, along with displays of other religious and non-religious holidays. That's fine, even if it smacks of making a Gamecocks fan hang a tiger paw flag on his front porch."

Charleston (SC) Fire Station #12 had a manger scene positioned in their fire station until a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation appeared, and they ordered it down. On December 23, a few non-religious signs were up under court mandate. This is what a Charleston newspaper columnist wrote about it. Imagine having a Vikings flag on your porch and then told to fly one of a hated division rival.


"I'm at a loss for words in a situation like this." -- Alex Trebek

The Answer: Calendar date with the 20th Century began.

All three players bet everything, and asked, "What is January 1, 1900?"

They were wrong, and all three players were bankrupt with a three-way loss at zero. The correct question was, "What is January 1, 1901?"

So remembering this incident on the 11 September 1984 episode of Jeopardy! 1984
(the second episode of the show, now in its 26th season), the 202nd Decade in
the Year of Our Lord starts January 1, 2011, not 2010. 2010 is just the tenth
year of the 201st Decade of the Year of Our Lord.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

OK, it may not be an opera, but The Nutcracker* is a glorious piece of music from a man who knew a thing or two about opera, Tchaikovsky.**

*Mistakenly referred to by many as the "Nutcracker Suite." The next time you hear someone do that, remember a suite is a collection of orchestral pieces assembled from a larger work. There are different "Nutcracker Suites," depending on which pieces are selected to comprise the suite (just as there are many orchestral suites drawn from larger pieces, such as Wagnerian operas), but the collective body of music is "The Nutcracker." Period. There is no such thing as the "Nutcracker Suite Ballet."

**Yes, I know that Tchaikovsky hated The Nutcracker, or at least greatly preferred his music from Sleeping Beauty, but it's still glorious.

Well, let's get back to the point. The Grand Pas de Deux is, to my thinking, perhaps the most Tchaikovsian of the Nutcracker dances. Here, from a 1968 television performance, is the great Russian dancer Rudolph Nureyev along with Dame Merle Park. The opening introduction is by Dame Ninette de Valois.

Notable Quotables, Part 2

By Bobby Chang

Continuing from yesterday, here is more of the best from 2009:

"After three weeks of our Summer II choral session (Die Jahreszeiten), I said that in preparations, we had 'three red lights' up (now four red lights are up), and two of the college girls said they only see green lights. I told them that traffic lights only have yellow and red lights, and there are no green lights. The traffic lights, I told them, came from the ING Magyar Nagydíj. None of them know what it was . . . as the ING Magyar Nagydíj is . . . GO!!!!!" -- about the big summer choral event. Now Fox and some cable outlets are in a dispute. If the Magyar Nagydíj is not allowed on the cable system, but they'll allow MTV, what gives? On DirecTV, Indy 500 Time Trials aren't allowed but oh they'll show homosexual acts on their channels.

“We're very criticial (as we should) of Miley Cyrus for her stripper-pole routine and the questionable outfits (which sadly, is what we see even with youth at dance concerts), but what about Sean Kingston at the same Teen Choice Awards earlier in the night with similar provocative sexually suggestive outfits on dancers who performed on two stripper poles? The true sad thing is that we are legitimizing pole dancing, and the teens are leading the way, with both the Kingston backup dancers and Cyrus incidents.” -- A week after the Die Jahreszeiten performance, the Teen Choice Awards had two stripper-pole incidents that enraged many of us.

“I was running in a 5k road race a few weeks ago, and at the finish line, I saw a kid wear an AC Milan jersey. It was the current version with the an online betting site. I told him he was NOT to wear an AC Milan shirt to school because it promoted online gambling. FC Barcelona also has (the same online betting advertising) on the jerseys. Schools need to start banning European sports team jerseys that feature online gambling advertising on the 'kits'" -- Football kits are now carrying online gambling advertising. Online betting advertising is prevalent in Europe but illegal in the United States.

“When I saw you striping that Cheesehead in purpose, I thought about the jokes with (a certain voice teacher), and reminded myself that she (now in Boston) is the opera soprano who would not wear a viking helmet -- but instead, she's a soprano wearing a Cheesehead who would wear that instead of an opera soprano's viking helmet!” (That is the voice teacher who “comes from a long line of Cheeseheads in the Upper Peninsula”.)" -- to a news host who put stripes on her Cheesehead on-air.

“It is important that parents be able to have school choice in order for them to understand schools and the type of textbooks being promoted. A child should be educated in reading, writing, arithmetic, history, civics, languages, and science, not the claptrap of feelings, emotions, and the latest fad education system that promotes a fringe environmentalist viewpoint of the world, and other 'standards' of extreme leftist feelings that has sadly spread quickly through the education system through the California value system in our schools today. Many of the books have encouraged a generation to speak out in favour of modern liberal philosophies that has sadly spread like wildfires, that even parents and churches are having a hard time to tell their children is wrong.” – on the Trouble with Textbooks on Fox News. A reader of the local newspaper wanted my head for citing Fox. What news channel can you cite?"

"Recently the NewSpring Church in Anderson has been nailed for questionable songs used in worship services. When you've built a repetoire of singing sacred song, what do these songs at NewSpring say when they have four campuses (also GVL, CAE, FLO)? Sorry, but Beyonce Knowles and Mariah Carey are not songs for the church. When you're Händel, Bach, and Haydn, what could you say?" -- On a Circus Church.

"Adam Lambert's performance at the American Music Awards merits him a trip to the Oval Office where he is likely to be fined $200,000, given a 200-point penalty, and a 12-week suspension. As Monty Hall, and now Wayne Brady, would say, ZONK!" -- A performance on an awards show was grotesque I thought he needed the Gong on the Gong Show or be awarded the Zonk prize on the game show hosted by Mr. Brady. Heavy fine and points penalties are common for the use of a "mountain motor" -- an engine that is larger than acceptable limits in motorsport classes.

