WASHINGTON — December 19, 2012 – Our Communities at Washington Times column writers represent an amazing array of experiences and viewpoints. Readers say it’s what keeps them coming back and engaging with the Communities every day.
We recently discovered one thing many of our columnists have in common is a love of the music heard during the holiday season. Our writers’ favorites range from serious expressions of faith, to family favorites, to the slightly odd and unusual. We want to share them with you, and hope they will inspire you to share your favorites with Communities.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the best of everything to you and yours in 2013!
Jim Bozeman, Pithanthropy – The Human Conditioner
Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone composed the words and music to “The Little Drummer Boy” in 1958. Although it suffered from too much airplay and has become a joke in some circles, it still has a place in my heart.
My mother’s pride and joy in the year of 1958 was the six-foot long RCA stereo my father bought from Sears and Roebuck. She joined a record club and soon we had Ray Charles, Elvis, and the Bill Doggett Trio performing in the living room.
As the year came to a close we looked forward to hearing all the popular Christmas carols (in stereo!) Sitting in only the light from the Christmas tree, we listened to the Harry Simeone Chorale. All the songs were beautiful, but when that choral drone of “drum, drum drum” started, we were transfixed.
To a ten-year old during the Christmas season, “The Little Drummer Boy” provided a magical trip across 2000 years to Bethlehem. Like a Gregorian chant, it allowed a young mind to transcend time and space to touch an ancient world. It built a sweet, lyrical backdrop to imagining what it was like to witness the baby Jesus in that humble stable long ago.
Vance Garnett, As I See-Saw It
One hot California afternoon, in mid-July, popular singer Mel Tormé stopped by the home of his friend Bob Wells. Noticing four sentences scribbled in a notebook, he asked, “What’s this?”
“It’s been so sweltering lately,” Wells explained, “I jotted down some things that would remind me of winters back East.”
“You know,” Tormé said, “this could be a song.” Then he added, “Maybe even a song about Christmas.”
As Tormé sat down at the piano, Wells started penning additional words. And just 40 minutes later, the two completed a song not merely about Christmas: they had composed a song that the world would come to know as “The Christmas Song.”
Rushing the song to Capitol recording artist Nat “King” Cole, Mel Tormé performed the song for him. Mr. Cole reserved a studio and recorded the song in time for release by that Christmas season of 1946. He would, seven years later, re-record it to include full orchestral accompaniment. That version to date has sold more than seven-million copies.
In our family, we’ve always said that Christmas has officially begun when first we hear those two opening chords of Nat “King” Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”
Laurie Edwards-Tate, LifeCycles
When the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed his famous poem “Christmas Bells,” America was months away from Lee’s surrender to Grant on April 9th 1865. Longfellow’s poem reflected not only the prior years of war’s despair, but his own despair over the death of beloved wife Fanny two years earlier, and the Civil War wounding of his oldest son Charles, a Lieutenant in the Army of the Potomoc. Charles survived, and his Longfellow’s poem reflects both the poet’s and our nation’s looking forward to brighter days. The poem was published the following year.
It was not set to music, as “I heard the bells on Christmas Day,” until 1872, when the score was composed by British organist John Bapstise Calkin.
This song speaks to everything important to me: family, country, honor, and loyalty. My heart fills with joy and pride whenever I hear this song.
Kristi Overton Johnson, In His Wakes
One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. I love music, all music. But there’s something magical about Christmas music.
Whether in the car, at home, or in a store, as soon as a Christmas song begins to play, Christmas cheer spreads from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Without fail my mouth starts singing and my toes start tapping! Although I’ve never lived any place truly cold, “Baby it’s Cold Outside” has always been one of my favorites. Guess you could call it wishful thinking on my part.
Many artist have performed this beautiful song, but few can compare to the infamous bathroom duet of Jovi (Zooey Deschanel) and Buddy (Will Ferrell) in the movie Elf. Just the thought of Buddy curled up on the bathroom counter, singing his heart out, can bring a smile to any face.
The world needs more Buddys. His innocent heart, love for people and unwillingness to let the world change him is a great reminder for us all as we head into this Christmas season.
Buddy’s words of wisdom: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear!”
Myra Fleischer, Legally Speaking
I love Christmas carols. Yes, Jewish people love carols too. Some of the most beautiful music is written for Christmas. I sang in my high school choir and college choirs as a girl growing up in Philadelphia. I can still sing them all today and know more of the lyrics than most of my Christian friends! One of my favorites to perform and to hear is “Carol of the Bells.” Here is a beautiful version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Jacquie Kubin, Executive Editor, writer
If you grew up in Chicago during the 1960’s, “Hardrock, Coco and Joe,” was the heralds’ first call that Christmas was coming. The stop motion animated cartoon was based on a song by Stuart Hamblen and we would all laugh when we came to the very baritone “and I’m Joe…”
The fact that I married a Joe might have something to do with that.
