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.
Dr. Deal W. Hudson took over Crisis Magazine in 1995, leaving in 2010 to become president of Catholic Advocate. While at Crisis, Hudson led the Catholic voter outreach for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and later advised the campaigns of both John McCain and Donald Trump on Catholic outreach. In 2014, he began his weekly two-hour radio show, "Church and Culture," on the Ave Maria Radio Network, and launched www.thechristianreview.com in 2015. His books include "Happiness and the Limits of Satisfaction" and "Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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