"What is with the obsession over This Is It? It puzzles me why people are gaga over this one movie about the last practice of a concert by a pop star who overdosed on drugs and assumed room temperature. "

"Please! Drag Queens are NOT -- I repeat -- NOT stupid men who dress like women and perform stupid dance routines. Drag Queens are women who whip men on a straight strip of concrete and/or asphalt 660, 1,000 (nitro), or 1,320 feet long -- in a car (Ashley Hood), motorcycle (Karen Stouffer), or truck. Rick Stewart will straighten this issue out. Paul Page and Mike Dunn define it." -- at Mrs. Lewis-Jones' dance event, with so many friends (all heterosexual, some married) attending. I was outraged by it that I turned into John Force!

"The Sprint Cup side of me reminded me as we see Halloween material of the Fox promo they used for the Dover race in the early years of NASCAR on Fox. Neil Goldberg, Artie Kempner, and Gary Lang found "Monster Mash at the Monster Mile" an apropos theme. (Joy also called in 1998 the IRL's “Monster Mash at the Monster Mile”.) -- on the song "Monster Mash"

"What was with the idea of this 'social gospel' promotion? A major question about mainline churches has been the advancement of social gospel. With two of my favourite friends from school in the military, why do some denomination leaders have problems with soldiers?" -- at a friend's church after college Homecoming.

"Does anyone notice the celebrity in the Sears commercial who can't make up his mind on obtaining a television?" -- on a Sears commercial for televisions.

"There's something in the water in Laurel, MS, that makes them smart. I've known one too well . . . watching a certain Congresscritter who represents the BNA area on Fox News shows the water in Laurel is very nice." -- on Marsha Blackburn's appearances discussing stupidity of the government on Fox News.

"The next 'destroy our economy' idea is being sold to power companies. Now Clinton and Gore are telling power companies to buy only electric putt-putts endorsed by them instead of trucks. If there's a power outage and we need to fix the problem, do we send in an electric car or a big pickup truck with all the gear loaded to fix it?" -- on the Gore Project's request that was electric companies bought to buy approved small cars instead of mid-size cars and trucks for work. Now remember it was this request that killed US automakers as they had too many large cars and trucks, and Ford has become a manufacturer that produces rebadged Mazdas, and now Geelys.

"The real winners in (TCU's undefeated season, beating BCS conference teams), not withstanding the Horned Frogs, are Comcast and the Mountain West. Comcast, which owns Versus, which has a television deal with the MWC, has been trying to get VS on DirecTV. A big MWC win against the BCS-ESPN team equals more people clamouring for Versus to get important in the Big XII, Pac-10, and MWC. DirecTV dropped Versus in August while keeping MTV."

"Ainsley at Fox News (who graduated at the same university as I did) recently said you aren't supposed to wear white after Labour Day. Since Labour Day was stripped from South Carolina's map thanks to Ferko, there is no such day, so you indeed CAN wear white. No Fashion Faux Pas!" -- At a Kathy Troccoli concert September 19, the 51-year old songstress wore a white jacket and black slacks.

"Go Figure. DirecTV believes Александр Овечкин and Анна Нетребко aren't worthy to be on their channels, but no-talent thug 'music' is suitable to be on their channels? Go figure!" -- on the DirecTV-Versus squabble. Time Warner Cable is now in a squabble with Fox, NBC, and Scripps as I write. If TWC thinks MTV is more valuable than Michael Schumacher, Bobby Flay, and Garth Tander, what are they thinking?

"Whatever happened to real church music? At a talent programme in town Saturday, three churches entered -- all had youth dancing or puppeteering to secular music. No doctrine or theology in any of the music, and one of the churches used a popular television series, more questionable in light of a questionable performance of its star on-air that week!" -- a talent show in town (name unlicenced from RTL?) featured churches performing, and all of them were secular performances using pre-recorded music to dance. Singers and musicians were not welcome.

"Blame it on (my voice teacher) . . . she is the reason I left the choir at my church and decided not to sing in 'Glorious Impossible' (a Warner Music Group karaoke production at church) and chose to sing Händel's Messiah with (a friend) at her church. She and I had the same voice teacher for 11 months in 2003-04."

“I think one problem is that unfortunately, most of the 'Christmas' music is in actuality winter music. I have a friend in New South Wales where it's summer and you're spending Christmas on the beach in 85-90-degree heat. People are tired of winter music, and a mate or two proves it. Furthermore, I've grown tired of hard rock music in the church that kids think is 'cool', relevant, and the only way to go." – a radio station played “Christmas” music for Halloween.

“Excited about singing the biggie. (Radio station) playing Christmas music on Halloween . . . puzzled me since much of it was 'winter music,' not the sacred Christmas material I've grown to love, let alone with the Squirrel and the Cheesehead.” -- about Messiah

"There's a difference when you learn to sing Händel and Christmas is when you anticipate singing masterpieces, and you do it at other friends' churches because your home church feels kids doing the Olson Twins' 'Jingle Bell Rap' and adults singing karaoke pop are suitable for two (collegiate) singers -- a Hill-trained Summer Chorus member and a Darázs-trained Concert Choir member. The Darázs soprano may accept karaoke pop, but the Hill tenor won't."

In our For What It's Worth Department, Citadel Radio announced Paul Harvey signed off for the last time this weekend, having died at 90.

It was a much different time on radio when I first began listening to Mr. Harvey on the radio. The Fairness Doctrine made it impossible to provide much of today's popular news/talk format that we have accustomed ourselves to be listening every day. When we wanted to hear the big national news reports, I remember listening to Paul Harvey.

