Yup, it's after Thanksgiving, and music lovers and Hi-Fi Crazies everywhere are turning their thoughts to the coming holidays; how (or if) to decorate the house; where to go or who to invite; what to give and what they hope to get as the season's largesse. Just as the Holiday Season music always starts about this time, so do people start to think about not only a White Christmas, but lots of black vinyl – or rainbow shiny plastic CDs and DVDs and MP3s and downloads and just about anything else musical and the stuff to play it on, with or through.
Audio or music in any other form – including concerts, both "pop" holiday specials and the classical extravaganzas like the annual performances of Handel's Messiah, the Bach Magnificat, or the Vivaldi Gloria that many of us are able to enjoy or be uplifted by – are always an important part of every holiday season and, whether to give or receive as a gift or to experience "live" or in a recorded performance, seem to be welcome parts of almost everyone's lifestyle. If you have already made your plans and bought your gifts, good for you, but if you haven't yet, here are a few thoughts that you might find helpful:
If you're going to have guests for a party or an even longer stay, have you already figured how you will make music part of the festivities? Will your music room be open to guests, either to wander through at will or with you as "tour guide"? If not, do you have a way to bring music to the rest of your home or (if you live in an area where the climate will allow it) your yard or patio? Extension speakers playing throughout the house, or even a set of better speakers (perhaps that set you still have, but no longer use in your main listening room), can make beautiful and timely music even more enjoyable.
Even if it's not for your own guests, if you're planning, as they do in so many parts of our country, to have an outdoor display or to decorate your house and front yard to whatever degree, will local zoning laws allow you to bring music outside? How about the neighbors? Will they be pleased? If it can be done, having the fun and beauty of music to go along with your visual display can be a wonderful way to add to holiday cheer. Just make sure that your volume levels and hours of play don't detract from it!
Music, itself, is a great thing to give as presents to those you love: In addition to recordings, have you considered concert tickets? Will there be events that you can buy tickets for that will be close enough and timed right for those you love to be able to enjoy – even if it means making a special exception and giving them before the normal time for opening presents? Many young people have never been to a live music event – especially if the music is classical. And for someone (even someone older) who has never heard a full symphony orchestra or a massed chorale in person – even if the music is unfamiliar – the experience can be both jaw-dropping and life-changing, and you may even have the joy of knowing that you've enriched another person's life forever.
Isn't That Better Than A Sweater
Also seasonal (sort of), is Lyn Stanley's performance of "The Little Drummer Boy", available as a download from CDBaby.com for only $1.29. If you're going to be sending electronic greeting cards to your friends this season, you might want to look into sending that to them, too, if it can be done. Both the sound and the performance are, as with everything Ms. Stanley has released thus far, absolutely first-rate. If you can send it, whoever you send it to is sure to love it!
Not seasonal, but also first rate is the "Conversations" album by French-Canadian chanteuse Anne Bisson, and Vincent Belanger. This is available in various formats (including LP, CD, and download singles) from any number of sources including Amazon and offers great performances of great songs in truly great sound. How's that for a winning combination and a great (and easily affordable) gift?
I mentioned Lyn Stanley earlier for her "Little Drummer Boy" download, but she also has great non-seasonal offerings, that have become cult favorites, both for her sultry and insightful performances and their genuine audiophile-quality sound. She's the blond bombshell who first broke onto the musical scene just three years ago and is now, in addition to talk of Grammy Awards for her previous work and being compared with Peggy Lee by a growing number of people, announcing a new set of recordings ("The Moonlight Sessions") that she claims may be the best sounding records ever made.
Recorded by Al Schmitt using special techniques developed by Ms. Stanley, personally, and mastered by Bernie Grundman for LP-only production using a "One Step" process that's viciously expensive, but truly the next best thing to a studio master tape, she's offering signed and numbered VERY limited edition (only a very few records can ever made from the original lacquer master) double albums for advance order (or gift giving) right now from her Facebook page or website. It's a little bit pricey (in the US$100 + range), but could – for any number of reasons – be the perfect gift for your Hi-Fi Crazy friends. (Or even yourself. Sure, go ahead, get one; you deserve it!)
There's also talk of a new "Lyn Stanley Society" being formed that might – just for joining – get you a set of the "Moonlight Sessions" discs free; give you advance notice of, and discounts on, all of her other recordings and personal appearances; and even – at its highest membership level – get you an invitation to personally sit-in on a Lyn Stanley recording session. That might really be the ultimate audiophile gift!
All kinds of other musical and audiophile gifts are also available at every price level: One of the most interesting and useful is an automatic end-of-record tonearm lift that I recently saw at the TAVES show in Toronto. It's called the "Tru-Lift" from Integrity HiFi and featured within Enjoy the Music.com's Great Audiophile Gift 2016. It's gentle, beautifully built; available in either gold or silver color; starts at only US$199, and WORKS to save you potentially far more than its cost in damaged records and phono cartridges, or their styli.
Another thing that I heard at a Show (Newport, this time) and would suggest to anyone as a great gift is the amazing three-driver in-ear 'phones from 1More. At just US$100, these – as I've written before, elsewhere – sound nearly as good as my oh-so-expensive-and-great-sounding Stax Lambda Pro electrostatics, and have changed my mind entirely about what earbuds can do. 1More was also at the TAVES Show and announced, but didn't have for demonstration, new four-driver earbuds that they claim will be even better. Follow these! My guess is that they're going to be important!
There are any number of other great things out there that I could write about at this time, but I'm just about out of space, so let me just say that I wish you the very best over this entire holiday season and remind you that one of the very best ways to enjoy the holidays even more is to...
Enjoy the music!