Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 31

My Three (Christmas) Songs with Barbara Lanier

 

Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 31 – My Three (Christmas) Songs with Barbara Lanier:  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 31. This is the 21st in our series of episodes called My Three Songs where my guest chooses three memorable songs and we listen to the songs and talk about why they are meaningful to my guest. This is special episode in which my guest, Barbara Lanier, and I listen to and discuss three memorable and meaningful Christmas songs that Barbara selected.

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Three Songs

  1. The Friendly Beasts – Peter, Paul & Mary
  2. Halleljuah Chorus – Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  3. Gesu Bambino – Kathleen Battle

Aaron’s Radio Show has been licensed by ASCAP and BMI to include songs from their repertories in performances on this website.

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Transcript

This transcript was originally generated using artificial intelligence ("AI") software. It has been edited by a human being, but it may still contain some misspellings, lack necessary punctuation, or include other anomalies. We are regularly working to improve our transcripts!


Jake:

Coming to you almost live from Berkeley, California. It's Aaron's Radio Show, with your host, Aaron Gobler.

Aaron Gobler:

Thanks, Jake. And welcome, everybody to Episode 31. Welcome to My Three Songs, where I play three special songs chosen by my guest, and we talk about why they chose each song. This is a special episode about memorable Christmas songs. And my guest is Barbara Lanier. I've known Barbara for many years; we met through local service and activist organizations in the East Bay Area. Barbara, thank you so much for being my guest today. I'm delighted you responded to my Facebook requests for someone who wanted to talk about three Christmas songs that held meaning for them. What inspired you to share your special Christmas songs on the show?

Barbara Lanier:

Well, first of all, thank you, Aaron, for having me on your show today. I've been a singer my whole life. Music, especially vocal music, has been an extraordinarily important part of my life, all the way back to early early childhood. Christmas music is huge among vocalists, all choruses, churches, choirs have Christmas concerts. And I've been a part of so many of them that I decided I'd like to share some of the information about them and some of the songs that I really appreciate.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you again, for being on the show. I have to be honest, my original concept of the Christmas song show would be someone selecting the pop Christmas songs that they love, because there is a whole catalog of very popular standard Christmas music that people would hear on the radio or in Trader Joe's, for example.

Barbara Lanier:

That's certainly true. Those would be easy songs to choose. But they don't have a personal meaning to me, such as the three songs that I've chosen today.

Aaron Gobler:

That's precisely why when I saw your list, my mind turned around 180. And I'm like this is actually going to be a more meaningful discussion than someone just talking about why the Mariah Carey song is so important to them. Well, I do want to thank you for your list, because I believe it captures a much more meaningful aspects to Christmas music, then what the pop song catalog of Christmas songs would provide. So I do thank you for taking time to provide your list. Before we get started ... can you tell me just how music itself and necessarily vocal music but just music itself fits into your life? Like do you seek it out? Is it usually in the background or the foreground of a day?

Barbara Lanier:

Well, I'd say on a daily basis that music is in the background, it would be playing perhaps while I'm cooking in the kitchen, or mostly when I'm alone in the house and not with my husband or someone else. But throughout my life. When I was working on music, before a performance, music would be very much in the foreground, I'd have notes of the lyrics posted all over my kitchen so that I could practice them. It'd be constantly going to the piano I would be ... music was very much in the foreground, during times of a performance.

Aaron Gobler:

And in your daily routine, do you have it on as a background as well, besides the things that you would be rehearsing or preparing for?

Barbara Lanier:

In the background. I would say... like when I am doing something else like cooking.

Aaron Gobler:

I know our brains work a certain way that we can do certain tasks at the same time. Like we can have a conversation while we're driving. And we can still do the driving really well and hear someone talking and have a conversation with them. Do you find that music in the background will distract you from what you're doing? Or can your brain ... or does your brain use it almost like a soundtrack and just playing in the background?

Barbara Lanier:

Music does not distract me; it can definitely be okay in the background and Alexa knows what I like!

Aaron Gobler:

As someone who is a singer, and so passionate about vocal music, do you sing along? Do you find yourself singing along with songs? Or do you realize that you're singing along with them? Or do you purposely sing along?