But, of course, Harvey was one of the old-time radio broadcasters whose sense of news reading was there. He was one of the last I remember to feature "live" advertising breaks (where the anchorman actually reads the ad copy on-air as he heded towards the break). He had this homespun style that always had a keen wit that always had you coming back. And after the popularity of his "Rest of the Story" segments, he and his son Paul Jr decided to make it its own segment. I remember when we had local radio that they would play Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story (which his son produced, wrote, and now hosts) in evenings before Sports Talk.

Compared to some of the obnoxious shock jocks we hear on the radio today (Howard Stern, Bubba the Love Sponge, and other morning radio hosts have I do not even want to hear) and the stupidity of the bad pop-rock, rap, or other forms of music that is the "platinum standard" of radio today, Paul Harvey symbolised a radio that meant something, similar to the current batch of sensible news/talk radio such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, current news analysts. (We do not have news or talk programming on local radio today.)

Paul Harvey . . . Good Day!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Notable Quotables 2009

By Bobby Chang

Once again, another year is coming and going, and I found a gaggle of quotes of the year that should be shared. Have fun, everyone. Happy New Year! Here is part one of the 2009 Notable Quotables.

"We voted him to represent us and to speak for us, but sadly, leadership has turned him into a meaningless figure of the calibre of the Detroit Lions or a WWE jobber." – to the local newspaper, on Rep. Joe Wilson, my Congressman. The Rules of the House demoted him, leading to the "You Lie!" comment.

"Would they play this in a New Year celebration in Wien?" -- on the South Carolina Philharmonic's choice of music during the Viennese New Year concert January 10. The Philharmonic is not doing it again. The disco medley was the piece that irked me, especially with (Hillary's) Village People and their signature song. Caroline Lewis-Jones, the dancer I mentioned later in the year with her knee injury, attended.

"Why do artists think having everything pre-recorded is a good thing and proper? I am tired of the faking. I have seen it at church too many times and had to quit the choir when they went exclusively to karaoke pop. It demeans those who play music as an avocation, and even those who play for a living in our churches."

“As for lay participation in church music, we need people to be trained. I remember at church a friend was trained by Árpád Darázs. I have been trained by Serena Hill, who is classical. If you want to learn music in church, you need formal training, that's how I see it. The accounting analogy is smart because anyone who gives fraudulent reports on finances can drive down any industry.”

I often think to myself, "You do not bake a pumpkin pie for a karaoke machine!" when I object to such being used in church choirs and solos. I've added a new standard, no countrified playing either, since you have been put under the discipline map of the soprano and years of classical training.

“The idea that volume is best for church bands is outrageous. When you can hear the music clearly at 100 feet from the parking lot while on the street where it would violate short track muffler rules (many short tracks have a strict decibel limit rule), what gives? I remember while grocery shopping this week one kid had a shirt that said, 'If the music's too loud, you're too old'. Today's generation sadly believes loud rock music with no theology, and karaoke pop are worth it. Real sacred music that doesn't need any amplification is out.” -- referring to excessively loud church music."

"Feeling old? A Zaxby's commercial will make me feel old. Thinking of all the people who have been in the ads has me turning my biological clock back 20-30 years!" -- the restaurant chain in the Southeast has used Anthony (Spud) Webb, Dominique Wilkins, Mike Dikta, Kerri Strug, Bobby Allison, and Hershel Walker in commercials.

“You forgot to tell us how many people she tripped in that race.” – Someone gave me that derogatory reference at the 2009 Dasani Half-Marathon in Myrtle Beach when Zola Budd won the event. She raced my hometown 12k and won that too later in the year. I was third in age group at my hometown race.

"Someone turns 60 Wednesday . . . Whooooo!!!” – A reference to Ric Flair's birthday February 25. His entrance music requires me to stand, since I was trained in college to stand on Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30 at all times. Every college football, basketball, or baseball home game starts with this theme.

“I thought it was a peas in Kathleen Battle's pasta incident.“ – At a dance class (to have some fitness naturally), I was thrown out of a routine and was not too happy with being shut out, so I compared it to naturally something that as a singer I understand.

"What will these kids learn when they grow up? Will this 'image' of church as a nightclub be the only thing they learn, so when they are adults, they will not attend church when it is all serious Bible study?" -- to a friend at church in discussing issues.

“Some of the songs in hymnals in certain denominations are bad enough I've pulled a Durán and said the two words that had him in trouble after Leonard took the pulp out of him in Nouvelle-Orléans 30 years ago when I see those songs.” -- on bad church music in the new hymnals.

The comments Mitchell placed on What Child Is This is stuck to my head on this Easter evening as I write. I'd love to talk with the music director at church to learn this work, but sadly, the congregation has sold out to the GIA / OCP / EMI / UMG / WMG sap. Thanks for inspiring me!”

“And of course, there's nothing like Hallelujah from Händel, Hallelujah from the Mount of Olives by Beethoven, or even Crown Him with Many Crowns. Those fit the theme of this Resurrection Sunday!” -- at a friend's church on Easter.

"What they call 'church' is emergent, and Emergent churches remind me of serving high-fructose corn syrup when what you need really is a nice grilled Alaskan salmon. I watch what I buy at the grocery more often than ever to avoid high-fructose corn syrup." -- bad churches. (Must disclose my holdings of Whole Foods.)

Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

George Michael, R.I.P.

By Bobby Chang

Before ESPN was much of a name, there was George Michael, whose WRC show was often syndicated (and it aired locally after the 11 PM news on Sunday nights). The Sports Machine was well-regarded in the days before ESPN.

George Michael was one of those sports anchormen who meant something in those days. His loss in the battle with cancer ends another part of the pre-ESPN era of sports, way before the bombastic and wrestling gimmick-style reporting that ESPN has made and degrated sport.

