Tuesday, December 14, 2010

listening to Christmas: Shannon Heaton, Cathie Ryan, Mary Black, Hanneke Cassel

The artists who make the music you love to hear at Christmas, and at other times of year, are themselves engaged listeners of music as well. That’s not a surprise. What they choose to listen to at the holidays might not always be what you’d expect, though. Listen in as the conversation with musicians about what music fills their homes at the holiday season continues.

Singer, flute player, and songwriter Shannon Heaton tours in a duo with her husband Matt, is part of the band Long Time Courting, and has a solo album out as well. Matt and Shannon have a Christmas album out, too, called Fine Winter's Night. One of the great things about being a musician and touring at the holidays, Shannon finds, is that "you get to do your work, your regular job, but you get to be part of the holiday, too. You don't get so caught up in work and travel that you lose sight of the holiday."

When she’s off the road, her holiday listening choices include Tuck Andress, Hymns Carols & Songs About Snow. “The Christmas season begins as soon as we play Tuck's marvelous instrumental album--great playing and great arrangements that have stood the test of time for us--this is probably our favorite Christmas album,” Heaton says.

She also likes the Christmas music of country star Garth Brooks “because Garth--like Brad Paisley--can actually play guitar and write his own songs, his records tend to pay respect to writers and to music,” Heaton says. “His rendition of The Friendly Beasts has each person who contributed a song to the album singing a verse. This is pure class, and makes for a very sweet sound.” Handel's Messiah is another Christmas favorite at the Heaton household. “Matt's dad is an organist,” Shannon says, “and it's a joy for him to hear the Messiah without having to turn pages--hearing Handel around Christmas for us is like hearing bagpipes at a wedding or a funeral... it's perfect tradition that never ceases to move us.”

Though her tastes when recording her own albums are quite eclectic, whether she’s celebrating at her home in Dublin or at her holiday place in County Kerry, Irish singer Mary Black finds herself turning to the old Latin Christmas hymns, and to the carol O Holy Night.

Fiddle player and composer Hanneke Cassel most often works in music of the Scottish and Irish traditions (she is a national champion of Scottish style fiddle, among other awards). At Christmas, she too turns to a favorite Latin hymn and to an Austrian carol. “ I love O Come Emmanuel, “ she says. “It's probably my favorite Christmas carol. I also love Still, Still, Still. It's beautiful.”

Songwriter and singer Cathie Ryan is both Irish and American, born in the US to Irish parents, and she has lived in both countries. Those things come out in her music, and when she is listening to music at Christmas time, as well.

“I grew up listening to Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas album and still listen to it a lot every year. And Elvis' Christmas Album will be in heavy rotation along with The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin," she says. “I have rakes of Christmas music that I mix in with those three, including Blue Yule featuring Lightnin' Hopkins on Rhino - great collection, The Temptations, The Chipmunks, A Very Special Christmas.

Another recording Ryan finds a place for is the Best of Celtic Christmas on Narada. “I play that one when I have friends over at the holidays,” she says.” It is wonderful as background music or it can be forefront when I am sitting by the tree in the dark watching the lights flicker and the fire flame in the hearth. Another CD I love is The Soul of Christmas. It was produced by the late Johnny Cunningham and features some beautiful songs and arrangements. Sadly, it is no longer available. But it always reminds me of Johnny. And Christmas is like that, isn't it? If you're lucky, you get to spend it with those you love and those who are gone come visit, they fill the room and remind us that life is short and love is very long.”

you may also wish to see
Music Road: listening to Christmas: Heidi Talbot, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Patty Larkin

Music Road: listening to Christmas: Aoife Clancy, Tommy Sands, Matt Heaton

Music Road: Another Fine Winter's Night: Matt & Shannon Heaton
Music Road: Cathie Ryan: Songwriter

update: Cathie Ryan talks about winter, Christmas music, and her 2016 Christmas tour Music for the heart of winter: Cathie Ryan

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Sharon Szabo said...

Hi, Kerry,
Received your gift today--can't wait to listen to the CDs! I like your blog, have added it to my favorites. Merry Christmas and Happy New year!
Sharon Szabo

11:50 PM  
Anonymous nopotcooking said...

I find it so interesting to learn about what music musicians listen to. I need some new Christmas music - will definitely check these out!

11:04 AM  
Blogger kerry dexter said...

it was good to be part of the Irish Fireside secret Santa project this season -- hope you enjoy the music.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

Like Brette, I liked sneaking a peek at what a musician listens to. Garth Brooks, huh? I haven't listened to his stuff for years but I think I'll give it a try. Elvis too.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous ruth pennebaker said...

What fun to hear what good musicians listen to at Christmas. Reminds me I need to get out of my own musical rut.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

What a great quote from Shannon about being able to participate in the holiday - we should all be so lucky to enjoy our work so much, especially this time of year!

9:42 PM  

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