#Writing #MusicMonday: Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 by various artists

vocpYou know, this year, I was all set for Christmas, as I noted previously. I not only had all my November Music Monday posts picked out ahead of time, I had three out of the four weeks leading up to Christmas all accounted for, and in the mood of the season.

But I suddenly got all indecisive about what to post the week of Christmas. Should I go traditional, or ultramodern? Free Culture or anything goes? Instrumental, or vocal? A collection of various artists that already has been selected, or put together my own selections? (That last one tempted me, sorely.)

Finally, after listening and exploring quite a bit, I narrowed in on two collections I first found at the Free Music Archive. One was a collection of electronic instrumentals meant as new, replacement Christmas music, since the curator felt too many of our seasonal songs are too old. 1 The other was this, a collection of public domain 2 recordings from the early 20th Century.

What tipped the balance was finding the website of the organization that was the source of the collection, which pointed me to their uploads to the Internet Archive, and finding that you could download the lossless FLAC files, as well as MP3s and Ogg Vorbis. The fact that you can get the lossless files and make a CD from them without any (further) degradation of sound quality did it for me.

In 1998, vintage recording website Dawn of Sound released a compact disc collection of public domain early recording artifacts called Voices of Christmas Past. The recordings were cylinders and acetates from 1898 to 1922. Every year after the release, the website was inundated with requests for the CD. Once it was out of print, Dawn of Sound released it online for free.

From the original liner notes of the CD:

On October 30, 1889 banjoist Will Lyle made history by recording “Jingle Bells”, the very first Christmas record. Although no known copies of this record survive one of the earliest vocal examples of “Jingle Bells” does survive on an Edison brown wax cylinder entitled, “Sleigh Ride Party”. It was made a decade later and is reissued here for the very first time in this collection. These songs and monologues from the original vintage recordings capture the essence of the Christmas spirit as it was in the opening two decades of the 20th Century.

If, like me, early 20th Century Americana just automatically gives you warm fuzzies, then this is an hour and fifteen minutes of pure joy. If you’re not like me, give it a listen, and see if it doesn’t put you in a warm, nostalgic mood anyway.

I bet it will.

Download Voices of Christmas Past – 1898 to 1922 in multiple formats, including lossless FLAC, free from the Internet Archive.

You can also get it in MP3 format from the Free Music Archive.



Voices of Christmas Past by Various Artists [Dawn of Sound] is licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.


  1. I do not say that I agree with him, since there are any number of 20th Century songs already considered classics, from “White Christmas” to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. 
  2. I am posting this with the CC license the organization claims, but frankly, since the recordings themselves are public domain, I fail to see how they can reasonably claim copyright on them, simply for digitizing. However, the case law (as I understand it) currently favors allowing copyright on any alteration, including simply transferring something public domain into another medium, so I’ll let it stand. The recordings themselves, however, are public domain. It’s only the files themselves that have the restrictive CC license. 

#Writing #Music Monday: Christmas by Dee Yan-Key

CoverDee Yan-Key is a German composer and musician who is incredibly prolific. He began posting albums to Jamendo at the tail end of 2012, and from then to now has released ninety-six separate EPs and full-length albums. He’s a one-man show, working purely through synthesizers as far as I can tell. And while the synths at times sound less than professional grade, his music is never boring.

I chose this album for a few reasons, despite it breaking my year-long streak of Free Culture music right before the finish line for 2015.

First, Christmas music isn’t Christmas music without some jazz in the mix, and there is vanishingly little Christmas jazz in the Creative Commons, at least that I have found so far. This album has moments that are undoubtedly jazzy, though it’s never going to make anybody’s all-time greatest list.

Second, it’s nearly an hour, and perfect for putting on in the background for gatherings or get-togethers. One shouldn’t have to be shuffling playlists every few minutes during the holidays.

Third, having listened to it several times, I think that Dee Yan-Key has a lot of potential, so getting his work out a little more can hurt nothing in helping him to reach it.

If last week’s share had a bit of the coldness of snowy winter to it, this week’s has some of the warmth of the fireside and an over-eager puppy excited at all the new things and new people happening around it.

Download Christmas free from the Internet Archive.


Creative Commons License
Christmas by Dee Yan-Key is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: Christmas Presence by Neil Dawson

coverLast week, we had an hour and 20 minutes of completely original, solo piano music. This week, I bring you nearly an hour of Christmas music that is a solid mix of traditional and original work, all done purely through a synthesizer.

Christmas Presence has a very definite New Age, Mannheim Steamroller feel to it. Except that I loathe New Age music; and Mannheim Steamroller, for some reason I’ve never been able to articulate, irritates me a great deal. Neil Dawson’s work here, though, I consider quite wonderful.

To be sure, it has a certain amount of that schmaltzy, cheap synth sound. But somehow I never mind it when I’m listening through. It never pulls me out of what I’m doing, makes me roll my eyes, none of that.

And he put a lot of work into it:

This is my second Christmas album, recorded in my home studio using a Yamaha Motif 6 keyboard for all voices including percussion. It took me nearly an entire year to complete this mix of traditional, contemporary and original arrangements and compositions. I hope you enjoy them!

It is, overall, entirely lovely and very much in the spirit of the season. Yes, schmaltz and all. If this doesn’t put you in the holiday mood, I’m not sure anything will.