And now George Michael has signed off for the last time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day

By Bobby Chang

We Remember. It has now been five years since the Boxing Day Tsunami in Asia.

St. Stephen. It is the Feast of St. Stephen on December 26. The appropriate song for the day is "Good King Wenceslas."

Go Light Your World. During the 11 PM service that runs into the midnight hour on Christmas Eve, the church in Charleston that I attend uses their offering is used to help the needy in the area. Earlier in the season I had posted the appropriate Chris Rice song that Kathy Troccoli made popular in 1995 that fits the theme of helping the needy, and Boxing Day is suitable for the theme of helping.

Boxing Day Race. This year, the running events that take place the last Saturday of the year (such as the Cold Winter's Day) are "Boxing Day" races. With the 2010 races that are held moved to Sunday afternoon (since Saturday is Christmas, and Sunday morning races aren't legal in some states), they will continue to be Boxing Day races again in 2010. There are many sporting events in the Commonwealth that are Boxing Day events.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Word Made Flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth out, saying: This was he of whom I spoke: He that shall come after me, is preferred before me: because he was before me.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

By Bobby Chang

Traditionally, around this time of the year, I would usually make a phone call to the local talk radio station and include what has become the special Christmas message in my call. Yesterday afternoon, I made the call, this time on Ingrid Schlueter’s Wisconsin radio show, unusual in that it was from that show. But when your hometown has not had talk radio for seven Christmases, what can you expect?

After our Christmas greeting and wishes, we discussed the lack of sacred music in church (which is something this tenor has long complained since the double-whammy of Ingrid’s show and voice lessons) and she is as concerned as I am on this. Her broadcast later concluded with Beethoven’s “Welten singen, Dank und Ehre” from Christus am Ölberge, Op. 85. That piece has been occasionally played by the choir at another friend’s church in Charleston on Christmas Eve services, and I’ve heard that song there (but not in other areas; go figure) around Christmas and Easter when I visit the area.

As we celebrate the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (oh, those words remind me of Händel, which I have learned to embrace, and love, in these years since I started to sing!), let’s celebrate the Birth of the Saviour with this finale of the one oratorio of Ludwig von Beethoven, one that I want my church to sing instead of the WMG karaoke!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, unto God’s Almighty Son!
Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs, in holy songs of joy.
Man, proclaim His grace and glory! Hallelujah!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

White Christmas

By Paul Drew

Well, it certainly looks like we're going to be having one around here...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Pack of Gifts Now

By Mitchell Hadley

For those of you tracking our postings of MAD TV's Rudolph parodies, we come to the third and final, and perhaps the wildest, of the bunch - this takeoff on one of my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now. As with the rest (here and here), it's not for the faint of heart. It is, however, for people with a well-developed funny bone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Reinfather

By Mitchell Hadley

Yesterday, in honor of Christmas week, we began showing you a series of somewhat disturbing but incredibly funny, parodies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer that MAD TV did a few years ago. Today's version is The Godfather - as it might have happened at the North Pole...

Oh, and in case you're worried that this is some kind of vicious attack on the Rudolph legend, relax - I first read about these in this book on the making of Rudolph by Rankin-Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt, who thought they were pretty funny himself.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rudolph's Revenge

By Mitchell Hadley

You know, I really shouldn't do this. I mean, it's almost sacreligious. I shouldn't be posting this at all.

But I'm going to.

Back a few years ago, the TV show MAD TV did a series of parodies of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. They were, well - let's just say you probably shouldn't be showing these to the kids, at least not until they get old enough to appreciate Goodfellas and The Godfather and the like.

We'll run this series over the next three days, in honor of Christmas week. And let's start by looking at just what happened to those smart-assed reindeer who dared laugh once too often at Rudolph.

I laughed a lot at this. I was ashamed. And then I watched it again.

Christmas Music Thoughts

By Bobby Chang

A few years ago, I read an article about a regional singalong of Händel's Messiah that was happening at a church, and wrote The Cheesehead about my yearning to sing in one (if you've read the archives, you will learn what I told her). While this year's soprano soloist is (finally) new after two consecutive years of the same girl (of course if you've read my columns it was a key figure in turning me towards classical music), the mother of this year's soloist was one of my teammates for Die Jahreszeiten. I overheard the mother talking with another teammate after a practice session. I write this as I am headed to the singalong for the fifth time, just eight days after performing selections at a friend's church, with plenty of things learned from Suzanne Ringer (director), Mrs. Joey Rothfuss (organist), a great orchestra, and numerous choirsters whom I had the opportunity to be a teammate. It beat the stuffing out of the work back home of another Warner Music Group karaoke DVD "musical".

Speaking of Messiah, Cathy warned about events that degrade Christians in Christmas events, and she noted the number of Catholic-mocking events. A message I recently picked up on a message board about one viral video by high school children in a "silent performance" of #44 in the Händel masterpiece was degrading. It featured kids as "silent monks" raising cards. Unfortunately, a Catholic poster on a message board noted that a "silent order" does not apply on prayers and singing, and most would not be able to live a "monastic life for more than five minutes". All they needed was a CD or MP3 of a professional recording, a few cards, costumes, and be able to perform this work. When children in church are treated to entertainment and not taught to sing this masterpiece, what gives? Too many churches think that not singing but teaching kids to "fake it" is suitable. If I had been anywhere near it in person, I'd call a Faking It foul.

The sad part of this is how many churches have given up on their choirs singing it and instead having teens (and sometimes adults) just move to the sing with card tricks as monks. For reasons of dignity, I decided it wasn't right to link to the stupid video.

And don't get me started on the stupidity of the pop divas' tunes that are prominent everywhere. I hear these ugly tunes when working out (especially Mariah and Britney), and I remind myself the only person surnamed Carey who gives away great "presents" is Drew Allison Carey, and we know he does it weekdays.

