Christmas in Mannheim

One of the very earliest Christmas memories I have that does not involve opening presents under the tree is watching my father loading a tape cassette into the living room stereo. He closed the tape deck, pressed a few buttons, and waited just long enough to make sure the music was coming through the speakers before walking away. I stared at the slowly turning reels with bated breath and as the first strains of Deck the Halls wafted their way into the room, my excitement grew. Then as the synthesizers and drums kicked in, tiny little kid me just went bananas!

Now I’m sure this is the moment where you are thinking to yourself, “Did she just say synthesizers and Deck the Halls in the same sentence?” Why yes, I did. It is an undeniable fact that the #1 Christmas music staple in my house for the past 27 years has been hands-down Mannheim Steamroller, the lovely new age front for producer and composer Chip Davis. Best known for their unique renditions of holiday music, their sound runs a truly astounding gamut from classical to ambient to electronic-synthesizer-joy. The vast majority of their catalog is instrumental and they’ve been around since the mid-1970s. A genuine pleasure to see live, they tour with a mind-boggling array of instruments, including (but not limited to): electric guitars, an electric violin, bells, harps, a xylophone, a whole host of drums, a grand piano, and a full on string section of approximately 8 players.  Not to mention all the electronic keyboards and synthesizer equipment that they cart from concert hall to amphitheater.  As a child, I had absolutely no use for music that required an outright symphony to perform. But I loved Mannheim Steamroller from the very first time I heard their name.

And now, because it isn’t Christmas without a little Mannheim and because I want to show you the true length and breadth of their sound, I have for you two videos of the same song, arranged in two very different ways. The first is a short baroque styled piece, featuring (presumably) a fife, castanets, and a string section. The second is a more modern rock and synthesizer-infused version that takes the original theme and turns it into a truly original composition. Once again, bear with me on the less than impressive visuals. Oh YouTube, you are often a cruel and heartless mistress! Oh well, you can pretend you’re at a laser light show for the second one. And anyway, the music more than makes up for the lack of a decent video. Enjoy!

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