2020 / Gary Schmidt Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Christmas Meditations is a collection of 14 solo piano Christmas carols arranged and performed by Gary Schmidt. Intended to be a “musical oasis” with songs that are “rejuvenating, refreshing and calming,” Schmidt’s goal was “to try and give these timeless Christmas melodies a new meditative feel that is both fresh and familiar at the same time.” He has succeeded well in those goals! Not surprisingly, the arrangements tend to be on the quieter, more pensive side, and I really like the way Schmidt has woven well-known classical pieces into some of the carols, creating something new yet familiar. The album was executive-produced by Michael Whalen, a consummate artist himself, and was mastered by Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. This is Gary Schmidt’s fourth album.
Christmas Meditations begins with “Carol of the Bells,” one of my favorite carols. I do believe this is the first time I’ve heard it played in a major key and it gives the piece a much brighter yet peaceful feeling. (There is a beautiful video with this song on Gary’s website.) “Silent Night” is played at a very slow, expressive tempo that brings images of a moonlit snow-covered night - one much like the gorgeous album cover. Schmidt combines JS Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” - a perfect medley with a gentle, sparkling quality. The Bach/Gounod version of “Ave Maria” is always hypnotic, and Schmidt’s arrangement has a beautiful, soothing flow. He also included a new version of the Schubert “Ave Maria,” which is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, and Gary’s version does not disappoint! “Angels We Have Heard On High” is light and playful with a catchy rhythm. He has combined”In the Bleak Mid-Winter” with Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” - a fascinating duo I never would have thought of, but it works seamlessly. “Do You Hear What I Hear” has become a modern Christmas classic and I love this gentle arrangement! Another interesting medley is “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” and Telemann’s “Gigue,” a lively and carefree arrangement sure to put a smile on anyone’s face! “The Little Drummer Boy” is another favorite contemporary classic and Schmidt’s arrangement has a drum-like rhythm supporting the simple melody, keeping it from a child’s point-of-view. A very wistful version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” brings this beautiful album to a sentimental, dreamy close.
Christmas Meditations would be a wonderful addition to anyone’s collection of Christmas music. Sure to calm the spirit and ease any holiday stress, the album is available from Gary’s website, Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes, and Spotify. For my fellow pianists, there is a companion songbook for the album and it’s a lot of fun to play!
November 8, 2020