Barbara Lanier:

I would say that I purposefully sing along with some. I'm really very much of a classical music lover. So it has to be a classical number that I have performed myself in order to sing along. But then yes, I do. Especially some of the choruses. I love to sing along with the choruses. I also really enjoy a couple of other genres of music, I love folk music, you know, folk music, especially from the 50s, 60s; that era. And those are of course, very singable songs and I'm always singing along.

Aaron Gobler:

You mentioned classical music, and also singing. And for me, I'm not an expert by any means on classical music, but when I think of classical music, I just think of the music; I don't think about singing parts of it.

Barbara Lanier:

Well, there is vocal classical music, and there's symphonic classical music. There are many other kinds of classical music, but those are the two principal types. And if you are listening to a string orchestra or a band, you can still be in the genre of classical music or vocal music, whether it's operatic, whether it's oratorio, those are all still classical music.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you for that, because I never actually thought of that dichotomy. I just considered, like you're saying symphonic classical music. Now, since this episode, or the show is focusing on Christmas music, we're gonna highlight three songs that you've chosen, at least two of them have a truly classical thread in them ... Because of your love of music, especially you're saying vocal music, do you look forward to the music of this season?

Barbara Lanier:

Oh, absolutely. I cannot separate music from Christmas. To me, it's, it's listening to the Christmas music, it is participating in Christmas concerts. It's, it's singing Christmas carols. Whatever it is, music is an essential part of Christmas to me.

Aaron Gobler:

And, and while I don't put date stamps on my show, a number of guests have alluded to the pandemic that is still occurring. And you know, we're at the end of 2021. How has that impacted your observation or celebration musically of Christmas?

Barbara Lanier:

Well, last year, for instance, the Sundar Shadi display in El Cerrito couldn't go up at all. And normally, when it went up for two weeks over Christmas, it was accompanied each evening by either a vocal group or some sort of caroling group or a bell choir, or something like that. And I would frequently go up and listen to that, and participate in it. I directed, at least once each year, directed a small choir of friends that I had come to know as friends through various singing groups over the years. And so of course, I miss doing that. I miss the good Christmas concerts that I would go to that didn't take place Chanticleer and the Christmas concert that was done by a Contra Costa Chorale and the Oakland Symphony. They they just didn't happen last year. They are slowly inching back. But sometimes it's only through streaming. Sometimes the choristers still wear masks, and it's a different situation for Christmas music. During the pandemic.

Aaron Gobler:

There's certainly something to be said about being in-person and experiencing something live and having people together face-to-face, especially with Zoom being something we can see everybody's face, but there's really no good method on Zoom for synchronous singing.

Barbara Lanier:

It is not the same at all. I've tried it a couple of times. And it's no, it's no good. And even the very essence of Christianity's Christmas. And I do believe Christmas goes beyond Christianity now in a very loving sense of sharing and caring for people. But in the Christianity sense, the pandemic, of course, made getting together on Christmas Eve for a candlelight service, which is quite traditional in many Christian churches ... it made that impossible. So it was a very, very difficult time for everyone that enjoys music and enjoys participating in music.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah. The best we can do is just hope that this time next year ... that we are able to see more people in person.

Barbara Lanier:

I do hope so I hope you're right And I do.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah. So Barbara, the songs you chose were "The Friendly Beasts" as recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary; the "Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah" performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and "Gesu Bambino", sung by Kathleen Battle with the Orchestra of St. Luke's conducted by Leonard Slatkin. I'm only familiar with the "Hallelujah Chorus". The other two songs were new to me, I'm eager for us both to listen to these songs together. And I'm interested in knowing why each of them is meaningful to you. So first, we'll take a listen to "The Friendly Beasts" as recorded by Peter ,Paul and Mary. Barbara, I had to do more research than usual for this episode as I was raised Jewish, and I'm fascinated by the connections in the Judeo Christian and Muslim canons. Now the last sentence of the song makes a reference to gifts given to "Immanuel" and this is the first time I heard that name in reference to Jesus. And I discovered through some research that the Hebrew meaning of that name is "God is with us." And I immediately connected with that translation ... in regards to the birth of Jesus. Why did you choose to include the song?

