Crash Chords: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Christmas-time cues the start of the sonic parade of nonstop carol medleys, sentimental wishing-you-were-here ballads, and religious hymns. It takes some effort to find something on the air that doesn’t sound like it’s being spewed by a perky elf, homesick OFW, or sanctimonious choirboy. During this most frenetic of seasons, ironically there’s a dearth of music to chill out too, or any tunes that just sound cool. This is supposed to be the time of Siberian winds and cold snaps and winter wonderlands (either real, imagined, or simulated) and yet the airwaves all seem to want to keep the sap-o-meter at a nice tepid level. Well, freeze that. Keep your stereo system frostily aloof by shunning those overcooked standards and reheated favorites. Crank up these CDs (or compressed audio files) and drown out the noise of the neighborhood kids and the neighborhood malls that are all just caroling and clamoring for your money anyway.

takk

takk (Photo credit: 1541)

While not exactly having anything to do with the Baby Jesus and Santa Claus, the Icelandic group Sigur Ros’ third album, Takk, can almost make you hear the finger of God stirring up the heavens as he tinkers with the Northern Lights. Takk’s soundscapes flow like a glacier surging past fjords and icebergs. Takk makes us feel the raw yearning of a land defined by ice and frost. It’s like they’ve adapted the better parts of the novel “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” into an avant-garde musical.

Lead singer Jonsi’s chilling falsetto soars over notes of frozen glory, moaning and sighing as if he were the spawn of a Christmas elf and an archangel deep in the throes of orgasm (or dying of hypothermia). With song lyrics written in the mostly-made-up language of ‘Hopelandic’, he could actually be saying “deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la la” for all we know, but the swirling crescendos make it all sound so magnificently grand and profound. It’s best to listen to this record while the temperatures are still low, it just might melt in the summer heat.

The Hague Jazz 2009 - Rod McKuen

The Hague Jazz 2009 – Rod McKuen (Photo credit: Haags Uitburo)

Rod McKuen‘s carols are nothing new or groundbreaking. To most modern listeners, they’d come off as quaintly old-fashioned, but in a good way. In the right mood, his songs can both soothe and charm. Rod speak-sings in a deep, velvety sigh that we Pinoys would characterize as “malamig at suave” (cool and smooth), quite an antidote to the overproduced treacly pap that usually fills the Christmas CD sale bins. Just left of folk, drifting slightly towards ballad territory, and very easy on the ears, Mckuen’s Christmas album presents some songs that are sad, some that are upbeat, but each one lyrically deep. His compositions have the tendency to borrow grace notes from classics like Pachelbel’s Canon or to erupt into delightful instrumental interludes. These are carols you can kick back, sit down, and sip hot chocolate to without having to turn your brain off.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps)

For more recognizable Christmas music interpreted in an extraordinary style, check out the Trans-Siberian Orchestra‘s rock opera trilogy. This ambitious and complex work tells the story of heaven’s youngest angel called back to earth to continue Jesus’ unfinished work. This time he has to help redeem not only Christmas, but the soul of humankind itself.

Straddling the borders of rock opera, progressive rock, and New Age music, these aren’t your typical Christmas albums. But then, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra just happens to be the alter ego of Savatage, a band known for building on high concepts and complex arrangements, raising them far above the limits of ordinary creativity.

Most of the tracks consist of walls of sound constructed from a mortar of electric guitar, synthesizers, choirs, and drums. Hard and heavy power chords crash into gentle piano or delicate classical guitar melodies. Just when all the bombast starts to get overwhelming, the band intersperses a few peaceful passages featuring vocal or instrumental solos. The effect is sublime but not sentimental, ingenuous but not affected, all in all a very Christmassy contradiction.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

Advertisements

Christmas Comes Home (Policarpio St., Mandaluyong)

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

Santa lives and the Christmas Spirit thrives at Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong City

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

Christmas inspires homeowners everywhere to unleash their inner decorator and bring out the ornaments, lights, and holiday cheer. In some neighborhoods, the frenzied and fancy preparations set off a friendly form of competition, resulting in streets lined with amazingly decked out houses. Regrettably, a number of these impressive displays lie behind gates and guards, in enclaves accessible only to their privileged residents, never to be shared with the general public. However, in a display of true Christmas spirit, one bighearted community has welcomingly opened its doors for everyone to enjoy their decorating efforts. For the past few years, the renown of Mandaluyong City’s Policarpio Street as a Christmas destination has continued to grow, spreading joy and merriment to all who come to visit and marvel at this colorful wonderland.
Mr. Anthony Suva, is the barangay chairman of New Zaniga, and the area around Policarpio is under his jurisdiction. He grew up in the community and his family has always been very active in the Christmas preparations.

