Monday, December 16, 2019


Santa Plays The Stick

It wasn't until I checked his discography that I realized how prolific a recording artist Chapman Stick player Michael Kollwitz is (well over 20 albums released!). Santa Plays The Stick is his second holiday music album (the first being Frosty the Stickman, if I am interpreting his website store correctly). Obviously, if you are unfamiliar with what a Chapman Stick® (invented by the man for whom it was named, Emmett Chapman) is or how it sounds, just go to your streaming app of choice and plug in the artist's name. I have enjoyed Kollwitz's albums (I have heard the first three "Serenity" series recordings) as well others who have played this instrument, most notably Jeff Pearce's excellent releases.

As for whether or not Santa Plays the Stick will be your cup of tea depends on whether you enjoy the "Stick" itself. Since I do, and I also enjoy most holiday carols/songs, you can guess that I found a lot to enjoy here, including four originals penned by Kollwitz. Obviously, when it comes to "original" holiday music, it's difficult to state with any certainty if the song in question "sounds like a Christmas/holiday carol." There are no true "Christmas" motifs except in copying the classics, which most artists who attempt originals tend not to do. That leaves the listener to basically either find that the original fits or doesn't, thematically, with the abundance of traditional classics. In this regard, while none of the four stand out, the flow from an original to a classic is well-done.

Kollwitz concentrates more on the religious carols ("Away in a Manger, " "Angels We Have Heard on High," "We Three Kings," "Silent Night" are among the ones he chose) than the secular ones (present here are "Deck The Halls," "The Twelve Days of Christmas," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas") as well as his aforementioned originals ("Pile of Presents," "Snow Ride," "December Wedding," and "Basket Full of Joy"). All the classics are easily recognized, i.e. he does not needlessly embellish them (a smart decision, that) nor deviate from the main melodies. As a result, I found myself thoroughly enjoying his versions of these holiday favorites. As far as his originals, again, they fit in well and if they don't necessarily resonate as "holiday-ish," they don't jar the listener by throwing a deliberate curve in tone, mood, tempo, etc. To be honest, I would've preferred a few more secular carols instead, but most solo artists who release holiday albums do include a number of originals, and who can blame them?

Some tracks are uptempo and cheery in mood, some are serene and/or somber, although the originals tend to be the former and the religious carols the latter. Kollwitz deftly applies some sparse ambient textures, e.g. a wash of synth strings here and there, which help a lot in fleshing out the singular sound of the Chapman Stick. Again, my preference is that he used these "extras" a tad more, because their presence in a track is always welcome.

Santa Plays The Stick would, I think, work best to be played during more festive times of the holidays, as opposed to, e.g. quiet repose in front of the fire. It strikes me as a somewhat whimsical recording, except for the more somber of the religious carols. If the Chapman Stick® is not your thing, obviously, pass on this album, but I would certainly give it a listen, especially if you enjoy the traditional holiday/Christmas classics. Kollwitz is as talented on this instrument as I imagine anyone is, and his playing is both artistically pleasing and technically adept. 

All of Michael Kollwitz's albums are available from the artist here.

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