Barbara Lanier:

Well, I first started singing in a church choir, the cherub choir in the first Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota, when I was six years-old. And I have never ever gone without singing since then. And when I was eight, in third grade, there was a pageant in our school. And I was asked to be the sheep and saying, I am the sheep with curly horns. In this particular number, "The Friendly Beasts". And so it's always had a beginning of music in my head, sort of feeling for me when I think about, about Christmas and Christmas songs. And I do love Peter, Paul and Mary. So I love the music ... as I said before ... from the from the 50s and 60s, and that genre, so when I was thinking, what version would I like of "The Friendly Beasts" and I was listening to a few. This one popped out at me right away.

Aaron Gobler:

I see. And you mentioned the third grade and having the solo. What was the most significant part of doing this solo in third grade?

Barbara Lanier:

It was the first time I've ever been asked to sing a solo and I loved to sing ... but that certainly sparked an interest in becoming a solo performer which continued throughout my life.

Aaron Gobler:

So many people would be like, I don't want to be doing a solo. I just want to be like in the chorus. But you feel like it's more meaningful to you to have a solo in a song?

Barbara Lanier:

Oh, yes. I I've never shied away from performing. Yes, definitely. Throughout my life. I loved singing choral music, and I love singing with friends. But I definitely wanted to have solo parts as well.

Aaron Gobler:

And when I first heard it fresh ... you know not having heard ever before ... it seemed to be something I might hear in grade school. And would you agree that that's kind of the mode of this song; that it's about a very simple story about the different animals etc.?

Barbara Lanier:

Absolutely. That's what it is; a song for children. And it's a song for children to hear and a song for children to participate in.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yes. Beautiful song. Thank you for including that; and I do love Peter, Paul and Mary. I was brought up on some of their famous songs.

Barbara Lanier:

Okay, well, there are some "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" And, you know, several of the other pop songs.

Aaron Gobler:

"Leaving on a Jet Plane" is probably their most famous pop hit, I would say. Barbara the next song in your list is the "Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah" as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Let's take a listen to that. And we'll talk about that on the other side. Barbara I don't recall when I first heard the song but I'm sure I was quite young. And I recently learned that the word "hallelujah" is derived from liturgical expression meaning "Praise ye yah" or "Praise the Lord. So what inspired you to include this song in your list?

Barbara Lanier:

Well, first of all, doesn't that just make you want to smile all over and jump? And just sing Halleljuah!? It is one of the most marvelous pieces in all of vocal classical music ... personally to me. Shortly after moving to Berkeley in 1973, I joined the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. And every year at Christmas, for many years thereafter, I was part of that group for, oh, I don't know, 14 or 15 years, under the baton of the founder, Eugene Jones, the founder and conductor of the Berkeley Community Chorus at that time. We sang the Messiah. And I was a principal soprano soloist with a group of singing such numbers as "Rejoice" and "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth". And, more importantly, I met my husband in the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, my husband, John Wilson, and many lifelong friends that I still either sing with or just participate in life with ... travel with. I'm friends with many of these singers still. So that certainly was a must when I think of Christmas music to include the "Hallelujah Chorus". Even now, when I'm not singing outside of the home, I, I quit as a vocal soloist about five or six years ago; that happens to people whose voices get older. But even though I'm not, when I listen to a concert, such as John and I did while we were decorating our Christmas tree, we had a Christmas concert playing on the television. And as soon as they started the "Hallelujah Chorus", we all we jumped up we stood that's necessary. That is traditional with the "Hallelujah Chorus". We stood and sang in our own living room, along with the the chorus on television, we sang the "Hallelujah Chorus". It's just it's such a glorious piece. It is a wonderful piece of music.

Aaron Gobler:

Do you know what the original language this was written in? Was it written in English?