And if another "bad music" situation took place, it took place back at my home church (remember, it's not the church in the video, which is a friend's church; they wanted the community to participate) with a Children's programme that featured kids doing a "jingle bell rap" and numerous pop-rock tunes using karaoke DVD. I can only say the leaders that I need Suzanne Ringer's number in my phone and call her to report these kids for poor diction with these songs that weren't Christmas songs.

NOTE: Video of the performance I had sung:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Interview with the Elf

By Mitchell Hadley

There’s been a lot of confusion over the years about Santa Claus, and it’s no wonder. He’s been portrayed as, among other things, a divorced father, an insane old man, a cartoonish figure who discriminates against misfit toys and red-nosed reindeer, a pitchman for products from soft drinks to greeting cards, and so on.

To get to the bottom of it all, I decided to place a call to the press office at the North Pole, and soon I was talking, via webcam, with Santa’s Chief Elf. “Call me Eddie,” he said, and although that seemed like a strange name for an elf, I obliged.

I started by thanking Eddie for taking time out of his busy day to talk with me.

“Actually,” he said, “our busiest time is during the summer, when we ramp up our production line. We were one of the few sectors of the economy to increase productivity during the second and third quarters. Now it’s just a matter of finalizing the lists – checking them twice, you know – and getting the sleigh loaded, and we’ll have things pretty much wrapped up. Get it – wrapped up!” He chuckled at his own joke.

“That’s very amusing,” I replied. “No wonder elves have a reputation for being jolly.”

He sighed. “It’s not all fun and games being an elf, let me tell you. People think all we do is build toys, feed reindeer, eat Christmas cookies and laugh at Santa’s jokes. But try listening to Christmas music 24/7 for 365 days a year. It gets old in a hurry. How many times can anyone listen to Celine Dion and Mariah Carey ruin a perfectly good song? Makes you think you’ve wound up on the wrong list,” he said sadly.

I’d never thought of that, I admitted.

“And then you’ve got all those stupid jokes about the Mr. Spock’s ears, and kids asking us if the North Pole is on the planet Vulcan. See if you can put up with that for fifty years. And then just when that started to die down, Lord of the Rings comes along and elves are back in the news again. For the last time, our branch of the family makes toys instead of weapons.”

“I had no idea,” I acknowledged. “You have my sympathies.”

He waived his hand. “Ah, don’t mind me. It’s not that bad, especially if you like Christmas – and all us elves do, I guess it’s kind of in our genetic code. You know, seeing all those happy kids opening presents under the tree, how can an elf not get a lump in his throat after that? And the Boss – Santa, I mean – what a generous guy. It really is the best job in the world. Besides, how many opportunities does an elf have in the workplace nowadays?”

“This is a side of your work people don’t usually get to see,” I said.

There were a lot of misconceptions, Eddie acknowledged, especially with how the media sensationalized everything. But it had always been that way, he added. “For centuries there were all these rumors flying around about Santa. You know, what he looked like, where he came from, what his real name was, the date he came each year. It was getting so even the Boss had a little trouble telling fact from myth. Finally we decided it was time to get the definitive story out, and that’s where Clement Clark Moore came in.

“He was the Boss’ first authorized biographer, and let me tell you, he had a real eye for detail. Sure, he took some liberties here and there. In case you haven’t noticed, Santa’s not quite the ‘elf’ that Moore makes him out to be. There’s no way he’s fitting in a miniature anything. But in those days the Boss was still a little self-conscious about his weight – he and Mrs. Santa were starting to pack it on a bit – so I think he had a word with Moore in private, and Clem ‘air-brushed’ the description a bit. Call it literary license.

“Then we had Thomas Nast up to do the official portrait. At first the Boss was a little uncomfortable about it. You know, kept asking the Missus if the suit made him look fat. But when he saw how the finished product captured his personality so well, he realized the upside of the marketing potential. Plus, he really liked how Nast captured that twinkle in his eye. He did a few more of the Boss over the years, but that first one remained his favorite. Even today, he has the original hanging above the hearth in the living room.”

That must be something to see, I said.

Back then it was nice working with people interested in setting the real story down, Eddie continued, but once movies and television got into the act, things changed. “They kept talking about how they had to create a story with ‘dramatic tension,’ or something like that. If you ask me, they’re just trying to make a buck off of us any way they can, without having to give us a cut. We tried working with them for awhile, but we finally gave up after Dudley Moore ripped off my character for his movie.”

It must be frustrating, I sympathized.

Eddie nodded. “Probably the worst one was that movie a few years ago with what’s-his-name, the tool guy.”

“Tim Allen?”

“That’s the one. We actually brought the technical director up for a few weeks to get the lay of the land. You know, as a favor to someone who’d been on the ‘good’ list. So we gave this guy a tour, let him take pictures, showed him how things work. He was pretty impressed, kept asking us if we’d ever worked with George Lucas. When he left he promised this would be the most authentic Santa movie ever made. He even sent us some of the rough cuts as they were shooting. At last, we thought, someone is going to finally tell it like it is.

“So imagine our disappointment when we went to the premiere and saw what they’d done. Sure, they got most of the sfx right, but the rest of the story? How Santa falls off the roof, and this guy Allen comes along and picks up a card and the next thing anyone knows, he’s the new Santa? What a load of – well, you get the idea.

“Look,” he continued, “there’s only one Santa Claus, and there will only ever be one Santa. Furthermore, in almost two thousand years he’s never fallen off a roof. Our insurers got a little nervous seeing that in the film. And then there was the ‘divorced dad’ subtext – well, let me tell you, the Boss didn’t like it one bit.”

I never realized how much misinformation was out there, I said.

