Carol Story: Hark! It’s The Gospel, Charlie Brown!

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


As with Handel’s “Messiah,” discussed in the previous Carol Story essay on songs about the night Jesus was born, the development of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” exemplifies  the ever-evolving collaboration (some say interference) of artist, patron and theologian.

The original poem which begat the song, written in 1739 by Methodist pastor and song writer Charles Wesley, was entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  Wesley’s hymn was an epic with over 10 stanzas. It included words that showed Wesley’s intellect but left listeners scratching their heads.  Wesley’s pastor friend, George Whitfield, pointed this out and suggested revisions, simplifying the text.

Half of the Wesley-Whitfield stanzas survived into the next century and made an impression on English composter  William  Cummings. Cummings liked the lyrics, but not the slower, Easter-season tune Wesley had composed (“Christ  The Lord is Risen Today.”) However, Cummings felt the words were compatible with the tune of the popular “Gutenberg Cantata” recently written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.  Cummings believed Mendelssohn’s symphonic arrangement captured the implied awe and power of a sky full of “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” the passage in the Gospel of Luke that  inspired Wesley’s hymn.

The “Collaborators”

In 1855 the Wesley-Whitfield-Cummings-Mendelssohn  composition debuted with  the structure changes familiar today, but maintaining the essence of the words first recorded centuries before in the gospel of Luke: 

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men.” —

 (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)


LEARN MORE:  Comparative lyrics.

Centuries later, these words and music created controversy when used in what is not one of the most iconic annual Christmas television programs, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” the 1965 TV special that almost didn’t occur.

The overt gospel presentation that author Charles Schulz included in the script had CBS network offices and sponsors concerned.  They were okay with the “Peanuts” gang rendering one of the most poignant versions ever of “Hark! The Herald…” as they caroled at Snoopy’s house with Charlie Brown’s revived tree to end the show. 

LEARN MOREGlenn McDonald, CBS & Linus’ security blanket.

What scared the executives was an earlier scene when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the gospel of Luke in the pageant rehearsal. This makes Charlie Brown one of the  few programs that directly speaks the gospel of Christ for a non-church audience.  There was the rub.  Fearing a public backlash about show including the story of Christ in Christmas, CBS wanted the scene cut. Schulz stood firm.  No gospel; no “Peanuts.”  And unto us, a franchise was born.

LEARN MORELinus recites what Christmas is all about.

Many wonder if – or how – the should could be created and aired today.  Nevertheless, the evolution of “Hark! The Herald…” from lengthy, erudite poem, to symphonic anthem, to simple children’s song, to uncomfortable gospel message, point out the enduring strength of the essay researched by Luke the historian.

Poetically, the visuals of the lyrics as presented in #CarolStory starts a sequence of dialogue between the shepherds and the angels.  “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” another carol more recently associated with a children’s cinema favorite (“Gremlins”), is added to the conversation to  begin the evening’s journey.  First , hearing, then seeing the angels,  the shepherds are moved from fear to comfort as they interpret the angels’ mission and  instructions to begin  a Pied-Piperesque journey to Bethlehem, picking up a drummer boy and others as they go away to the manger.

The videos here — the  majesty of Mendelssohn’s  anthem in  Alan Silvestri’s arrangement of “Hark! The Herald…,” contrasted with its  quiet message to Charlie Brown and connected by the intimacy of Johnny Mathis asking, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — allow us to experience various ways the Lord speaks:  with herald trumpets and a sweet, still voice.

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live


Alan Silvestri

Alan Anthony Silvestri is an American composer and conductor known for his film and television scores. He is best known for his frequent collaboration with Robert Zemeckis.  He is a two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee, and a three-time Saturn Award and Primetime Emmy Award recipient. 

LEARN MORE: The Film Music of Alan Silvestri.


Vince Guaraldi


Vincent Anthony Guaraldi was an American jazz pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated television adaptations of the “Peanuts” comic strip, as well as his performances on piano as a member of Cal Tjader’s 1950s ensembles and for his own solo career which included the radio hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind. 