The story of the Three Little Dwargs was an annual classic shown on Chicago’s WGN Television children’s The Garfield Goose Show with Captain Kangaroo. This short, along with another, Suzy Snowflake, brought smiles and joy to children anxious to play in the deep Chicago snow, and in looking for these videos, to my now 12-year-old, video game playing son who found the same delight in the black and white stop animation work we grew up with.
- Oh-lee-o-lay-dee, o-lay-dee-I-ay
- Donner and Blitzen, away, away
- Oh-lee-o-lay-dee, o-lay-dee-I-oh
- I’m Hardrock!
- I’m Coco!
- I’m Joe!
Bryan Kolesar, After Hours at The Brew Lounge
No holiday is more represented in song than Christmas. During the holiday season, which begins disturbingly as early as October in stores and on radio stations, Christmas music sung in every form can be heard twenty-four hours a day in some places.
My favorites? It would be easy to go with Bruce Springsteen gritting out “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (hey, I’m a northeast guy born of the early ‘70s, whaddya want?!), a strong voice like Johnny Mathis or Sarah Brightman hitting all the low to high notes in “O Holy Night” (I feel this is a requisite for being a bona fide Christmas song performer), or quirky favorites from The Waitresses (the catchy and boppy pace of “Christmas Wrapping”) or Lou Monte (how does “Dominick the Donkey” not bring a smile to anyone’s face?)
But, sticking with stereotypes, since I am after all “The Beer Guy” after After Hours at The Brew Lounge here at TWTC, I will put my hand up for Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
What? You don’t understand? I mean, c’mon, a beer. In a tree. What could be more festive? They are the Strange Brew guys, too, you know… right? Maybe you don’t understand. Perhaps you’re a hoser. Now go get your toque and a two-four and run along.
Oh, and have a Merry Christmas along the way. To all, including those not celebrating Christmas, I raise my glass and wish you a season of good health, good eats and drinks, and time well spent with family and friends. If we can put aside all of our socio-political differences, I believe that on this, we can all agree.
The animated version is pretty funny.
Growing up as I did in a musical family meant many nights gathered around the piano and Christmas memories that could be plopped right into a Judy Garland movie without skipping a beat. The only Three Tenors of any importance in my young world were my dad and his brothers. Performances by my Three Tenors were rare, though. Uncle Bob was in the Air Force. Flying his family in from places like Guam for Christmas wasn’t an option.
Life rolled on, grandparents passed away, cousins moved, and families were split asunder by divorce. Christmas still brought crazy, warm family gatherings. But every year there was someone missing. Soon, my own parents divorced, and The Carpenters released their album Christmas Portrait, which included the song “Merry Christmas, Darling.”
The Carpenters’ song celebrates the joy of Christmas: lights on the tree, logs on the fire, and greeting cards on the mantle. But it also celebrates intangible love. The people we can’t pass the potatoes to or kiss under the mistletoe are still part of our lives, and they’re still part of our holidays.
This Christmas, families everywhere will be missing someone. At some point during the gift giving or the cookie decorating, each of us will stop for a moment, lost in memory. My dad passed away in 1993, silencing my Three Tenors forever. But tonight as I sit at the piano playing “Merry Christmas, Darling,” his beautiful voice will sing to me loud and strong. “I’ve just one wish on this Christmas Eve. I wish I were with you.”
Claire Hickey, Feed The Mind, Nourish The Soul
When people ask me what my favorite color is, my answer is that I don’t have a favorite because there are too many to like. Christmas songs are pretty much the same for me. Religious or secular – I love them all. My kids and I love the chickens and dogs that cluck and bark “Jingle Bells,” and that parody from when we were kids, “Jingle bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg!……”
My love of Christmas music grew while growing up in Dolton, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. As soon as the holiday season began my mother would simmer water, cinnamon and nutmeg on the stove and put her favorite holiday records in the console stereo (remember them?) to play. Her favorite was the Robert Shaw Chorale. The Harry Simeone Choir, best known for its rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy,” was also one of her favorites.
Although it’s too hard for me to pick an absolute favorite the carol that comes to mind first for me is “O, Holy Night.” It is the fruit of a nominal Christian, French poet Placide Cappeau of Roquemaure, France. He asked his Jewish friend Adolphe Charles Adams to put it to music. It was translated into English by Unitarian Minister John Sullivan Dwight who lived at the Transcendentalist community of Brook Farm, Massachusetts. A devout Abolitionist, he was particularly fond of the third verse that deals with slavery and did what he could to send the song throughout the country.
