Christmas is a time for families and friends to gather and offer gratitude for the important things in life. There is a primal feeling in the air at Christmas, a reminder that even in the darkest, coldest days of winter, spring is stirring in our hearts, ready to burst forth with light, love and renewal. In our modern culture, commercial concerns often overwhelm the deep religious and spiritual feeling of the season, but those feelings of affection for family and community are at the heart of the music Reuel explores on First Snow.
“I have a deep connection to Christmas music,” Reuel says. “I grew up in a religious home and the music of the season played an important part in my childhood. Many artists look down on Christmas music, but the combination of religious and familial feeling that the music evokes lets you access emotions that regular music doesn’t often touch. As an artist, and a listener, Christmas music allows you to be more poetic, more emotional, more dramatic.”
Reuel’s wide-ranging talent as a pianist gives every note he plays a unique resonance. He has years of experience in the worlds of classical, pop, film scoring and electronic dance music, allowing him to move smoothly between genres. He brings all these elements to bear on the arrangements he’s created for the songs and carols on First Snow.
“I chose First Snow as the title of my inaugural Christmas album, because I’m planning on making more Christmas albums in the future. First Snow depicts the beginning of the change of the seasons that may hardly be noticeable at first, just a sprinkling of flakes, which can suddenly turn into the full force of winter. I wrote the initial arrangement for ‘First Snow’ on a cold winter day in Las Vegas. For the first time in several years, it was snowing outside my window. When I finished, I looked out the window and it was really coming down.”
First Snow was produced and arranged by Reuel. His friend, and co-producer, Jordan Kolar, mixed the album and added digital percussion and electronic effects. The piano tracks were recorded live, with the Tosca String Quartet adding orchestral sweetening to “First Snow” and solo cello to “Silent Night.”
The only vocal track on the album is an original piece aptly titled First Snow, a song sure to become a pop standard. It features a soulful vocal by Lala Vaughn. Reuel sprinkles the restrained melody with sparse notes suggesting a gentle snowfall. Then, dramatic bass notes from his left hand set up Vaughn’s tender vocal, her voice full of love and longing as she evokes the memories of departed loved ones. The Tosca String Quartet eases in, balancing dark sorrowful tones with uplifting sustained notes, while Reuel’s piano spins a flurry of arpeggios in the background. Measured percussion and angelic backing vocals emphasize the coda, with Vaughn sighing, “We love you,” over and over.
“This is the most important song of my life,” Reuel says. “I was working on this melody when the horrible shootings in Vegas and Florida happened. I felt compelled from above to write a song to let the families impacted by these tragic events know that their loved ones would still be there with them, this next holiday season and forever. I worked on the hopeful lyrics with Denisse, a young Las Vegas songwriter. I told her I wanted to focus on the words, “We love you” as a way to tell the survivors of this shooting that their loved ones are looking down from heaven and enjoying memories and feelings with them into eternity.
“Each snowflake represents a person who has passed away. This sadness and grief is going to be with people every year, for the rest of their lives, but this song is not a political statement. It’s a statement of love. Christmas is a time to minister to people’s souls.”
Other outstanding tracks on the album include: “Silent Night,” in an arrangement that highlights Reuel’s harmonic treatment of the melody and the warm, ambient embrace of the cello supplied by the Tosca String Quartet; “Carol of the Bells,” played as a double time waltz, with a swinging melody line that slowly builds to an intense climax; “O Holy Night” in a theatrical arrangement inspired in part, by Paul O’Neill’s version for Trans-Siberian Orchestra and “Little Drummer Boy,” which includes Middle Eastern themes and the sound of ouds and percussion that take the song back to the region where Christ, and the story of Christmas, was born.
“I want to start off as a Christmas artist by respecting the traditional aspects of Christmas and avoiding any clichéd or commercial ideas of the holiday. This album is a collection of songs that I will arrange again in the future, in different ways, but it starts off in a classical and timeless fashion.”