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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Ushering it in

Well, not exactly. The Christmas season is already in full swing, so I am not really "ushering it in." But for me this sacred season starts when I get my mind focused on the quiet holiness of the day we are commemorating.

And that means that for me the Christmas season started when I played the following video (audio actually). The title is "O Sanctissima." It is an instrumental upon which the late, great Bing Crosby used as the title theme in his big holiday movie, "The Bells of St. Mary's." At that point words were added to allow the crooner to show off his golden voice. But every time I hear this melody it reminds of Crosby singing it in that movie.

The piece I have provided below is the original "O Sanctissima" -- the instrumental version, as conducted and played by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Here you will hear one of the reasons why I am such a big fan. The piece begins slowly, with each section taking its turn to take the lead. One can hear in an instant that each section of the great orchestra was fine tuned to perfection -- the woodwinds, the flutes, and so forth, each building to a new level of volume. Then the brass section takes its turn. Ormandy was not known for brass, but he should have been. He had the absolute best trumpeters, French horns, baritones, tubas, and so forth, on the planet. In this piece you will see one of the reasons why I make such a claim. The ONLY reason Ormandy was not known for his brass section was that he emphasized strings, but that did not mean that he allowed the other sections to go lacking. You will search the world far and wide to find an orchestra that can equal that brass section of the Philadelphia Orchestra during the Ormandy era (1936 to 1981).

And then we come to the climax. The volume has been slowly building, leading up to something magnificent, and in this case, it would be the strings. Ormandy insisted on having and maintaining the absolute best strings on the planet. He had been a violin soloist in Europe as a very young man. And here, in this great climax to a highly inspiring piece of music, Ormandy pulls out all the stops and places on full display the sound, "the Philadelphia Sound," for which he and the orchestra were known. The strings -- violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, double bass violins, etc. -- step up to the plate and play this section full volume, and to complete perfection. I can just see Maestro Ormandy on the podium at the old Academy of Music concert hall turning slightly to his left to face the violins, and then with gritted teeth and his left hand signaling a vigorous, full volume display, bringing forth the most overwhelming sound a human being will ever hear.

Sometimes the Maestro himself appeared to be taken aback by the sounds his own musicians produced on stage, live. At that point you would often see him lift his face upward while maintaining eye contact with the musicians as if he were simply letting his musicians shine. He would just step back and allow himself to thoroughly enjoy it. Often you would see him smile, other times you would see a slight tear roll down a cheek. But this is part of Ormandy's greatness. He never allowed the technical considerations of a piece of music stand in the way of pure human emotion. The music is meant to elicit forth such emotion.

Each time I hear the climax of this piece, I, too, am overwhelmed. How could one man, and one orchestra, produce such a heavenly sound? And why is it that I have never heard that sound since that time except for what has been preserved on vinyl, CDs, or videos? Maybe part of the answer is these experiences come along only once in a lifetime, and for many, never. There will never be another Ormandy. There will never be another group of musicians who could play not only to perfection but to the level of pure, unadulterated emotion.

Here, in this piece, I experience God. I experience the reality of Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord. And this, for me, launched the 2014 Christmas season.

Enjoy....(Click here to view on YouTube).

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