This time of the year, the Suva residence temporarily transforms into Santa’s Philippine address. Mr. Suva doesn’t seem to mind accommodating their itinerant guest.

“I’ve been so used to it,” he confesses. “Ever since we were kids, my mother has liked Santas. The Santas come from all over the world. She buys them whenever she goes on a trip, or friends who go abroad bring them back for her since they know she collects them.”

At the Suva home, it’s really easy to believe that you’ve somehow been transported to the North Pole. The place is literally packed with everything related to Santa Claus. From figurines to lanterns, furniture and even table settings, every wall and every corner, from the garden to the roof, is dedicated to the jolly man in red. It’s quite obvious that Mrs. Suva, Ching to her family and friends, really takes her annual setting up of Santaland to heart.

“As early as August my mother starts unpacking and decorating here and there,” her son reveals. “Whenever she comes home from work or during her free time she works a little more on their arrangement. But because there are so many Santas, she usually ends up finishing by December.”

The other displays along Policarpio are no less impressive. Each home has its own particular theme, and each family within is just as enthusiastic at celebrating the season. Mr. Suva’s in-laws live across the street and their motif consists of carpeting their entire property, house, gate, and even water tower, with a blanket of Christmas lights. Down the street at Mrs. Lim’s, mechanical elves dance in time to music at Santa’s workshop, while an elaborate belen graces the facade of another home.

“All this started around ten years ago,” Mr. Suva relates. “The pioneers were my mother, and our neighbors, my future mother-in law, and Mrs. Lim. Every year they kept adding until it reached this.”

And “this” is truly a sight to behold. Sparkling lights cover almost every available surface, while life-size nativity figures, angels, and Santas greet passersby. As an added attraction, stalls selling food, gifts, and other Christmas items line the street, thus completing the festive ambiance. The street has been regularly featured in both the local and international media as a noteworthy Christmas attraction. Visitors from all over the country and even abroad, including some celebrities, have all flocked to Policarpio just to gawk at the displays and share in the merrymaking. From sunset to midnight the entire neighborhood resembles a giant outdoor Christmas party.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“In 1998, Policarpio street was officially recognized by the Department of Tourism as a tourist destination,” says Mr. Suva. “The tiangge started four years ago, and now it lasts from November 15 to January 6. We get around three to four thousand visitors a day, and this number increases the closer it gets to Christmas Day.”

There seems to be no stopping Policarpio’s popularity. It has gotten to the extent that the residents themselves are finding it difficult to reach their homes due to the additional traffic and parking woes. Mr. Suva’s responsibilities include dealing with the logistical challenge of keeping the area reasonably safe and orderly.

“The crowds and security are really a problem,” Mr. Suva admits. “There have been times when we’ve thought of scrapping the whole thing or at least toning it down. But eventually we all agree that it’s worth the trouble. Besides, it’s only 45 days out of the year.”

What makes it all worthwhile to the people of Policarpio are the smiles and happy faces they see on every child or child at heart who braves the hassles and hordes just to catch a glimpse of their marvelous decorations. All the efforts and expenses that they put into the preparation of Pasko Sa Policarpio are rewarded by the immeasurable amount of goodwill that is generated by the project.

Even Mrs. Menchie Abalos, wife of Mandaluyong’s congressman and former mayor Benhur Abalos, has been charmed by the Policarpio community’s efforts.

“As a kid, I never got to see the famous Christmas displays of C.O.D and other places,” she relates. “So I didn’t know what I was missing until Pasko sa Policarpio came about. Now I try to visit as often as I can, and each time I can’t help but feel like a child again and be amazed at all the lights and decorations. And it just gets better every year. What they’ve done is such a simple thing, but every Christmas it really means a lot to all of us here at Mandaluyong. You can’t fail to appreciate the boost in morale and spirits that their street brings.”

The continued success of a grassroots, non-profit, community project like Pasko Sa Policarpio once again proves that when it comes to celebrating Christmas, we Filipinos are all heart.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“We look at this project as our contribution to the community at large,” states Mr. Suva. “We’re located right next to Welfareville, and some families who live there don’t have much to spend on Christmas. The lights and decorations are like a free form of entertainment for all our neighbors. They can just come here, look around, and enjoy themselves. It may not be that remarkable for some of us adults, but the children get so much from it. And everyone seems to look forward to it every year. Christmas just won’t feel as complete without Pasko Sa Policarpio.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

%d bloggers like this: