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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Returning to Hickory Golf Out of Love for the Game

Deal W. Hudson

April 27, 2017

A film about the lives of Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom, opened recently in selected theaters nationwide. “Tommy’s Honour” is directed by Jason Connery, son of Sean Connery, who is easily the most avid golfer among the world’s celebrities. The cast included Peter Mullen as Old Tom, Jack Lowden as Young Tom, and Sam Neill as Alexander Boothby, captain of St. Andrews Golf Club. The film won Best Feature Film at the 2016 Scottish BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Awards.

According to reports, Sean Connery, now 86, stalked the entire shoot, having to use his powers of persuasion to force Jack Lowden to shoot a scene in the driving rain. Bowden, who is quite brilliant as Young Tom, was a complete non-golfer and had to learn not just the golf swing but the golf swing of the late 1800s, when the irons had no grooves, the shafts were hickory, and the balls made of gutta percha, called “the Gutty.”

Lowden’s swing, like that of Peter Mullen as Old Tom, was quite convincing even to a golf curmudgeon like myself. (Shelia LeBoeuf’s swing in “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (2005) was a joke, as was Matt Damon’s in “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (2000).) Both Bowden and Mullen worked with Jim Farmer, honorary professional at St. Andrews, who commented, “it actually made it easier that neither were golfers because there were no habits to break,”

But there is a much larger backstory to “Tommy’s Honour” that none of the media coverage has mentioned. Thousands of golfers around the world have put away their steel clubs in favor of playing with hickory shafted clubs, both those from the period of Old Tom Morris and the epoch of Bobby Jones Jr. who was 6-years-old when he won his first championship in 1908. Thus, hickory golf lasted from 1860 when hickory shafts were introduced, until 1935 when steel replaced them.

In the U.S., hickory golf began to develop in 1970 with the founding of the Golf Collector’s Society, where members would meet and play casual matches using their hickory equipment. Those matches grew into tournaments over the next thirty years, culminating in the founding of the Society of Hickory Golfers in 2000.

Within a few years, a split in the executive committee of the Society of Hickory Golf occurred because of an argument among hickory golfers about the use of replica, which had been pioneered by Tad Moore and later by Louisville Golf. The Society decided to allow the use of replica clubs and the modern golf balls, though the “mesh” ball introduced in the early 1900s in mandated for some events. Replicas of both the gutty and a variety of mesh balls are available from McIntyre Golf Company.

However, the tournaments sponsored by the British Golf Collector’s Society, founded in 1987, requires original equipment. Going even farther, the English Hickory Open requires all players wear jackets or suffer a 2-shot penalty! U.S. and UK golfers have started playing regularly in Scotland at the English Hickory Championship founded in 2005 by the late Lionel Freedman, a great ambassador of the game. An International Match was added in 2014, where various countries square off against each other. The 2017 World Hickory Open will be played at Scotland’s Kilspindie Golf Club in early October.

Speaking of other countries, in addition to the UK, there are now hickory golf societies in all the Scandinavian countries, with Sweden being the most active, and most European countries, lead by the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. Several years ago I played in the French Hickory Open at the great Morfontaine Golf Club outside of Paris and plan on playing this year in the German Hickory Open held south of Munich in late September.

There is one confusion about hickory golf which may have been unintentionally exacerbated by the film “Tommy’s Honour.” When I saw the movie with my son, he said, “Dad, they are not wearing plus fours!”

Up until the 20th century, a golfer wore long pants, with a jacket, vest, shirt, and tie. It wasn’t until after World War I that knickers or plus-fours (dropping 4-inches below the knee) came into style.

Thus, hickory event can be either pre-1900 or post-1900 hundred, each requiring different dress in addition to different clubs and balls. The 1920s style of play attracts the most adherents, but gutty tournaments have a very loyal following, such as the National Hickory Championship begun in 1998 by Peter Georgiady. I was initiated into gutty play by Georgiady last year, not expecting to like it much, but converted the moment I felt that gutty crunch off the smooth face of my mashie-niblick.

