That pre-Yule earworm
Meelejahutus 11 Dec 2014 Otepää SlimEWR
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I’ve yet to meet an Estonian who does not appreciate the beauty of song. Whether the love is expressed as a listener, or as an active participant in a choir, even singing to oneself when alone with a task, singing is in our blood. Not for nothing was Estonia’s journey toward regaining independence called the “Singing Revolution”.

There is a condition, identified some years ago, as earworm. That affliction is a song or melody that comes to mind, and simply cannot be banished for an extended period of time, sometimes even returning later in the day. That melody “plays” in one’s ears, like it or not. In the worst case, one mentally adds the lyrics, yet the outside world is unaware of what is taking place in the tormented subconscious. The slender one is rather aware of this phenomenon, unfortunately. The nuisance of that kind of power of music has, well, a mind of its own.

Earworm is at its most insidious during the Yuletide season. Pre-Christmas musical saturation is impossible to avoid. When the slimster was a lad, there was no Muzak, elevators were quiet, except for those in big stores that had attendants that would open the iron or wooden cage doors, and announce “4th floor, Ladies wear”. Hence, shoppers in just about every store were able to make their purchases without being bombarded by sappy saccharine songs and melodies. That is no longer the case.

Leaving aside the increasing number of annual protests that pre-Christmas marketing is beginning earlier and earlier in this capitalistic society driven by greed and profit (where is the message of peace and light here?), today’s practice of having Xmas songs heard for five weeks, if not longer before Christmas Eve definitely dilutes the significance of the season, the holiday, and the message of hope given to mankind.

As a stripling the lean one enjoyed singing Estonian jõululaulud with others on Christmas Eve, and a large part of the appeal was that they had not been heard before Christmas Eve. Except at concerts in the diaspora, perhaps. In North America these days, by the time Christmas actually rolls around, one is sick and tired of all the melodies, be they carols, hymns or novelty tunes. Many Estonian Christmas songs were also not blatantly religious – think of Sõitsid saanid, sõitsid reed, about children awaiting the arrival of jõuluvana, Old (a term often used for father in Estonian) Christmas. No danger of earworms then, especially considering the nature of Estonian Christmas songs.

But to the slender fellow’s chagrin, during the first week of pre-Xmas buildup in stores and public places – dagnabbit, one cannot even go skating without being subjected to insipid arrangements of classic melodies, - he found himself humming “Here comes Santa Claus” more than once. And it is not even all that great a song! Earworms are like that. They may not be quality compositions, but there is something to them, that can take over the subconscious, much to the detriment of the human being that has to live with this invasion.

It is easy to ignore the novelty numbers, such as the dentist-sponsored beauty, asking only for two front teeth as a Yule present. How jejune an idea, and a rather vacuous melody to boot. Then again, North American composers do not really shine with their efforts at Christmas songs, with the exception of the classic “White Christmas”, reportedly the most recorded song/melody of all time. Look towards Europe, however, and classics such as “O Tannenbaum” and “Adeste Fidelis” rank as must-sings, must hears. But only once in church, and perhaps later at the family gathering, as is the Estonian tradition, singing on Christmas Eve before opening presents.

The earworm is a bane brought on by commercialism at its crassest, repetition without wanting to hear the song. It is impossible to avoid, even at other times of the year, but certainly at its worst during the month of December. One can hardly wait for the season to be over.

If it were possible to achieve it is easy to believe that most of us living far from Eesti yearn for the simple days of our youth, when money did not drive actions during the darkest days of the year. Such nostalgia does help many of us cope with the afflictions of the season, and with luck, keeps us sane until the actual significant day, to be spent with loved ones with infrequently heard songs. As they should be, to emphasize their worth and significance.

Nevertheless, häid pühi! This gracile grumbler is hardly a Grinch, but is certainly looking forward to 2015, precisely because then those horrid Yule earworms will be banished once again…
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