Sunday, December 7, 2008

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Heavy Metal Christmas Music?

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s effort of “whittling” Heavy Metal music to fit seamlessly into this most joyous of seasons really does deserve a hearty commendation. But is it trend-setting contemporary Christmas music?

By: Vanessa Uy

Even though most people ascribe the band Bon Jovi for starting the trend of composing Heavy Metal Rock music for the holiday / Christmas Season, to me, Trans-Siberian Orchestra made it to perfection. By combining elements of a full-scale Classical Music orchestra with the late 20th Century immediacy of Heavy Metal Music, Trans-Siberian Orchestra probably started a trend in which no other contemporary musical outfit would dare follow.

My love affair with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra probably started when I was in one of those what if moments with my perennial rock bands du jour. Like what if Veruca Salt does a Black Sabbath song via the band’s own style, or Lunachicks with a Nina Simone song? Until finally my - what if Richard Wagner compose Christmas music, what would it sound like? Well, Trans-Siberian Orchestra probably made my musical wish come true.

Sounding like Handel’s Messiah under the baton of Richard Wagner in his more “manic Wagnerian moods”, this is what Trans-Siberian Orchestra – to me at least – sounds. The three founders of Trans-Siberian Orchestra – namely: Paul O’Neill, Robert Kinkel, and Jon Oliva finally created their own “unique” musical genre back in 1996. A genre that stimulates, excites, outrages, tantalizes, and finally blows away the folks under the age of 40’s prejudices on Classical / Traditional Christmas music which have kept this type of music “under glass” for probably more than 200 years! - Which is a high-praise indeed for a band that “just” wishes to transcend the tired old electric guitar-bass-and-drum sound of conventional Heavy Metal Rock music.

The New York City, New York-based band were even commended as “Princes of Peace” years ago when their debut album Christmas Eve and Other Stories gave birth to a not-so-apocryphal-legend about a musical tale of transcending the violence and strife of war-torn Sarajevo. One of the tracks on Christmas Eve and Other Stories is “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12 / 24” noted for the tale of a cellist born in Sarajevo many years ago. This particular cellist is Vedran Simailovic who left Sarajevo when he was fairly young to study in the finest music schools in Western Europe so that he can fulfil his dream of becoming an accomplished musician. Vedran Simailovic did go on to become a well-respected musician and played with various symphonies throughout Europe. A few years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man only to find his beloved city completely ruined by the on-going Bosnian War.

Braving the nightly shelling by the Serbs – not to mention the approaching winter chill - Vedran Simailovic started a “musical routine” by playing in the Sarajevo town square in a pile of rubble that had once been a fountain and began playing cello pieces by Bach and Beethoven. Since the Christmas Season was fast approaching, the repertoire then included traditional Classical Christmas carols played on his cello.

Vedran Simailovic’s regular routine was soon photographed by a war correspondent. It was a powerful image of a white-haired man silhouetted against bursts of artillery fire, playing timeless classics to both sides of the on-going conflict amid the backdrop of rubble and devastation of his beloved city. Later on, a reporter managed to interview Vedran Simailovic and asked why he did this “insanely stupid stunt”. Vedran Simailovic then answered that it was his way of proving that despite all the evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.

Though a number of people still harbor doubts about the authenticity of the story, an overwhelming majority say that there might be some truth to it because as soon as the conflict in Sarajevo subsided, the semblance of normality returned much faster in comparison to other conflict zones. And we have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to thank for spreading this tale of transcending unbearable conflict, proving that peace and goodwill towards humanity can outlast the atrocities of war. Maybe Richard Wagner did miss out on writing Christmas Music?

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