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Music

Have a note perfect Christmas Day with these six handy listening tips

Forget Salvation Army Bands, Slade and the din of siblings squabbling – here’s how Christmas should really sound, if you ask our music expert Claire Jackson

Whether it’s listening to the Salvation Army band on a chilly high street or catching perennial favourites such as Handel’s Messiah in concert, Christmas has an inextricable soundworld. Obviously, lots of the music is religious in origin, but you don’t have to be an ardent churchgoer to enjoy listening to carols or appreciate a nativity play (particularly as many of them are now secular in style).

‘Tis also the season for ballet, namely Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (Royal Ballet perform the work at the Royal Opera House until January 10; English National Ballet at the London Coliseum until January 6 and Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Royal Albert Hall December 28-31). Pianist Alexandra Dariescu has given the work a 21st-century makeover and presents the premiere of The Nutcracker and I, a multimedia performance piece for piano, ballerina and visuals at Milton Court Barbican on December 19, as part of the Guildhall School Alumni Recital Series.

But what to listen to on The Big Day?

  1. Christmas morning

Start the day – gently – with Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air, from the seminal animation The Snowman. The legendary pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, has recorded the track – and the rest of Blake’s piano music – for Decca. Follow up with Marco Galvani’s new work On Christmas Morn, co-commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society and Classic FM, and premiered by The Sixteen earlier this winter.

  1. Cooking lunch

Listen via iPlayer to the The Marriage of Figaro Live from the Met, which will be broadcast on December 23 at 6.30pm on Radio 3. It’s the last of the broadcasts of the seven operas featured in the V&A’s exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (reviewed in these pages Oct 30-Nov 5) and will keep you amused through the tedium of peeling potatoes and turkey/nut roast management.

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  1. Eating

Try Winter Songs (also Decca, released this month), featuring the choir of Royal Holloway, pianist Ola Gjeilo and 12 ensemble, conducted by Rupert Gough. The collection of carols and contemporary pieces will cater for a variety of tastes.

  1. Afternoon

Crack open the selection box while enjoying Simon Callow’s Dickensian Christmas on Radio 3 at 5pm. Callow and the BBC Singers pair readings with carols from the era.

  1. Board game time

Break the tension with the slick YouTube video of the Piano Guys performing Angels We Have Heard on High, which features four people playing the same instrument – using some unconventional techniques!

  1. Evening

The rise of the ‘CD and sheet music’ format has given way to a number of sing-a-long Christmas song books, so that everyone can gather round the guitar/piano/CD player, no matter what their musical background. Research suggests that singing is good for our wellbeing, as well as being a nice activity – no matter whether you can sing the descant to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Who knows, you may find it leads to future carolling – or at least a new festive tradition.

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