It's the time of year when musicians fill the air with joyful sounds while artists and craftsmen offer their original creations for distinctive Hanukah and Christmas gift giving.

If you are looking for something really different and money is no object, you might consider Tom Neuhauser's 11-foot sculpture of the wizard Merlin, currently on view at the Quill and Brush in Bethesda Square. Made of crushed stone covered with a white glaze, the imposing figure, which costs $2,500, is guaranteed to make any room come to life.

Combining an art gallery with a collectors' bookstore specializing in 20th century first editions, the Quill and Brush is a treasure house of unusual gifts in a wide range of prices. Particularly handsome and starting as low as $12 are the wood sculptures of birds and other natural forms by Earl Brinton. Tolkien fans will delight in identifying the characters in Neuhauser's $300 limited edition chess set based on "The Hobbit." The king, for example, is the wizard Gandalf and the bishop is Beorn.

On the book side you can find comparable variety, ranging from an unrevised proofs copy of a Graham Green book for $20 to F. Scott Fitzgerald's own copy of his college musical for $5,200.

While in Bethesda Square you may also find special gifts on the lower level at the Premiere Gallery, which is opening a holiday show of small works Saturday. Priced with the pocketbook in mind, most of the art works, which include watercolors, photographs, pottery and paintings, range from $10 to $150. The show runs through Twelfth Night (Jan. 6), in case you want to buy something for yourself with Christmas money.

Not far away, in Kensington, the Plum Gallery has some of the most elegant gift possibilities around. There is stunning gold jewelry by Fridl Blumenthal, starting at $100 plus, some attractive and less expensive alternatives in silver by Susan Paterson and evocative pieces by Helen Banes incorporating beads from cultures around the world. Ranging in price from $35 to $195, glass artist Dudley Giberson's works include goblets and vases in streams of glorious colors as well as necklaces. There are also a number of delicate ceramic works inspired by sea shapes from the artist Urs.

Members of the Laurel Art Guild have an exhibit of watercolors, prints and paintings on sale through Dec. 27 in the new Montpelier Cultural Arts Center.On Dec. 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the centers resident artists will hold a special holiday sale and show, giving the public a chance to watch art being created as well as to buy it. Call for location at 490-2329.

The Jewish Community Center in Rockville has its gift shop stocked with traditional gifts and toys plus special Hanukah paper to wrap them in. The center's art gallery also has a number of gift items, including colorful holiday posters and bar and bat mitzvah certificates by an Israeli artist. On Dec. 16 from 1 to 5 p.m. the center will hold its annual Hanukah family festival, including a theater production and a sing-a-long in the atrium. For more information call 881-0100.

Sunday, Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabeus" and a narration of the Hanukah story on which it is based will be given two performances under the direction of Bruce Steeg. The first will be at 4 p.m. in the North Chevy Chase Christian Church, whose chancel choir is participating, and the second will be at 8 p.m. in Temple Shalom, 8401 Grubb Rd., Chevy Chase. For details call 654-3631 or 587-2273.

Saturday's holiday concert by the Montgomery County Masterworks Chorus will include the premiere of Roger Ames' humorous version of the nativity story, entitled "We Poor Shepherds." Also featuring Bach's "Magnificat" and Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols," the concert begins at 8:30 p.m. in the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. Call 365-2850 for further details.

Sunday at 3 p.m., the public can sing Handel's "Messiah" along with the Masterworks Orchestra and the Rockville Chorus in the Rockville Civic Center. Call 424-3184 for more details.

Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8 p.m., the audience can listen to the "Messiah" and then sing some carols with the Southern Maryland Choral Society at the Hillcreast Baptist Church. Call 423-6288 for information on location.

Another chance to sing carols comes Sunday, Dec. 16, when the Prince George's Choral Society presents its holiday concert featuring Poulenc's "Gloria" at the Publick Playhouse in Hyattsville at 7:30 p.m. The Madcap Mimes and the Prince George's Puppeteers will entertain at a children's Christmas Party in the Playhouse, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. For information on the concert and free party call 227-1710.