November 25 - "Christmas Eve, Sarajevo" Reaches #3

Posted on November 25, 2018

I am not one of those people who jumps into celebrating Christmas immediately after Thanksgiving U.S.A....

But this story is too good NOT to tell!

I love "Wizards of Winter" played by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Like, love-love-love-love-love-love it!

So when I heard that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra had another great Christmas-time song - "Christmas Eve, Sarajevo" - I HAD to hear it. And I was not even a smidge disappointed.

Here is the charming video. Be sure to watch it. I mean, a magical hourglass, a kitten, an orchestra battling it out with a rock band, snow falling on a piano, a conductor twirling a little girl in her nightgown - what's not to LOVE?

This song was first released way back in 1995, and on this date in 2016, the total sales of the digital track stood at 1,300,000 - the third highest number of downloads of all Christmas / holiday songs.

What I didn't realize until recently is that the piece was inspired by a true story. Oh, man, what a story:

There once was a cello player born in Sarajevo, in Bosnia. He left his hometown and country when he was young to seek fame and fortune. Indeed, he was able to do what he loved: he played cello in symphony orchestras throughout Europe, and he became well-respected for his work.

When he returned to his childhood home, unfortunately, the Bosnian War had started, and Sarajevo was in ruins.

Whenever the Serbs shelled Sarajevo, most people hid in bomb shelters. But not the cellist. Instead, he took his cello and climbed onto a pile of rubble and played beautiful music. 

O'Neill thought that "the Cellist of Sarajevo" was very old when he came back to his ruined city and dared to play amid the destruction. But in fact, the cellist, who was named Vedran Smailović, was in his thirties during the Bosnian War and hadn't a white hair on his head.

That just makes the courage to play through battle even more remarkable. If you are, say, 81 years old, and then you die, how many good years have you lost? But if you were to die in your thirties, that is another matter altogether.

When asked why he was doing such an "insane" thing, Smailović said that, even with all the needless death and destruction of war, he wanted to remind everyone that there was also a positive side to humanity. And this spirit of humanity was still alive, even there, among the rubble.

Smailović also played his cello at funerals - and that, too, was a dangerous thing to do, because funerals were often attacked by snipers. The cellist's courage has inspired books, art, and of course music:

To enshrine the story of the Cellist of Sarajevo in a Trans-Siberian piece, O'Neill and the other composers decided to combine two very old Christmas carols, "God Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Shchedryk" (better known as "Carol of the Bells"), the latter which was composed near Bosnia, in the Ukraine.

Some parts are played softly, others are played loudly. Some parts are played just by a single cello accompanied by a guitar and flute, and other parts are played by a full orchestra and electric guitars. It's that back-and-forth of two melodies and different styles and volumes and bits and pieces that gives us a beautiful battle that hopefully reminds us not to embroil ourselves in violent battles...

Fireworks are more fun than bombs!
By the way, you may be wondering if Smailović died during the Bosnian War. The answer is: No! As a matter of fact, he is still alive now, living in Northern Ireland, and continuing his musical career by playing, teaching, and composing.

Check out the book Echoes from the Square, by Elizabeth Wellburn. It's illustrated by Deryk Houston. The book is read aloud by the author in a video near the bottom of the screen!

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