LEARN MORE: The Guaraldi-Peanuts Connection.


Johnny Mathis

John Royce “Johnny” Mathis is an American singer of popular music. According to Guiness Music Chart historian Paul Gambacini, Johnny Mathis has sold well over 360 Million Records Worldwide making him the 3rd biggest selling artist of the 20th Century. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.

LEARN MORE:  Johnny Mathis Biography.

LEARN MORE: Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

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Carol Story: A Handel on Flash Mobs, Hallelujah!

Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song:  a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly  the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.

What would you do?  Sit slack-jawed!  Complain?  Hide?   Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?

The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation.  In their case, “What the…?” may not have been  an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid. 

George Fridrick Handel
Handel created “Messiah” for an Easter concert, not Christmas.

​The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores.  Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and ​Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.

Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt.  “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called  “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.


LEARN MOREHow Handel’s Messiah Came About


However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing.  This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began.  Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch).  With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.

Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences.  But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.

Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.”  It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God.  (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)

Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host,  the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news.  In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn.  Sort of.  As we shall see.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live

Viral flash mob post that started as a customer thank you.

Alphabet Flash Mob

 On November 13,  2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch.   Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash,  the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date. 

LEARN MORE:  http://www.AlphabetPhotography.com

Carol Story: Elvis & The Prophecy

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


O Little Town of Bethlehem” is the fulfillment of prophecy that was proclaimed in Micah 5:1-2.  This eloquently recording by Elvis Presley, backed up by his compatriots The Jordanaires, is from  his simple beginnings and reflect his deep, yet embattled faith in Christ. 

Elvis was poster-child for conflicted Believers, especially those in performing arts.  He was among the first of countless recording artists — such as  Sam Cooke and Whitney Houston — who began singing in church and, in many cases, started their musical careers recording gospel, worship and praise songs, but who later passed away because of dubious life choices.

LEARN MORE:  Micah’s Bethlehem Prophecy

Before the glitz and worldly temptations led to “Blue Christmas” and its ilk, Presley’s pure baritone resonated in gospel selections. Even backstage before concert, Elvis and his posse would warm up with songs of the gospel genre. He occasionally included some onstage.

His interpretation here presents the crispness of the night, the peace on earth, the calm before the storm of activity.  

We cannot tell #CarolStory without the lyrics which introduce new characters and setting in which to act the events of travelling to Bethelehem to see this thing that had been fulfilled.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:
“Carol Story” Live

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires

Elvis Aaron Presley was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King.”

LEARN MORE:  Elvis’ Biography

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: A Silent Night Anniversary

Silent Night” is the quintessential Christmas song. It’s virtually impossible for any artist to record a Christmas album and not have a rendition.  In this 200th anniversary of the song’s creation, we thought  it fun to expand the variety of recordings of the song to show its durability and to underscore the need to not let musicality overshadow the message of the lyrics.

Sis. Vanetta Pinn, who curated our Carol Story YouTube Playlist, included versions by Mariah CareyJustin Bieber and Boyz II Men for our re-posting consideration.  We’ve linked these videos to give a glimpse of vocal variations, musical arranging and technical production growth through the years. 

LEARN MORE:  “Silent Night” 200th anniversary observations

We’ve also included a medley by KIT Ministries co-founder Vikki J. Myers as a sample of how Christmas music can be merged with non-seasonal worship selections to give a sense of how the Christmas message lasts beyond the holidays.

However, for the purposes of our #CarolStory live presentation, the renditions that best  reflect the backstory nuances are by Andrea Bocelli and Mahalia Jackson . 

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

In the context of #CarolStory,  the 10-minute worship play, “Silent Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

Bocelli, singing in Italian, brings to mind the European feel of the original German carol written by Franz Gruber.  We wonder how Gruber may respond to the variety of arrangements of the song, especially considering the urgent and somewhat controversial circumstances  under which he wrote the piece for Christmas Eve 1818.

