Why is there no good Thanksgiving music?
Simple Gifts? Turkey in the Straw? George Winston? Maybe. Adam Sandler, you’re great and all, but that’s a terrible Thanksgiving Song. Sorry.
I thought it would be a good idea to create the ultimate Thanksgiving playlist this year. I scoured my own library as well as Spotify and iTunes, polled a few friends, and have come up dissatisfied with the offerings. Here’s why: most collections of “Thanksgiving Music” are really just collections of music that would create a decent background for a group of widely varied individuals. Lowest common denominator Muzak, but not really about gratitude.
Gratitude can be directed at a person or can be for a thing. If directed at a person in song, it is usually either praising God or a lover. People are grateful for love- true love- and that has basically two sources. Thank you, Lord, for loving me despite everything I do wrong. Or, alternatively, Thank you, great person, for trying to love me despite everything we both do wrong- this category is not for songs about love, but for songs specifically about gratitude for the way another person loves.
If gratitude for a thing is put to music, it is usually more about the thing than one’s gratitude; I love my family, my home, my city, my country, nature, life, my significant other (that last one accounts for about 97% of all positive popular music). The gratitude is implied.
But straight-out songs about thanks? There just aren’t enough! This is an untapped market which I would totally rip open if I had any professional musical talent whatsoever. (But I am grateful for my other talents.)
Ok, so I managed to scrounge together a playlist, but it is really, really disjointed- even for my weird musical tastes. Here’s what I have. It’s on Spotify and if you have more ideas, please share them!
Secular gratitude. Six songs fit nicely into this little category. Some folks are just grateful without acknowledging a source. Agnetha, Benny, Björn, and Anni-Frid like music and golden hair. Dido likes the way her significant other is sensitive and makes her day great. Boyz II Men had an exceptionally caring person in their past. Elvis likes fish. Andrew Gold likes having a great friend. Raffi (and Pricilla Herman does my favorite version) is grateful for everything. Try these on for size.
There are a few instrumental songs regarding thankfulness, but you will have to overlay your own emotions on those in order to feel specifically grateful while listening to piano performances by Liv Glaser and George Winston.
A more fruitful genre is the one where musicians thank God for what they have. There’s a lot (A LOT) of praise, glory, hallelujah music. That doesn’t exactly jive with my style, but I included a few because the sentiments were so perfect. I tried out a rap on my daughter who rejected it initially, but by the end of the song admitted that it was interesting. I hope you enjoy these soulful tunes. My favorite in this section is the one by MIKESCHAIR. It is a good, humble, balanced song of religious thanks. (Though, of course, we can do more than just speak our gratitude; we can show it by our actions as well.)
When we white folk get to praising, sometimes it can be a little like too much white chocolate: cloyingly sweet. I included some of that, too, because most days I have a high tolerance for innocent sweetness even though I don’t like white chocolate. We have a selection from Veggie Tales, Terry Blackwood, and the Three Stooges (just missing something by Donny Osmond here.) The epitome of this category is a Norwegian song called “Jeg Vil Synge Ut Min Takk” (I Want to Sing Out My Thanks) which is a perfect junction of praise, 80’s pop, innocence/naiveté, Scandinavian-ness (can I just say “scandinivity”?), and gratitude. So very me. That one gets me dancing and I don’t expect anyone else- even in my immediate family- to understand.
Beyond that, we have hymns, which are always nice and bring a sense of peace to expressions of gratitude. I have three or four of those on the list but wish we had more good ones. The Children’s Songbook of the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattter-day Saints has some very good ones, but they have not been widely produced on the web.
[Aside: Tona, I am finally at peace with that line in “We Gather Together”: “May thy congregation escape tribulation.” Escape, not avoid. Christ is The Way out and we escape all kinds of things by His grace and with His help. Whew. Years of cognitive dissonance solved for me this year.]
But Americans are not unified, unfortunately. We don’t all believe in the same things; we do all allow that others can have their own convictions. We are generally unified in our belief that everyone is free to believe what they want. (I think.)
George Washington instituted the holiday we will celebrate this week. In 1789 he made the following proclamation:
“By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington” (See link for an image of this document.)
He clearly meant for us to gather to pray and give our thanks to God. But today we are so independent that we disregard even this basic guideline. We have not candified Thanksgiving, thank goodness, but we have commercialized it with an over-the-top parade, football games, and a day of insane purchasing. Has anyone noticed what Thanksgiving has become?
Garrison Keillor has a magical way of weaving words which sound like home to people of all backgrounds. My playlist is rounded out by his three ruminations on pie, family, ourselves, and Thanksgiving in general. Finally is his wacky version of “America, My Country Tis of Thee” which I love because it tells a tiny story of America while flaunting the first amendment by tweaking a beloved patriotic religious song. What could be more American? It’s as American as pumpkin pie.
So no matter what you eat or with whom you spend the holiday or who you (do or don’t) worship, I hope this for your Thanksgiving: may you have music that warms your heart and assists in your effort to be grateful for what you have. Because it is a lot.
(A technical note: I attempted to make a list of song links to iTunes Preview as in previous posts, but that part of the iTunes website has evaporated. If you have a Spotify account, you can access the playlist by searching for Maren Mecham or by this link. Sorry for the inconvenience.)