A Wintry Mix, The Raleigh Ringers, David M. Harris, director; Raleigh Ringers RR 10062, ©2010, TT 76:37, $15.00, Available directly on the RR web site, in Research Triangle area stores, or from Amazon.com.

When one hears the pair of words in the title in a meteorological context, as in a weather forecast, one is not happy, anticipating something unpleasant, if not hazardous for and incompatible with human activity. An offertory verse (apparently) by Sherry Graham inside the front of the tri-fold booklet of this CD mentions these meteorological implications. Here however, it is something quite pleasant that awaits the listener. The pairing is used with a double meaning in that the music is a mix of sacred and secular seasonal songs and a blending of handbell sounds of instruments of various manufacturers. Some of them sound uncannily like other instruments such as the organ, gong, cymbals, drums, woodblocks, xylophone, or even a flute in one number. If such instruments are being used in addition, they and their players are not credited in the booklet, although some sounds are supplied by a four octave Schulmerich MelodyWave instrument (the organ- and flute-like ones?) and Schulmerich Carillons. As you listen, you want to see how they do that, how they produce those sounds. The use of a variety of instruments of different manufacturers transforms music that can often seem monotonous because of its tonal uniformity into something quite magical, most appropriate for the season.

There are 19 tracks, ranging in length from approximately 1.5 to about 7 minutes, with most of 3 to 5 minutes duration. Some of them are pairings of two familiar melodies. Six are arrangements by Hart Morris of medleys originally arranged and performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and several are original arrangements or compositions by Morris, Cathy Maklebust, or members of the ensemble of 25 musicians. The melodies include traditional ones such as “Greensleeves” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” carols such as “Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly” and “Good King Wenceslas,” hymns such as ” Veni Emmanuel” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and popular tunes from TV specials such as “Christmastime is Here” and “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Except for the three selections from the Peanuts show which are performed consecutively, the genres are intermixed for yet more variety. The silences between the tracks are short, making the whole proceed like a single continuous performance.

Readers unfamiliar with this 20-year-old community volunteer ensemble should know that it ranks among the best in the nation and tours fairly widely in the US. It has even traveled to France, where this type of ensemble is less a time-honored tradition than it is in England, which it might want to set its sights on conquering next – Raleigh does have a sister City there. It compares very favorably on the international scene with professional ringing ensembles.

If you are searching for an idea for a holiday gift for a friend or relative, search no more: give this CD. It is unlike any other holiday fare, musically far superior to many, especially to other wordless background music loops heard in malls and stores, and most certainly compatible with all tastes. Give yourself one, too.