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May 2024
Vol. 23, No. 8

Talkin’ Craft

Holiday Songwriting Reflections

by Lindsay WhiteNovember 2023

I know, I know. I’m putting the sleigh before the reindeer by bringing up the holidays so early (I’m like Target!), but I just wanted to give y’all ample time to save the date for our next Songwriter Sanctuary, which lands on December 1. This way you have weeks instead of hours to plan, ya dig?

As a lesbian with religious trauma and mama grief, I tend to err on the side of Bah, Humbug this time of year. As soon as I hear the first five syllable run of the word “I” from Mariah Carey, I very much crave hiding out under my covers with a box of See’s Candies until the Starbucks-Xmas-cup-Karens retreat back under their troll bridge.

Despite my Scroogey exterior, I will concede that when I was growing up, there were plenty of warm and fuzzy holiday memories, all miraculously facilitated by my mama, who despite being overworked, overwhelmed, and overtired made sure our halls were decked, bellies were full, and stuffings were stocked. Her go-to decorating music was “Come on, Ring Those Bells” by Evie. Hearing it now gives me a weird mix of happiness and hives.

Fast forward to my current household, where, despite being overworked, overwhelmed, and overtired, I have no choice but to get in the holiday spirit. Why? Because according to my impossibly adorable wife, Halloween is Christmas Eve. November 1 rolls around and poof! Gone away is her horror-movie binge watching and here to stay is her affinity for buffalo plaid pajama pants and Clark Griswold novelty shirts. Add to that a sweet and starry-eyed two-year-old toddler whose new favorite word and activity is “deca-ations.” I don’t stand a chance against all this cheer, so I might as well embrace it: starting with music.

Since our upcoming Songwriter Sanctuary concert is loosely holiday themed (complete with a free pop-up makers market hosted at Normal Heights United prior to the show), I chatted with our featured artist about the holiday songs they love from a strictly songwriting perspective. For me, Joni Mitchell’s “River” blows everything out of the water. I love the somber “Jingle Bells” intro—a technique I totally rip off in my song “Not a Boy.” Did I happen to mention I’m a lesbian with religious trauma and mama grief?

Let’s find out what the rest of the gang chooses:

Slipping Past the Goalie

Cheyenne Benton

Josh Weinstein

Thea the Band

For Cheyenne Benton: “One of my all-time favorite holiday classics would have to be ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ which has always deeply resonated with me, as I think the holidays can be a both beautiful yet isolating time for so many people. I fell in love with the song even more when I found out the lyric ‘Hang a shining star upon the highest bough’ was originally ‘Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.’ There’s just something about the brutal honesty of it that makes me feel comforted and cozy, even through the most melancholy of seasons.”

Josh Weinstein is picking up what Benton is putting down: “I have always loved the sneaky darkness of ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’ This song runs way deeper than people often notice. The whole song is about how the guy will be there, you can plan on it, get the table set and the presents ready, and so on, because he’ll be home for Christmas, and, boy howdy, will things be great then. And then the kicker: ‘…if only in my dreams.’ That guy’s not coming home! And he knew it, and the people he’s saying it to probably know it—I mean, that’s a pretty big promise to make if you know you’re going to be breaking it, so it’s probably not the first time he’s made a promise like that. And more to the point, the song knows it. That song has—and is—an unreliable narrator. It’s incredibly dark and sad, and it’s slipped past the goalie for all these years under the guise of just another sweet little Christmas tune.”

Clearly, I am not the only twisted artist looking for those glorious moments of human authenticity in a holiday song. This is what makes art so refreshing, yes? The holidays may be packaged up as the “most wonderful time of year,” but leave it to a songwriter to examine that package from all angles, from joy to despair to hope.

Which brings me to Thea Tochihara of Thea the Band, who is doing just that with a brand new holiday song that she plans to debut at Songwriter Sanctuary:

“I’m almost never a Christmas person, and something started a few months ago where I was feeling like a child when I thought about it…and started to write a song. I asked my friend Ben Bartel to help me with it, and we landed on a title ‘May Your Burdens Be Mine.’ Hopefully, it becomes every person in the world’s new favorite holiday song. (I finished it tonight so I think I’m excited and will regret being a self-centered narcissist tomorrow).”

We can’t wait to hear it, Thea, along with tunes from Josh and Cheyenne. We sure hope you’ll come…with, dare I say, bells on? Perhaps an ugly sweater? Any kind of gay apparel will do, okay?

An Extra Sprinkle of Cheer
In addition to hearing beautiful original music from our local artists, you’re all invited to head to the venue (Normal Heights United Church) a little early for a free holiday pop-up makers market from 4-7pm. Grab a bite and a warm bevvy, browse handmade wares from local vendors, then stick around for the show! (Music starts at 7pm). Normal Heights United stands as a proud partner in this community-building music series. Let’s show them some love and appreciation for utilizing their space to showcase local artists and businesses!

Songwriter Sanctuary Series. Suggested Donation $10+. All donations go directly to artists. Music runs from 7-9:30pm with an intermission. (Free holiday pop-up makers market from 4-7pm. Come early if you want to check it out!)

Please visit our Eventbrite page for RSVP and info!

Thanks for Talkin’ Craft with me! Catch you next month!

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