Barbara Lanier:

It was. Handel was German. And most of his compositions were German. But as I recall, and this is just my remembrance of this. I believe that he composed this specifically for an English audience. And one of the reasons I recall that not only the fact that it was composed in English, but is that the reason everybody stands for the "Hallelujah Chorus", as I recall, was that the King stood, maybe to stretch. I don't know why, but said at the beginning of this, and of course, everybody else stood. And as they were all standing, they created annoying to them at that time, a tradition to stand during the "Hallelujah Chorus".

Aaron Gobler:

Interesting. It is. It is a wondrous song and very joyous song.

Barbara Lanier:

And that's true. That's very true.

Aaron Gobler:

And it's one that will last longer than then a Paul McCartney Christmas hit.

Barbara Lanier:

Oh, I do believe so. Yes. Probably.

Aaron Gobler:

Your last song is the "Gesu Bambino" and that's sung by Kathleen Battle and she is accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

Barbara Lanier:

This particular rendition is sung in Italian and it this was originally written in Italian. The reason I wanted to say something is so that the audience would understand some of the lyrics that are going to be sung. It starts out about blossoms flowering in the snows of winter, and that is born a child the Christmas rose the king of love and light; and then it goes into this part that we are all familiar with: [sung] "Oh come let us adore him" and it goes on like that; and you will hear her singing "Venite adoremus" which is "Oh come let us adore him". And then it goes back into the Christmas rose and the king of love and light. And all of this is a song that's meant to be about the birth of Jesus. So it's a lovely song.

Aaron Gobler:

And that expression "Oh come let us adore Him" is from "O Come, All Ye Faithful" ...

Barbara Lanier:

It is and you will recognize some of the that Christmas carol as part of this song.

Aaron Gobler:

Barbara, this is a beautiful song and Kathleen Battle sings this quite operatically; what a rich and touching song about the joy of Jesus's birth. What inspired you to include this particular song on your list?

Barbara Lanier:

It was beautiful, who wasn't it? It just just thrills me to hear Kathleen Battle sing. She's well into her 70s now ... so this song was sung by her many years ago. She's sang during the latter part of the 20th century. I also just sang the song on Christmas Eve, year after year after year ... first in churches back in Fargo, North Dakota, and after moving to Berkeley and churches here, usually at candlelight services where they're passing around a candle at the end of the service and the whole church lights up with candlelight. And it just became to me an integral part of how I celebrated Christmas was by singing Gesu Bambino by Pietro Yon. I sang it in English, not Italian.

Aaron Gobler:

That was gonna be my question: was that you sang in English, not Italian.

Barbara Lanier:

I did. It was written originally in Italian. But I did sing it in English many many years and I love it. It's just such a beautiful, beautiful piece of beautiful, beautiful song

Aaron Gobler:

Now the song has been covered by a lot of people in other languages of course. What particularly inspired you to include the Italian version in your list?

Barbara Lanier:

I think the artist more than anything Kathleen Battle did not have an easy career for many reasons. But she is the first African American singer to win when both Grammy ... in fact, she when more than one Grammy. And an Emmy. She was also able to be an actress; but she had such a beautiful almost coloratura sound, which is a very high very quick moving soprano sound. So I regardless of the language, and I'm hoping that your listeners appreciate that, that songs can be sung not just in English, but Christmas songs can be sung in any language in the world. And this one, I think, lends itself beautifully to the original Italian. So.

Aaron Gobler:

Barbara again, I'm so glad you decided to submit your list of songs for the show. And it was educational, our conversation, and it was such a delight to talk to you.

Barbara Lanier:

Well, Aaron, I really enjoyed being with you. I enjoyed sharing these particular numbers with your audience; with your listeners. I know that they're unusual. They aren't the usual carols that people think of for Christmas. They're special to me and I really feel fortunate to have been able to share them here with you.

Aaron Gobler:

Barbara, I'd like to wish you and my listeners a safe, healthy, blessed and meaningful holiday season. And I'd like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas.

Barbara Lanier:

and the same to you and your listeners Aaron ... have very happy holidays.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you! To my listeners: if you want to be part of the show, start by going to our website, Aaron's Radio dot show and clicking on the My Three Songs button on the homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you'll know immediately when a new episode is available. You can also find Aaron's Radio Show on your favorite podcast service, but the podcast episodes only include interviews and no licensed music. Until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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