The 5 Best YouTube Videos for Christmas

Deal W. Hudson
December 11, 2017

YouTube has become a treasure trove of musical delights, which I enjoy exploring especially at the season of Christmas. I offer the five best videos of live performances of Christmas music that I have found thus far.

Live performances add a much-needed visual element to the performances of familiar songs. We see, as well as hear, the personal commitment to the music and its message. In some cases, it’s a reminder of what television once gave us, the thrill of singers singing without a net, as it were, in front of a live camera and microphone. As one who grew up delighting in the annual Christmas shows of Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Glen Campbell, I am very pleased to share these with you. Please enjoy and “Merry Christmas!”

1. O Holy Night — Ernie Ford and Gordon MacRae

Let’s begin with a real gem: Remember when TV was live — when great singers just stood in front of the camera and sang without a net. Here are two iconic figures, Ernie Ford and Gordan MacRae from a 1958 Christmas show (I was nine). Their harmony is impeccable, but when Gordon MacRae begins his solo part at 1:12 you will wonder if you’ve ever heard a more pure baritone. Just gorgeous! And, yes, they hit the final notes without any break in their legato delivery.

2. Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

I have watched this performance over and over since it first became available in 2013. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the 17th-century French carol, “Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance Flowing?” (Quelle est cette odeur agréable). Note the moment at 2:36 when the women’s voice begin singing acapella and are then joined by the men creating as pure a choral sound as you will ever hear. This is very special, and I hope you enjoy it.

3. In the Bleak Midwinter — Benjamin Luxon and the Westminster Choir

The Gustav Holst setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” is sung live by Benjamin Luxon (now age 80) at Westminster Cathedral. Luxon was a man whose love for singing was always apparent by the twinkle in his eye and his delight in communicating with his audience. His many performances with folk singer Bill Crofut are delightful (try to hear their “All Through the Night”). He also loved singing one of my favorite composers, Frederick Delius, and his performance of Zarathustra in the “Mass of Life” remains the best of all recordings.

4. Mary’s Boy Child — Tom Jones at the Vatican

The Welsh have a special gift and passion for music, and none more than Tom Jones — oh, excuse me, that’s Sir Tom Jones, who on this occasion was singing at the Vatican in 2001. Jones cares about this song, it’s obvious from the start, but something happens to him at 2:11 and his performance is lifted to another level, continuing to rise all the way to the end. Born in 1940, Tom Jones was a mere 61 years old when he sang for Saint John Paul II whose Polish heart must have been lifted hearing a man pour his whole heart into this song about “Mary’s Boy Child.” (This version is much preferable to his lip-synced version for the David Foster 1993 TV Christmas Special.)

5. What Sweeter Music — The Georgia Boys Choir

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was a clergyman poet, belonging to the Church of England, who composed a marvelous poem, “What Sweeter Music,” which the English composer, John Rutter, set to music in 1998. Rutter’s setting quickly and deservedly entered the Christmas music canon — it’s almost unbearably beautiful. There are many excellent performances on YouTube, including that of the famed King’s College Choir conducted by Dr. Stephen Cleobury. But after listening to all of them, I think this one by the Georgia Boys Choir has the kind of sincerity and tenderness this music demands. The choir’s treble voices at 1:44 completely win me over. I hope watching these boys and young men will add to the delight of hearing Rutter’s masterpiece.

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An Anti-Nativity Scene in the Bleak Midwinter

Deal W. Hudson
December 24, 2009

A poem by Christina Rosetti, published posthumously in 1904, became a favorite Christmas carol after Gustav Holst set it to music for the English Hymnal two years later. The poem underscores the harsh setting of the nativity – the first stanza reads:

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

I thought of these words today as Washington, D.C., still sits under more than a foot of “snow on snow,” the ground underneath frozen “hard as iron.” In Rossetti’s poem, the wintry setting contrasts with the warm adoration of the child by the angels, the cherubim, seraphim, ox, ass, camel, mother, shepherds, and the wise men:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him –
Give my heart.

This morning, before the sun has risen, the wise men and women of the Senate will have made their way over the still-icy sidewalks and stairways of the Capitol to vote on Christmas Eve day at 7:00 a.m.

Children also figure into the senators’ narrative on the day before Christ’s birth. These are the children who will never be born, because 60 U.S. senators, many of them Catholic, will vote to provide funding for abortion in the name of “preventive care.”

As a 2007 Guttmacher report on Medicaid abortion funding shows, “Studies published over the course of two decades, looking at a number of states, concluded that 18-35 percent of women who would have had an abortion continued their pregnancies after Medicaid funding was cut off.” The Guttmacher researcher calls this “the most tragic result of the funding restrictions,” an opinion obviously shared by the majority of the Senate in the 111th Congress.

They don’t seem to grasp the tragedy they will have enacted. How many more children will die each year? One hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? Probably more – many more.

Nothing that happens in the grandeur of the Senate chamber on Christmas Eve could be further from the scene conjured by Rossetti’s image of angels who “fall down” and “throng the air,” while

His mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

Or the wise man who hesitates before naming what it is he has to give – not his intelligence, but his heart.

Those who gathered in the cold night air around the manager brought the warmth of their devotion and the light of their happiness to welcome the child. The vote this morning will send a chill across America, with people asking themselves, “What have we become? Where did we lose our way?”

The voices of these people have yet to be heard. How could they respond to the 2,000-plus pages of a bill conceived in secret, published only days before Sen. Harry Reid demanded a vote?

But the winter is far from over, and the bill still has to pass muster with some men and women in the House who understand why the wise man chose to give his heart to the Child in the manger.