One thing hickory golfers learn is that golf is golf, regardless of the equipment, the ball, or the course: you have to swing well, think well, and hold up under pressure, if you want to win. But hickory golfers have rediscovered something more important than winning, that golf is a game, a game with a stick and a ball, and it is meant to be enjoyed. You won’t see much gnashing of teeth at a hickory golf tournament, especially with a wee nip of single-malt whiskey after suffering a double bogey.

Finally, it’s difficult for most guys to admit they like dressing up for anything. But I’ll confess, as will most of my fellow players, to enjoying the sartorial challenge of playing hickories. A group of golfers in plus-fours, argyle socks, two-tone shoes, white collared shirt, a tie, and a sleeveless v-neck sweater look a heck of a lot better than their steel counterparts in Bermuda shorts, ill-fitting golf shirts stretched over the bellies, and silly sockettes peeking out from above their golf shoes.

In fact, I was first drawn to hickories when I saw a picture of about a hundred guys, all in plus fours and ties, many smoking cigars, smiling into the camera on the putting green at Mid Pines Golf Club. I said to myself, “Why aren’t I in this pictures?”

I had been smoking cigars and wearing plus fours for decades on the golf course and, all the sudden, I realized I was not alone! In two weeks I acquired a set of hickory clubs, an all-leather bag, and played in my first hickory tournament at, yes, Mid Pines.

Some of my best friends I now count among those I have met through playing hickories. Hickory golfers, I have found, are a special bunch of mwen and women, representing every possible social strata and point of view, but brought together by their sheer love of the game.

Over the past five years, I’ve never looked back, my steel clubs rarely leave my trunk. I’ve rediscovered the game I learned to love as a teenager, embraced again the joy of playing the game rather than making my enjoyment depend on reaching a certain number.

And you know what? Playing hickories is a “game improvement” experience, not only will you learn to swing better, you will learn to let go and allow the game to become fun again.

If you are interested in exploring hickory golf, please visit the Society of Hickory Golfers website at

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Remembering September 11th

Deal W. Hudson
September 11, 2002

Many of us have been dreading the approach of the one-year anniversary of September 11th. After a long year of suffering under the memory of that horrible day, most of us are loath to relive it. We want to forget, or at least not subject ourselves anew to the pain of facing those images that have haunted us ever since. The media have been increasing their coverage of the events building up to this day, and commentators everywhere have been weighing in with their reflections on what the anniversary means.

Last September, such reflections seemed timely and important, and Americans everywhere put aside their differences and petty concerns to stand together in our time of grief. These days, however, that sense of urgency is waning, and most of us just want to make it through the day without being dragged down under the weight of bad memories. What’s the point of re-opening the wounds?

Let me answer with a story. You wouldn’t have heard it in the news; none of the major broadcasters picked it up, and it eventually got lost amidst all the countless stories from that day. A few days after the attack, on his visit to New York City and Ground Zero, President Bush made a stop to a nearby convention center where he was to speak to a group of people who had lost family members at the World Trade Center. His schedule only allowed for a brief speech and 20 minutes at the gathering before the Secret Service would whisk him off to safety. (Security concerns were still high at the time.)

But when the president saw the intense grief of the people, he decided he wouldn’t give a speech after all. Instead, he stayed in the building until he had personally spoken with every last person there. He spent two hours praying, hugging, and grieving for each individual, allowing himself to share in their unspeakable pain.

Bush wasn’t playing to any cameras or grabbing any headlines, or trying to gain voter support. He was simply leading the country the best way he knew – by uniting with people in their suffering and showing his personal support. On that day, President Bush gave an important example of how to handle adversity: stand strong in the face of ultimate grief and despair.

In the months since September 11th, the regular concerns of life came pressing back in, and our focus was distracted. Catholics were shaken by the sex abuse scandal, and the country began thinking of war. Life has continued with all its joys, sorrows, and distractions.

But I encourage you on this anniversary not to be distracted. Remember that day in all its horror and sorrow. As President Bush demonstrated, it’s not enough to pay lip service to the victims of this tragedy – we must all be united in our grief, but also in our support of one another. It’s only when we confront this event personally that we can overcome it.

At the World Youth Day in Toronto this year, Pope John Paul II had some encouraging words of hope for the people who had been shaken, words that could help us all through this difficult time.

“Although I have lived through much darkness…I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young… Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”