Michael Dwyer, of Rochester Hills, plays Christmas music of all genres at home during the holidays.

Michael Dwyer, of Rochester Hills, plays Christmas music of all genres at home during the holidays.

Photo by Michael Dwyer


Music and melodies drum up a merry Christmas at home

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published December 6, 2017

 Ken Giorlando, of Eastpointe, plays a variety of Christmas music at home that ranges from modern hits to medieval pieces.

Ken Giorlando, of Eastpointe, plays a variety of Christmas music at home that ranges from modern hits to medieval pieces.

Photo by Maria Allard

 Giorlando is such a fan of Christmas music that he even has a gramophone ornament for the family tree.

Giorlando is such a fan of Christmas music that he even has a gramophone ornament for the family tree.

Photo by Maria Allard

METRO DETROIT — They say home is where the heart is, but for many during the Christmas season, it’s also where the holiday music is. 

Whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree, baking batches of cookies or hosting a family party, many people fine-tune the music inside the home to add to the festivities. 

Every year, Ken Giorlando fills his Eastpointe home with holiday cheer from his massive CD collection that includes modern-day hits; standards of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s; pre-20th century carols; and melodies that date back to the medieval period. 

All he has to do is grab a handful of CDs, cue “scramble” on the CD player and the music chimes throughout the house. He prefers less-known songs, but also listens to popular titles. It’s music to which his wife, four kids and now three grandchildren have taken a liking, including “The Boar’s Head Carol.”

Some of Giorlando’s favorites include the dulcimer-inspired “A Victorian Christmas,” by Robin Petrie; “Light of the Stable,” by country star Emmylou Harris; a doo-wop CD of various artists; Barry Phillips and Friends’ “Colonial Christmas”; and his own group of singers called Simply Dickens. He’ll also play some of the more recent hits, including Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” 

“You can’t get enough of Christmas music. There are so many Christmas songs people are unaware of,” Giorlando, 56, said. “I search far and wide to find this music. The older music is a lot more special. That’s some of the stuff you don’t hear. It just grabs ahold of you like nothing else does.”

Scottish fiddler Bonnie Rideout was one of Giorlando’s Christmas finds, and emotions come to the surface when Giorlando puts on the live radio armed forces broadcast recorded during World War II in December 1944 that features Bing Crosby. If Giorlando had to pick a favorite song, it would probably be “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” 

Michael Dwyer, 50, also finds himself in the Christmas spirit this time of year, courtesy of his own CD collection. His library of holiday music includes everything from traditional standards — Burl Ives, Brenda Lee and Rosemary Clooney — to lesser-known songs.

“I pick them up at garage sales and discount racks. I like the fun, raw music of the ’50s and ’60s,” the Rochester Hills resident said. “Almost every band has produced a holiday album. Most are traditional music with one original.”

He starts playing Christmas songs at home “as soon as I can get away with it.” 

“I like to put the music on before, during and after I have guests over; when wrapping presents; and when we’re unwrapping presents on Christmas morning,” Dwyer said. “For some people it’s all background music, but many people will listen and say, ‘I have never heard this before.’”

Dwyer even has a top 10 playlist that includes “(I Want a) Rock & Roll Guitar” from Johnny Preston, which was released in 1960; Jack Scott’s “Jingle Bell Slide,” which hit the airwaves in 1963; “Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey)” sung by Lou Monte, which came out in 1960; and Buck Owens’ 1965 “Santa Looked a Lot Like Santa.” 

Although not much of a Madonna fan, Dwyer feels the pop icon performs the best version of “Santa Baby.” Some of the Mel Blanc parodies also provide a good time, and he encourages Bob Dylan fans — if they haven’t already — to check out his Christmas album, “Christmas in the Heart.” 

“He does a remake of ‘Must Be Santa,’” Dwyer said. “I think it rises to the top. You can’t help but hum along to it.” 

Music at home during the holidays was a big part of Carol Burton’s childhood. While growing up with three brothers and a sister, her dad, Thaddeus Bogdanski, owned two vinyl albums that he always played on the family’s hi-fi record player.

One was the Boston Pops Orchestra’s instrumental “Sleigh Ride,” which grew to be a family favorite as everyone waited patiently for the horse neigh at the end. Another must-have was Mitch Miller’s “Holiday Sing Along with Mitch” record. It came packaged with song lyrics so there was no getting out of singing a few bars. 

“Everyone would come to my mom and dad’s house,” Burton, of Eastpointe, recalled, adding that her grandparents and other relatives were part of the fun. “The whole family would join along, and we would sing at least six songs together. My dad played the violin as we were singing. I always miss the big parties. I enjoyed all the commotion.”

Although the family’s treasured record player is long gone and her father has passed away, Burton, 58, tunes into the radio to listen to Christmas music while decorating the tree and preparing for the holidays. She always hopes to hear the songs her father once played, as both records “have had a lasting place in my heart. It takes me right back to my dad and the hi-fi. Great memories. I absolutely miss it.”

Susana Woloson, 54, goes live when it comes to playing Christmas music during her annual open house. The Rochester Hills resident — along with her fiancé and another friend, both musicians — dig out their trumpet and acoustic guitar, respectively, to perform holiday songs during the event. They mostly play the standards and some swing tunes.

“We always try to have a singalong,” said Woloson, a singer and trombonist. “It’s mostly standards everybody knows. I think live music adds a cool element. There’s always chaos. My mother will yell, ‘We’re trying to talk in the other room!’”