“Then there was that Kelsey Grammar movie where he plays Santa’s son. Boy, the Missus wasn’t happy about that. She kept asking the Boss, ‘Just what are you doing on those long trips, anyway?’ We thought about suing, but Fred told us it would probably be too hard to prove malicious intent, so we just dropped it. The movie was a bomb, anyway.” He chuckled with satisfaction.


“You know, Fred Gailey. After he got the Boss off on that trumped-up lunacy charge while he was earning some extra dough at Macy’s, the Boss was so pleased he put Fred on a retainer. He doesn’t have to do much anymore, but we still call him every once in a while.”

“Oh, that Fred.” I paused for a moment. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you trying to tell me the story in Miracle on 34th Street really happened?”

Eddie smiled slyly. “Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Let’s just say it didn’t get that authentic look by accident. We had complete creative control over the final cut on that one. We made sure every detail was correct – for example, you notice you didn’t see any red-nosed reindeer in that window display at the start of the movie.”

“Where is Rudolph, by the way,” I asked.

“Now that’s another thing,” he said, his voice rising again. “For the last time, there are only eight reindeer. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. No Rudolph. No red-nosed reindeers. No reindeer families, no little reindeer, no reindeer games. Flying reindeer don’t grow on trees, you know. There have only been eight, and there will only ever be eight. Just like there’s only one Santa. But then,” he continued, shaking his head, “that’s what happens when some freelancer tries to turn your workplace into a marketing gimmick. A few years ago we finally gave up and built an animated robot reindeer with a remote control red nose to use for publicity shots, and that shut people up. But that thing stays in the factory when the real work starts on Christmas Eve.” He sat back, plainly exhausted by his tirade.

There were more questions I wanted to ask – about wormholes and neutron drives and what the Boss thought about Santa Claus, Indiana – but I knew time was running short, so I thanked Eddie again for talking to me.

“No problem,” he said. “It’s nice to set the record straight. I’ll see to it there’s a little something extra in your Christmas stocking this year.”

I asked him if there was anything he wanted to add.

“Just this,” he said. “Remember kids, Santa isn’t on a diet, and he’s not lactose-intolerant. So be sure to have the cookies and milk waiting. Oh, and if you want to leave a tip for us elves, well, that’s OK too.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Mitchell Hadley

Back in 1964, CBS presented a broadcast of Hector Berlioz's Christmas oratorio "L'Enfance du Christ" (The Childhood of Christ), featuring the Camarata Singers, members of the Metropolitan Opera, and the John Butler Dance Theatre. (You may remember John Butler as one of the featured dancers in the original production of Amahl and the Night Visitors.) It's difficult to imagine the Tiffany Network (or anyone else) doing that nowadays, particularly considering what CBS did to Frosty the Snowman, but there it was, on a Sunday morning in 1964, replayed again the following year.

This is not from that broadcast, but this clip is the "Chorus of the Shepherds" from a 1966 production, featuring the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society, conducted by Charles Munch.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gene Barry, R.I.P.

By Mitchell Hadley

Speaking of obituaries, we should also note that Gene Barry died last week, at the age of 90. The name may not be as familiar now, but back in the late 50s and 60s, Gene Barry was a staple of television. For three seasons he played the Western dandy Bat Masterson, whose fancy-dan manner concealed a tough cookie with whom you didn’t mess around. For three more seasons he played Amos Burke, the wealthy, devil-may-care chief of detectives who arrived at crime scenes in a chauffered Rolls-Royce, in the tongue-in-cheek police drama Burke’s Law. (He would reprise this role in a brief series comeback in the mid-90s.) For another three seasons he was one of the rotating stars in The Name of the Game, where he played a – naturally – wealthy tycoon, this time in the magazine business. If Gene Barry wasn’t a big star, he was a bankable one.

He’d come from movies, most prominently the 1953 sci-fi epic War of the Worlds, where he helped Earth fight off the godless Martian invaders. (He also had a small role in the 1995 Tom Cruise remake.) While between Masterson and Burke, he started a nightclub act, presenting yet another dimension to his talent. After television, he had one more hit up his sleeve, in the original Broadway production of “La Cage Aux Folles,” which won him a Tony nomination.

I recall reading a fairly unflattering article about him in TV Guide in the early 60s, during the first season of Burke’s Law. The writer portrayed Barry as insecure, a poseur, constantly concerned with what people were thinking of him or saying about him. Of course, to say that Barry was insecure is to say that he was an actor, since so many of them share the same trait. Perhaps there was a side to him that he preferred to have as the public one, but that hardly makes him different from the rest of us. No, while the article may have been accurate, it was also a reflection of the TV Guide of the era, when they built up stars in order to knock them down a little. Not as bad as other publications, perhaps, but they did it all the same.

My impressions of Gene Barry came from watching him in reruns. Bat Masterson was perhaps not a show that one would run out to buy on DVD, but it remained a fun, diverting (if dated) half-hour. Amos Burke was Barry at his best – smooth, sophisticated, unwilling to take anything from anyone, but always with a twinkle in his eye and a bevy of beauties surrounding him (which perhaps helped explain the twinkle). Burke’s Law is out on DVD, and it’s worth a few bucks to pick it up, as an example of a nice mix of drama and comedy; and in these days of the oh-so-self-important crime show, it’s good to see a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Gene Barry may not have been the biggest, or the best, star of the 50s and 60s, but television could use a few more like him today.

Oral Roberts, R.I.P.

By Mitchell Hadley

At one time, Oral Roberts was a very prominent man in this country. He was arguably, next to Billy Graham, the most famous evangelist on television. Millions of people watched his weekly program and his holiday entertainment specials. His most famous phrases, such as “Expect a miracle!” were, if not nationwide catchphrases, at least fairly familiar ones. He started a university in Tulsa, which produced a nationally prominent basketball team that once came within five minutes of going to the Final Four.* There was something Midwestern and wholesome about him. (Plus, “oral” was a good first name for a man whose job was preaching the Word.)