And, really, I say “schmaltz”, but there’s a track titled “God Rest Ye Merry Exorcists”. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from that name, yet somehow also has moments that make me think of 1980s Hong Kong movie soundtracks (and I mean that in a good way).

But if you want a feel for what the album has to offer, condensed into one track, I suggest you give Dawson’s rendition of the “Carol of the Bells” a listen. If you like that, you’ll like the whole thing.

Download Christmas Presence free from the Internet Archive.


Creative Commons License
Christmas Presence by Neil Dawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

#Writing #MusicMonday: Holidium by Torley

HolidiumWell, we’ve all been through Turkey Day, and the Turkey coma, and Black Friday — I did my traditional “hide from the world and mutter dark misanthropic things under my breath”-a-thon — and here we are, running up to Christmas. It might not be December quite yet, but who ever let that stop them from being jolly?

Torley Wong has been making music, off and on, for close to fifteen years. (Or possibly longer.)

Today’s album, Holidium, was released on Christmas Eve of 2008, was one of several instances of him departing from his usual style of techno. This is pure solo piano work, all of it original, but in a festive, holiday, winter solstice mood.

Wong has a musicality and complex melodic sense that are almost unequaled in the Creative Commons space. His techno work is amazing, and his solo piano explorations are not much less so.

While you will not find traditional, familiar melodies here, you will definitely hear a few echoes of them.

If you’re familiar with Wong’s earlier melodies, you’ll also hear him slyly quoting himself. The only one I’ve been able to pin down for sure is a motif from his tehcno piece “The Smile In Her Eyes” which pops up more than once in this album, most obviously at the end of “Snowflake Child”.

But that’s beside the point, really. This is excellent background music for the holidays, both joyful and contemplative, without any saccharine or oversimplification. You won’t be humming these tunes endlessly, no earworms here, but you may find yourself returning to them again and again. At least, I do.

Download Holidium free from the Internet Archive.


Creative Commons License
Holidium by Torley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Xmas Music Too Soon (not actually)

Boy, would I like to be her Santa Claus.
Boy, would I like to be her Santa Claus.
So I’ve been doing a thing that, when it’s forced upon me, I detest.

I began listening to Christmas/holiday music the day after Halloween.

It drives me nuts that stores start Christmas on 1 November. There are logistical reasons for it, and I get that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

(The logistical reasons, basically, amount to: customers expect Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — to be the kickoff of the Christmas season, and complain if the stores aren’t “festive” for the day. But, with Thanksgiving right before, and businesses to run, they simply cannot do the decorating and arranging and all that just the week of Black Friday, so they do it a few weeks in advance.)

It may seem strange, but this atheist, even though he’s prone to depression, loves Christmas. Adores it. That said, two months of the thing is entirely too much.

However, in this case I can’t complain. It’s all my fault. I don’t generally plan Writing Music Mondays more than a week in advance, but for NaNoWriMo, I selected everything for the month ahead of time so I would have less reason to procrastinate on actual writing. (Not that it’s worked, but that’s a different story.)

And once I had November taken care of, I thought, “Heck, why not try to find some appropriate Creative Commons holiday music?”

Apart from weeks where I’ve skipped posting all together, in 2015 I’ve done a very good job of sticking to my personal mission with Music Mondays. Every single piece of music I’ve posted has had a Free Culture license. Which means that not only can you download it and listen to it while writing (or whatever you wish to do) for free, you can also use it for any purpose you want. Put it in a Youtube video, use it in a soundtrack for your indie film, make a book soundtrack, record a cover version, use it as a sample in your rap masterpiece — anything. The licenses are already there, so you’re covered (as long as you abide them).

As December appeared on the horizon, I began to think that I was just going to have to give it up for the final month. It might seem a bit odd, but in my experience, virtually all Christmas music in the Creative Commons is not Free Culture. Yeah, the most giving season of the year, and even free-sharing artists tighten up. Weird, right?

But, between not having a wide selection left to choose from in my personal collection, and Jamendo betraying its users in its latest redesign (and possible death-throes), I went exploring. And found lots of possibilities.

The first two weeks are set, already, and are Free Culture. One is an artist who has been releasing music to the Commons since before Jamendo existed, and his earlier work is all Free Culture. His musicality is amazing, whether he’s creating techno or piano solo work, and this upcoming holiday album is all piano.

The second was an artist new to me, but the album I’m sharing was released four years ago, and I missed it somehow.

So I’ll be able to keep the Free Culture streak going for those two weeks, at the very least.

The third week, I have an album tentatively selected that has a Non-Commercial requirement, rendering it non-Free Culture, but it’s holiday jazz, so I’m leaning toward it, even if it’s not the best ever. (If you want the best ever, go get last year’s share, the non-Creative Commons Christmas with The Believers. I’m not joking. It’s that good.)

That leaves the week leading up to Christmas itself wide open. I might share somebody else’s collection of CC Christmas music (I have a few such collections bookmarked, but haven’t really explored them yet), or I might do up a holiday collection of my own, or I might find something else entirely that works perfectly. We’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out.

The Monday following Christmas might be non-holiday–related, or vaguely holiday–related, at this point I have no idea. That one I’m going to wait and see what mood hits me.