Maggie Sansone
& Ensemble Galilei,
Ancient Noels
(Maggie's Music, 1993)

It's Halloween, the official signal for holiday music to start playing. The old hymns will be played into the ground, and the merry paeans to commercialism will blare until I'm ready to gut a certain Jolly Old Elf. I love Christmas; like Halloween, it's survived and adapted long enough to earn any right thinking celebrant's respect. But the Christmas I love is laced with a joyful awe that's increasingly hard to find in the tinsel shiny notes of popular carols -- and who decided to honor a millennia-old holiday with "Jingle Bell Rock," anyway?

This year, Maggie Sansone & the Ensemble Galilei come to the rescue with Ancient Noels. Brief but helpful liner notes provide background and story for these instrumentals. There's a Christmas bonanza of instruments here, from Sansone's graceful dulcimer to Sue Richard's Celtic harp and Marcia Diehl's unusual but appreciated psaltery. They combine their voices perfectly to capture solemnity and rapture. There are stories in this music; the three kings' tune "The Golden Carol" indeed holds the sound of "lumbering camels" as promised by the notes. More touching are the simple emotions carried by the music. "Gentlefolk, Hold and Bethink You" captures the reflection of the season; the joyous "Tomorrow Will Be My Dancing Day" is exuberant as a child on Christmas morning. These songs echo with all the emotions that are already there, without ever forcing feeling or preaching to the listener.

This is what Christmas sounds like, under the crinkle of wrapping paper. This is the music of winter mornings, holding the quiet joy of promised renewal. When the blare of overplayed Christmas songs begins to shred your holiday spirit, stop, have a mug of cocoa, and let yourself be renewed by Ancient Noels.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 31 October 2002

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