* It’s remarkable to think today that Oral Roberts was a major college power in the early 70s. In that regional final, which today we’d refer to as the “Elite Eight,” ORU had a healthy lead against Kansas – Kansas! – late in the second half. Rather than slowing the game down (this was the pre-shot clock era, remember), the Golden Eagles kept playing at the up-tempo pace that had taken them this far. A few missed shots allowed Kansas to tie the score, and the Jayhawks won in overtime. If George Mason’s trip to the Final Four a couple of seasons ago was noteworthy, just think what it would have been like if Oral Roberts had made it.

It all started coming off the tracks for him when, during a pledge drive for his ministry, he said, in so many words, that God was holding him hostage and that if the drive did not meet its goal, God would “call me home.” (I’ve often wondered if that’s where comedians got the idea of posing for ads showing them holding a cute stuffed animal with a gun to its head, telling people to come to the show or else.) Well, that was the beginning of the end for good ol’ Oral, as many people concluded that his elevator had stopped going all the way to the top floor. Other televangelists surpassed him in popularity and political clout. When the scandals of the 80s came and claimed (Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, et al), Oral Roberts stayed mostly out of the headlines – primarily because people had stopped noticing him.

In truth though, he never stopped pursuing his mission of saving souls. He wrote 130 books, with millions of copies in print. The university still stands, and its basketball team still wins, albeit on a smaller scale than it once did. I would imagine that a lot of people owe their faith in some degree to Oral Roberts, and whether they remained disciples of his or furthered their belief in other ways, he was the one who helped open the door. He died today of complications from pneumonia, at the age of 91. RIP.

This Just In

By Steve Harris

Edwards, Sanford Come Out In Support of Woods

(BUENOS ARIES, December 15) -- In a stunning display of bipartisan consensus, Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat John Edwards today issued a joint statement of support for beleaguered golfer Tiger Woods.

Speaking before a handful of reporters in Buenos Aries, Argentina, the North Carolina Democrat and South Carolina Republican said the unusual statement was intended to help heal “the deep wounds of shock and dismay” which have rocked the American people in the wake of Woods’ admissions of infidelity following an early-morning car accident on November 27.

“Although this humble statement alone cannot repair the damage, we both hope this is seen as a first step in providing comfort and consolation to the American people,” said Edwards, the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. “There are many issues on which we may disagree, but one area in which we can stand on common ground is in support of Tiger Woods.”

“It’s at times like this that we look to what we have in common, rather than what makes us different,” added Sanford, whose term as governor of the Palmetto state expires next year. “Sure, we may represent different states and different ideologies, but at heart it is important to remember the ties that bind us together.”

The two politicians expressed sympathy for the man who has spent years trying to shield his private life from the glare of the public spotlight. “When you’re in the limelight as much as Tiger Woods is, you can sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees,” Sanford said. “You’re caught in the trap of public opinion, and that’s when it’s important to have people to help you through the rough patches, help you keep score, to figure out how you can reach the green grass of home safely . . .”

“Look, just stop with the golf metaphors, will you?” Edwards interjected.

The two men added that the Woods affair was another instance of the dangers of celebrity involvement in politics. “In politics you have to lead by example,” Edwards said. “It’s a different lifestyle than what athletes and movie stars may be used to. This case shows that sometimes it’s best to leave politics to the professionals.”

“Not everyone is cut out to be a public servant, after all,” Sanford added.

Well, Yes...

By Mitchell Hadley

After the last few days, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in Minneapolis. But somehow it seems easier to take when it comes from Perry Como, whose Christmas specials were a standard on television from the 50s to, I think, the very early 80s. With but ten days to go, this fits right in.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Good Cause

By Mitchell Hadley

We complain about seeing commercials in movie theaters - after all, isn't that what we're trying to get away from when we leave the comfort of our living rooms (and our television sets)? But it's really nothing new - back in the day, theaters often presented public service announcements for good causes such as Christmas Seals (which were very popular as a fundraiser for the American Lung Association, fighting the then-dreaded TB).

From the early 50s, here's George Clooney's aunt, the great Rosemary Clooney, with this plug for Christmas Seals.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Great Time For Camping

By Mitchell Hadley

As the temperature dips below zero here in Minnesota, we're reminded that any time is a good time to camp in the great outdoors...

Christmas Campers from 1952, part of the great Plan59 website.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Frosty

By Mitchell Hadley

By now you've probably heard the controversy regarding CBS' "racy" Frosty the Snowman web bit. They just can't leave well-enough alone, can they? And to think that CBS used to be known as the Tiffany Network...

On a more uplifting note, we wrote about the "secret" meaning of Frosty here a couple of years ago.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Falsehoods of Global Warming, Bad Christmas Music, and Raunchy Glee

By Bobby Chang

Globull Warming. The Copenhagen Summit on Global Warming is upcoming, and with the numerous charges that the Global Warming Crisis (or as some people call it, Globull Warming) is a hoax, I wonder how much of our economy has been destroyed by this Communist idealism of Gaia worship that has prohibited the manufacture of productive appliances in favour of “energy efficient” unproductive appliances, the prohibition of larger vehicles in favour of tiny cars (and led to the seizure of two US automakers for failure to comply with Chicago Style Policy including contributing to political opponents, and the third caving to the standards requested by other countries after accepting the government’s new standards), the increased mantra of “cap and tax” and “wind and solar energy only”, along with lightbulb bans, television bans (as seen in California), and numerous other types of stupidity brought along by a media and textbook publishers that has provided cover for the numerous activists whose goal is to throw us into a Taliban-like Stone Age in regards to the prohibition of numerous technologies that has provided us extra convenience.