People not “of the establishment” birthed this beautiful Christmas carol. General society merely tolerated these men. Yet the three of them understood what the message is all about. That really speaks to me. Who did Jesus hang out with? Certainly not the established religious leaders of the time. He preferred people who were honest about who they were and what they were all about. And I believe He still does.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, Media Migraine
Since July 15, 1929, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed a weekly radio broadcast called “Music and the Spoken Word.” It is the longest-running continuous network broadcast in the world. The show started being televised in the early 1960s. Today it is broadcast worldwide through 1,500 radio, television, and cable stations.
One of my first jobs in broadcasting was producing this show for my local San Diego radio station. Since I was alone early on Sunday morning, I would turn up our powerful monitor speakers to full blast and let the beautiful music surround me. I was awestruck by the devotion and teamwork required to make the musical magic happen. At Christmastime, the Choir conveys the exultation and joy of the traditional music celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to be a Christian to feel it.
Ronald Reagan called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir “America’s Choir.” For me, the Choir represents the meaning of the Christmas season performing the glorious “Hallelujah Chorus” from George Friederich Handel’s Messiah.
Youngbee Dale, Rights So Divine
Growing up in South Korea, my parents were always working even during the holidays. While Christmas movies were on TV, my Christmas was pretty humble—waiting for my parents to get home, and then go to bed. So I never really learned to indulge in holiday spirits. Instead, I learned to indulge myself with the sense of accomplishment and ambition.
But one morning, the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” was playing on the radio. Something about the song filled my heart with the quietness, peace, and everything else that Christmas offers in many people’s hearts.
The song reminded me to stop running so hard and cherish a quiet moment with a cup of coffee in front of a fireplace to enjoy the Christmas spirit. The holiday doesn’t have to be fancy or big. Instead, I most enjoy a small, intimate Christmas that only I can savor with my cup of coffee as I watch the snow drifting down from the sky and falling to earth before my window. (Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” here.)
Terry Ponick, Curtain Up!
I grew up on 1930s and 1940s classics performed live in the family kitchen or on the turntable of our unstable 45 RPM record player. No Christmas song was more ubiquitous at that time than Bing Crosby’s rendition (probably the second recorded one) of Irving Berlin’s immortal “White Christmas.”
“White Christmas” is one of my favorites, and I’m not alone. The Guinness Book of World Records has declared it the best-selling single of all time with sales estimated to be north of 50 million copies throughout the world. Yeah, some Elton John fans pooh-pooh this number, claiming Elton’s “Candle in the Wind” has sold more. But in sheer numbers, including those logged before formal pop records were kept, Der Bingle’s Christmas single still rules. Sorry rock fans, go figure. Bing’s jolly 1949 Christmas album, which includes this song, has never been out of print, an astounding achievement.
Here’s a link to Crosby’s initial performance of the song in the 1954 film “White Christmas.” It occurs at the beginning of the film, with Crosby navigating a cheap, makeshift GI stage on the edge of an anonymous European battlefield. Stage left, a soldier cranks out a pathetic, patched-together accompaniment on some kind of music-box/hurdy-gurdy contraption.
You can hear exploding shells in the distance as Bing’s soldier-audience falls somber and silent, chilled to the bone and thinking only about home and how much they long to be there. The video is a little blurry, but you’ll quickly get the picture and the poignancy. I would think that returning Iraq and Afghanistan War vets will seriously relate even if they’ve never seen the movie or have somehow never heard the song.
John Paul Cassil, Conserving Freedom
Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella is a beautiful Christmas song. Originally a tune composed as a dance tune for nobility in the 14th century, the music was incorporated into a Christmas carol in French in 1553, nearly five centuries ago. The song has been translated into English and there have been many popular instrumental versions.
Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella
Bring a torch, come swiftly and run.
Christ is born, tell the folk of the village,
Jesus is sleeping in His cradle,
Ah, ah, beautiful is the Mother,
Ah, ah, beautiful is her Son.
This carol reminds us that the news of Christ’s birth was given first to the meek and lowly in society. Our best guess at the composer’s idea of Jeanette and Isabella tells us that they were milk-maidens who came to milk the cattle in the stable on the first Christmas morning. They ran to tell the village of Bethlehem the good news, bringing their torches with them.
Downhere’s album “How Many Kings” is one of the most beautifully composed Christmas albums, with not only reimagined versions of older carols, (like the unique French interlude in What Child is This?) but new songs completely (like the album title song How Many Kings.) This version of Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella is beautiful as it incorporates a melodious chorus into a tune from the Middle Ages.
Bring a torch, Light a candle!
Bring a torch, For the Prince of Peace,
Bring a torch, Oh, come and believe,
Bring a torch, See this mystery!
Light of the World is here!
READERS: Tell us your favorite holiday song in the Comments section and provide us a link. It doesn’t have to be be just Christmas. We will feature as many videos as we can.
(This story is an annual reprint to help celebrate the season)
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Copyright © 2011 by Falcon Valley Group
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