What does "holiday music" mean for a classical radio station?

by Jay Gabler, Minnesota Public Radio
December 16, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — December is the biggest, busiest month of the year for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. Everywhere our broadcast signal and online streams reach, listeners are tuning in to celebrate the joyous season with classical music.

We're timing our playlist accordingly: after celebrations of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, in a progression that will peak during the week before Christmas, we're now steadily playing more holiday music. On the air we'll be mixing that seasonal music in with our regular repertoire; we also offer a 24/7 online stream of pure holiday music.

What, exactly, does that mean? While pop music stations roll out the "Rudolph" and cue up the Carey, the definition of "holiday music" in the classical world is a bit more complex.

For starters, notes Classical MPR music director Rex Levang, "there's a wealth of specifically Christmas-related music." That includes pieces such as Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah: "pieces that were either written for Christmas or have become part of the Christmas tradition."

Then there are the Christmas carols: from classical compositions to folk songs to pop songs, short pieces that were written to celebrate Christmas and that "classical groups love to perform and to record." Seasonal traditions like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols put choruses at the center of holiday celebrations, so "we'll play a lot of choral music at holiday time. Listeners enjoy that feeling of people coming together."

Finally, there's the music that's associated with the holiday season, but isn't explicitly Christmas-themed. There's Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, and Waldteufel's The Skater's Waltz.

Christmas, says Rex, "is one of those occasions when people discover the station. Maybe it's because of the familiar melodies, maybe it's because of memories of going to The Nutcracker or church services, but in the holiday season people come to Classical MPR — and we hope they'll stay."

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