In the excerpts of Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, the Autumn segment we sang states, “All hail, oh industry from thee brings every good”. The belief system of the Gaia worshipper in the Global Warming hoax feels that industry brings every bad thing and Gaia brings good by prohibiting us from using anything they do not approve. It has turned into a Soviet-style command and conquer with the Global Warming hoax. What industry-killing ideal is the next proposal of this anti-business, anti-industry Administration? Why do we need to cave to the standards of the extreme environmental activists based on their false teachings and not based on safety, logic, or what works best?*

This President and the rest of the ruling Left would envision even if we refuse to ratify any of the hoax, that their transnationalists in the Department of Justice and courts will simply enforce foreign countries’ laws on us in this case.

A Family’s Tragedy, Hope, and An Old Friend. My Bible study teacher’s daughter-in-law is suffering from a recurrence of cancer again, and the opportunity came to participate in her church’s production of Händel’s Messiah this fall as a guest choral member in her honour as she fights this dreaded disease. The irony in all of this was it came as part of visiting her church through a choir soprano who shared the same voice teacher as I had years ago (“The Cheesehead”, who admits she comes from a long line of Packers fans -- not my present teacher which she might call names because she is from the land of the Purple Number Four) as part of not being at my home church on Pink Sunday because of its endorsement of Komen. With just Happy Hour (final practice) remaining, practicing with Suzanne Ringer has been very intense and I admire our entire team as singers and teammates. Happy Hour practice will include members of the Philharmonic, and that just wet my appetite further for great church music from an organization whose concerts I have attended.

Of course, this comes at the expense of the home church, which once again has offered a karaoke programme from Edgar Bronfman Jnr’s Warner Music Group featuring a gaggle of pop tunes accompanied by a $200 karaoke DVD. The music leader turns an AGO organist into a Powerade bottle, punched out, then raising the karaoke disc, similar to a Pepsi product.

But once you’ve paid a pumpkin pie to an accompanist, numerous checks to musicians, and shared in studying music of sound doctrine, what good is it to sing from pop tunes lacking any doctrine or theology and is carried only by the beat of a karaoke machine with the trendy material that fades away?

Not Too Glee-ful. The quality of music in our schools seems to be an issue after I read a few friends were watching the Sony Pictures Television’s Glee. The hit SPT series’ songs have become an issue as I considered how many of these songs sung by the school clubs would be considered appropriate for school use. But again, after we’ve established political correctness by banning the sacred, anything else is now acceptable. Unfortunately, as we see in Glee, the material is highly objectionable.

The list of songs used by the Glee cast include “Jump,” “Last Christmas,” “True Colors,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “Imagine” (yes, the John Lennon song that envisions a society without God), “Bootylicious,” “Thong Song” (Mark “Sisqo” Andrews), “Gold Digger” (Kanye “I Can’t Stand Miss Swift” West), “Push It” (Cheryl James and Sandra Denton), and other songs that are not appropriate for our schools. Some of these songs are too explicit, yet this generation, watching MTV, BET, and others, think it is suitable for schools, and Sony has placed these songs into the hit show youth watch. Do they know what they are watching?

Jobs or Union Rewards? The “jobs summit” by President Obama was nothing short of the President pushing ahead to spend more taxpayer money to reward unions and states that supported him with union jobs that will not produce but will provide another gaggle of money to his cronies, while the free market dies. Is this another case of this country turning into the USSR this “Dear Leader” envisions for us? No thanks. Unemployment is 20% here and your policies are the problem.

Oh, By The Way. Oh, by the way. Why are we glorifying Festivus and Kwanzaa, but punishing days of faith? Furthermore, what is with the obsession with the Twilight (occult or vampire) series and This Is It (worship of a dead pop star who died of drugs) with their debut nights? In both cases newscasts were showing the long lines of people lining up to see the midnight premieres of both movies. I thought the lines were extremely long from what I saw and seemed to rival those of students lining up at Krzyzewskiville for tickets to a choice games.

* [Ed] Mr. Chang had participated in the University of South Carolina Summer II Chorus production of excerpts of Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten in a five-week period that started in July 2009, with performances August 2 and 4. See the July and August 2009 sections of this blog to read his reflections of all eight practice sessions, the week leading to the performances, the takeoff on classic advertising to promote the concert, and his post-concert reflections.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Only 16 Shopping Days Until Christmas

By Mitchell Hadley

Last year we offered some Christmas snapshots in the form of videos, advertisements and the like, invoking the ancient memory of Christmases past ("Long past?" "No, your past." Or at least a Boomer's past.) We've got some new images we hope to share with you this year, but in the meantime here's one of my favorites from last year - because, as we wrote then, nothing says "I love you" quite like a new vacuum cleaner...


Thursday, December 3, 2009

What's In a Name?

By Mitchell Hadley

My weekday parish has a reading list of books for Advent. Among the titles: The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook.

The author's name: Thomas M. Santa.

As Jack Paar would say, I kid you not.

And in case you think I'm making this up, here's a link to the book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Poetry Wednesday

By Mitchell Hadley

The finest poem I've read in quite a while (H/T Jonah at NRO):

Tiger Tiger turning right
In the driveway late at night
Your immortal hand and eye
Couldn't make the car comply?

Of whose waiting shapely thighs
Did you dream with bolted eyes
Instigating you to crash
Into the stately water ash?

Was it worth a rendezvous
With some star-struck ingenue
Just to verify you could
Withstand a sliced Norwegian wood?

Tiger Tiger turning right
In the driveway late at night
What covert obsession made
You climb into the Escalade?

With apologies, I'm sure, to William Blake.
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