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Carol Swanson

Loving Christmas Music for a Lifetime

Christmas Carol Swanson
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Born in December, my parents named me "Carol" for the obvious reasons. From my earliest years, I loved holiday music. On Christmas morning, music was an integral part of our family tradition; my parents and grandparents lined up us three kids at the top of the stairs and, while my grandmother (a wonderful woman and music teacher) played Silent Night on the piano, we sang while walking down to the tree. I recall being overcome with excitement and dropping to my knees mid-song to begin ripping into my first gift. My older sisters limited my depravity (just barely) by hooking me under the arms and lifting me back to my feet, providing the necessary (though definitely unwanted) restraint.

Singing has always been part of my life. I sang in choral groups in church and throughout school; by college, I was a second alto in the Bowdoin Glee Club, a relatively small "a cappella" group. Giving holiday concerts in the Bowdoin chapel on that snowswept Maine campus was a wonderful time. The gorgeous, haunting tones of O Magnum Mysterium reverberating through that stone hall visit my thoughts frequently this time of year.

By the way, I met Steve, my future husband, at Bowdoin. Since the polar bear is Bowdoin's mascot, that lovable bear became my family's mascot, too. And that is why the polar bear is also my symbol.

My holiday singing continued while abroad (teaching English in France) and here in Minnesota, where I sang for several years with Hamline University's Oratorio Society (now called the Oratorio Society of Minnesota). Today, I sing exclusively for my family, and my children will tell you that I do so with embarrassingly loud enthusiasm.

Because of my experiences singing classical "a cappella" music, I have a special appreciation and love for that style of Christmas offering. Since I also played swing trumpet in high school and college, I also have a great fondness for jazzy and/or brassy holiday numbers.

My Christmas music collection started in earnest in the early 1980s, when my husband and I purchased our first CD player while living in New York City. Collecting holiday music has always seemed so natural; each Christmas CD presents a wonderful gift with its own unique story to tell. It is especially fun tracking down unusual gems that are not mass-produced.

Today, my holiday CD collection easily exceeds 1,000 (I definitely need to count and catalog my collection; purchasing duplicate copies is a serious ongoing risk). I live in Minnesota, prime snow country, with my extraordinarily tolerant husband and two terrific kids. When I'm not listening to and reviewing Christmas music, I am having fun at my "other job" as a law professor at Hamline Law School in St. Paul.

Writing holiday music reviews for is a dream-come-true. I have long been a big fan of the site; I can only hope that my reviews will assist other holiday-music-obsessed folks the way Richard Banks'(your spirit guide) reviews have guided me. Enjoy the music, and hold onto that holiday spirit throughout the year!

(Carol Swanson is Professor of Law at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota.)

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