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A December Tradition, The Raleigh Ringers: ©2013 UNC-TV and The Raleigh Ringers, Inc., recorded live in Raleigh, NC, 26 tracks, TT 126:00. DVD $25. (Blu-ray $30.)
Musicians know that Christmas and holiday music can be repetitive and exhausting for both performers and listeners. Many of us are always seeking new arrangements and settings of traditional hymns, carols, and even pop songs so that we can enjoy them not only in our own celebrations but also in our trained musicians' ears. Luckily, the Raleigh Ringers agree and have sought to present new takes on Christmas and winter with their newly-released DVD and Blu-ray, A December Tradition.
The DVD includes a full Christmas concert with sacred and secular music as well as bonus tracks from the Ringers' pops concerts. There is everything from graceful, solemn arrangements of "Stille Nacht" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" to fun tunes like "Wizards in Winter" from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Linus and Lucy" from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a whole rock-'n-roll set. The bonus tracks include selections like "Yakety Sax" and "Malagueña." The cinematography captured by floating cameras, live, at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, during the 2012 Raleigh Ringers Christmas Concert allows views of the full stage as if watching the concert live and also views of conductor David Harris and of the Ringers up-close, to view the impressive handbell ringing. The ensemble uses several sets of bells, sometimes switching between traditional bells, silver bells, chime bars, and other percussion instruments in the same song, so getting to see the players manage their table space is a fascinating aspect of the close-angle video.
The sound quality is great, optimized for Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround but still fine without surround sound. If you are lucky enough to have a surround-sound system, it feels like you are sitting in the concert hall. The only drawback is that some songs, though more upbeat and entertaining to the audience, caused the audience to talk, murmur, or sing during the performance – which you can hear very clearly from the rear speakers.
Concerts with the Raleigh Ringers always have a great balance of levity and solemnity, and the video makes sure that is not lost, catching close-ups of the Grinch sneaking out on stage to steal bells, of Guns N' Roses T-shirts during the rock set, and of skit-like interludes between numbers. Some may find the DVD a little too long for one sitting. The concert section itself includes nineteen tracks, and even a big fan like me needed a break before the the rock set, tacked on to the end. This high-quality performance is, however, very enjoyable, and there is a "Song Selection" menu that makes it very easy to select your favorite songs one at a time.
Additionally, bonus features include "Behind the Scenes" and "A Year in the Life" videos, showing how much fun these players seem to have on and off stage and also providing a look at their other concerts. "A Year in the Life" takes the viewer from the Chatauqua Institution in Chatauqua, NY at the beginning of the season, where the Ringers played a custom arrangement of John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," to a Beginning Ringers' Workshop, to a Carolina Hurricanes Game for the National Anthem, and with more stops along the way before returning home to Raleigh for Christmas. We also get to see some rehearsals and workdays where the Ringers plan the logistics of their bell setups.
There is also a "Photo Gallery" that includes backstage shots of the players, a look around Meymandi Concert Hall, and pictures from the performance itself. The "About the Ringers" feature lists information about the Friends of The Raleigh Ringers, the different types of bells used in the recordings, and contact information.
A December Tradition would make a great gift for music lovers, handbell lovers, or anyone in the spirit of Christmas, as it contains enough pops tunes for the rest of the year, and fresh arrangements, fifteen of which were done specifically for this ensemble. The recording is available at the Raleigh Ringers website and at their concerts. This year's Raleigh Christmas concert will take place at Meymandi Concert Hall on Sunday, December 15 at 4:00 p.m. and Monday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m. For details, click here.