Do Christmas songs help put you in the holiday mood?

 Daniel J. Levitin, a rock musician and producer turned neuroscientist and  author of “The World in Six Songs” and “This is Your Brain on Music”  wants to know.

Do Christmas songs help put you in the holiday mood? If so, any song in particular?

 (“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” by Bing Crosby does it for me.)

I met Dan when we worked together on a recent Discover Magazine panel discussion: Unlocking the Secrets of the Brain. I was fascinated by the music-brain connections Dan articulated so well. So were the Amazon book reviewers when they wrote this:

“Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it. Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making…”

To shake things up a bit, I turned the tables on Dan and asked him a few questions about his own musical preferences:

Science Cheerleader: Do YOU have a favorite Christmas song?

Levitin: I do! It’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee. I even like the Miley Cyrus version. 🙂 I also like the version that jazz guitarist Tuck Andress does of “Winter Wonderland” 

Science Cheerleader: Why (from a psychological standpoint) do you think it’s your favorite? 
 
Levitin: Ah! Well the Brenda Lee track I like because it is SO rockabilly, and at the time I’m sure it caused many a grandmother to run for the smelling salts (my word! Those pompadour rock ‘n’ roll musicians have gone too far!). And of course rock is all about breaking rules and stretching borders. So there’s that, but also, it just really swings. And I love that tubey guitar solo.  Tuck is a great player and his reharmonizations of Winter Wonderland add some rich and vibrant complexity to the tune. 

The Wall Street Journal just published this article: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Holiday music is inescapable. Daniel J. Levitin on the ancient drive to listen to familiar songs, the psychological effects of music and why ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is so annoying. Read the full article.

Check it out. You’ll never think of music the same way again.