Listening Notes: Guided Christmas Listening 2014

Every December I like to take an hour of rehearsal for a guided listening of a single Christmas song, performed by multiple artists. This approach to guided listening has several advantages:
  • Listening to the same song allows us to focus on other aspects of the recording.
  • Christmas songs are so familiar that students are usually quite ready to accept creative arranging approaches.
  • Christmas songs have been recorded so often, it’s easier to find a variety of approaches to present.
This year we focused on vocal group versions of Silent Night. I prepared a list of 13 versions; we ended up listening to and discussing 7 in the hour. I began with a review of my approach to active listening, then asked the students to use paper to take notes for themselves, focusing on tone and arrangement. After each recording, we had an open-ended discussion about what they did or did not like about what they just heard.
Here are the versions we heard Monday night.
1. Stille Nacht: Christmas, The Kings Singers [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
2. Stilla Natt: En Riktig Jul, The Real Group [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
3. Silent Night: He Is Christmas, Take 6 [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
4. Silent Night: Christmas Card The Temptations [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
5. Stille Nacht: Christmas with Chanticleer featuring Dawn Upshaw [Website] [Amazon]
6. Silent Night: Let it Snow, Chanticleer [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
7. Silent Night: That’s Christmas To Me, Pentatonix [spotify] [iTunes] [Amazon]
Additional versions I did not play:
1. Silent Night: Christmas With The Robert Shaw Chorale
2. Silent Night: Our Heart’s Joy, Chanticleer
3. Silent Night: Christmas, The Singers Unlimited
4. Stille Nacht: Noëls Sans Passport, The Swingle Singers
5. Silent Night, Holy Night: The Christmas Album, The Manhattan Transfer
6. Silent Night: Comfort and Joy Vol. 1, Cantus
[Here is as close I can get to the complete playlist on Spotify]
and of course there are countless more.
I selected the next track on the fly based on my sense of what the group was hearing and needed next; it was a wonderful group experience and as always I was amazed by how much my students hear and even more how differently they hear from one another.
I hope you can use this listening exercise in your own rehearsal or classroom between now and Christmas break!