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Irving Berlin: White Christmas

Happy Friday everyone! It’s my last day as your tour guide, and since I’ve been in rehearsals for two separate Christmas shows, I figured I would end with a Christmas song. Not only is the song one of my favorite holiday tunes, but it’s also the best-selling single of all time. I’m, of course, referring to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t think my selection was a little cliché. I love Christmas music and have a large catalogue that ranges from the hits to very obscure compositions that most likely only appear on my iPhone. But then I sat back and thought about what one song truly captures that time of year to me. And the choice was easy. Written by the Jewish-American Berlin in 1940, it was first sung by Bing Crosby on The Kraft Music Hall. It went on to appear in the film Holiday Inn, won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and inspired the popular the film that shares the song’s name. It’s been noted that the song’s popularity sprang from the longing to be somewhere else for the holidays, a sentiment easily shared for listeners during WWII. The song would go on to sell 50 million copies.

When I was young, my family would always watch White Christmas at the start of the Christmas season. It always felt that was the moment that it was “officially” Christmas time. Now, that moment has changed for me. For the past eight years, it’s been around 10pm on a Monday night at 105th and Broadway. A Goyishe Christmas to You! has a very special place in my heart.It was the first thing that my wife saw me perform in, and even though we no longer live in NYC, it’s one of our favorite holiday traditions. I relish the performance each year, and love seeing my fellow performers who, although we only see each other about once a year, have become very close to me.

At the end of the evening, we all gather at the front of the piano and get to sing Mr. Berlin’s song. Then something magical happens. We hum in harmony and it feels as if, just for the briefest of moments, the rest of New York is silent. To me, then is it Christmas.

Bing Crosby and David Bowie: Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy

The roster of great talents who have blogged for NYFOS’s No Song Is Safe From Us humbles me. Steve and Michael have created nearly three decades worth of artistic relationships with some of our city’s most gifted citizens. I am so very grateful, as humble publican to this exalted community, to be invited to share some of my favorite songs along with this impressive company of No Song Is Safe From Us contributors.

My first Song o’ Day is inspired by next Monday’s 6th annual Sing for Your Supper holiday show – A Goyishe Christmas to You – Yuletide Songs by Jewish Composers. SFYS is a divine mix of high- and lowbrow, formal and casual, elegant and earthy, classical and contemporary. I honor SFYS – Goy! with the choice of Bing Cosby and David Bowie’s duet of “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.” This duet is a perfect holiday blend of styles and generations. What better way to celebrate the holidays and NYFOS than this inclusive pairing of cardigans and mod hairstyles?

Holidays are one of the most important ways a culture defines itself. In a multi-cultural setting like New York City, and especially at HENRY’s, the lasting resonance of Goy is its message of a holiday as inclusive, welcoming and warm as this song. Bing + Bowie bring together so many disparate elements – faux castle sets, Christmas kitsch, cardigans and the hippest, most avant-garde, “tri-sexual” rocker ever – and from them they make beautiful music. If only the song had been written by a Jew!

We all know how hard it can be to create grace under pressure. Holidays are filled with tradition and heightened expectations. Sometimes it can be challenging to appear warm and welcoming, especially if difficult relatives are involved. There are moments in the famous footage of Bing + Bowie where you can see them sneaking uncertain glances like long-lost cousins. But, at the end of their song, you can also see artists who realize they’ve made something special. As Bing says at the end of their song, “It’s a pretty thing isn’t it?”

Please share the joys of Bing + Bowie with me as we enjoy the holiday season with friends and family. Join me as we move through the awkward and the difficult towards the warm and welcoming. Join me in the holiday spirit of inclusiveness.

New York Festival of Song • One Penn Plaza • #6108 • New York, NY 10119 • 646-230-8380 • info@nyfos.org