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Preparing Your Best Holiday Playlist Ever, and a Secret About My Family

Now is the perfect time to create your best holiday playlist ever, songs to accompany all your upcoming dinners and celebrations. “Music is one of the strongest tethers we have to the past,” Kenneth Bilby, a former director at the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago in Chicago, tells me. “It’s a critically important carrier of memory.” It’s with this notion in mind that I’m revealing a story about my family I’ve never shared. I hope you find it helpful as you plan your holiday playlist.

My uncle dictated a note to me one day before he died. The intention was for me to type it up and email it his closest friends and family after he passed away. And I did. It was one of the most important and joyful notes I’ve ever written. Richard was my dad’s younger brother and he’d been sick for a while. He was 70 and my father had been dead more than a decade by the time I became Richard’s primary caretaker.

Richie, as our family called him, went to the Peabody Conservatory at The Johns Hopkins University and was a great lover of music throughout his life. He founded Grenadilla, a music label, and his company produced acclaimed discographies and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1978 in the category of Best Arrangement for Voices. He also performed a clarinet recital at Carnegie Hall, the event so large in his memory he often told my brother and me it was the happiest moment of his life.

The note was my idea. Sitting at his bedside, feeding him cherry Jell-O and urging him to take even a sip of water, I asked my uncle for a list of his favorite pieces of music. I thought I’d benefit — indeed all his family and friends could benefit — from his deep reservoir of knowledge.

And I knew we’d feel closer to Richie after he died if we could enjoy these songs and arrangements knowing he once took pleasure in them, too. This year, three years after my uncle’s death, I pass along his expertly curated list to you:

“Some of My Favorite Listening” by Richard Allen Gilbert

  • Artie Shaw — Begin the Beguine
  • Mozart — Sinfonia Concertante for Violin/Viola
  • Mozart — Piano Concerto #21
  • Mozart and Brahms — Clarinet Quintet
  • Bach — Brandenburg Concerto
  • Beethoven — Violin Concerto
  • Samuel Barber — Adagio for Strings
  • Hoagy Carmichael — The Nearness of You
  • Joaquin Rodrigo — Concierto De Aranjuez
  • Stan Getz — Focus (entire album)
  • John Lennon – Imagine
  • Brahms — Piano Concerto #2
  • Musicals — Fiddler on the Roof, Sound of Music, West Side Story

This playlist brings back wonderful memories of my uncle and me. You can read more in Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive (Forget Me Nots #56 and #84), where I talk more to the importance of music in remembering.  What music did your loved one enjoy most? Make a playlist and then consider sharing it. A commemorative playlist happens to make an especially thoughtful holiday gift.