LEARN MORE:  History of “Silent Night”

There’s a nostalgic prejudice for Mahalia Jackson’s version.  It was among the first “church” Christmas songs I heard (as opposed to the just-released “Frosty,” “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bell Rock,”) and was a family favorite.  Mother was not a singer but held her own singing along whenever the record  (as in vinyl) played , or when the Spirit moved her to burst into song  while baking cookies — thinking she was alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.

As with other selections in this piece, the lyrics of “Silent Night” are woven throughout the play to move the story along and work effectively as scene exposition transitioning between scenes.

​LEARN MORE:“Carol Story” Live


Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli, “Silent Night” (Italian)

Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Celin Dion, with whom he recorded “The Prayer,”  has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” 

Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 90 million records worldwide. He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts.

He was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at age 12, following a football accident.


 “The Prayer,” his duet with Celine Dion for the animated film Quest for Camelot ,  won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1999. — Source:  Wikipedia

LEARN MORE:  Andre Bocelli Today

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s “Silent Night,” a personal family favorite.

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.”  She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,”  Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” — Source:  Wikipedia.

LEARN MORE:  Mahalia Jackson Biography

One More Thing

Mahalia Jackson is also one of the individuals whose story is included in  the Kingdom Impact Theater production, “Faith, Hope & Love:  History-Making Women of Faith,” a one-woman performance by Vikki J.  Myers.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: Songs of “The Night”

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


“O Holy Night” is an English translation of the French carol “Le Christien Minuit” that was translated and became a rallying cry of abolitionists during the Civil War. The third verse of “O Holy Night” was a direct Christian call to eradicate slavery, a sentiment that led to the song begin edited  or outright banned in some sections of the country. We address this story more in our production, “Freedom Song.” 

​In the context of #CarolStory, “O Holy Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “Silent Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15).

Danny Gokey, a former American Idol runnerup, cleanly expresses those emotions and the abolitionist sentiment in his elegant yet simple video.  As a bonus, we add a unique one-man barbershop quartet performance by Julien Neel, aka Trudbol A Capella, in the original French.

LEARN MORE:  Original French Lyrics

LEARN MORE:  Beloved Carols with non-American Origins

LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.


About the Singers


Danny Gokey

Danny Gokey — “O Holy Night” (English)

Daniel Jay Gokey is an American singer and former church music director from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the third-place finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol.” After his placing on the show, Gokey signed to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville at the beginning of a career in country music, releasing the single “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me.”  

LEARN MORE:  Danny Gokey’s Biography.

Trudbol A Cappella

Trudbol A Cappella — Le Minuit Christien (French)

Trudbol A Cappella (Julien Neel) is a one-man barbershop quartet. Julien sings all the parts from bass, to baritone, to tenor.  He typically covers classic barbershop tunes, but also Beatles songs, video game and TV theme songs, choral music, etc..  Julien lives in France and sings in French, English,  German, Swedish and will try other languages. Julien sells audio learning tracks and publishes a cappella videos each Thursday. 

LEARN MORE:  Trudbol’s Biography.


MORE CHRISTMAS MEMOS AND WONDERINGS

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: A Clear and Glorious Mid-night

MEMos from Michael Edgar Myers

To catch the full impact of the full gospel message in traditional Christmas carols — those which tell the story of Jesus from birth through the anticipated second Christmas — it’s important to listen to all the stanzas.

The first five selections of “Carol Story” do so primarily by setting the atmosphere of the night Jesus was born to his earthly parents.

The selection which best establishes the setting, like a screenplay stage directions, is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”


LEARN MORE: This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play by Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” is a paradox in that its author, Edmond  Sears, was a Unitarian pastor who believed and preached the Divinity of Jesus.  Unitarians may or…

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Carol Story: The Life of Christ Through Poetry of Songs

There  has been much conversation lately about the meaning of some songs that have become associated with the Christmas season.  That is,  songs song about cold and winter that are sung during the Thanksgiving and New Year’s  holidays then not heard again for another 12 months.

Without assessing a viewpoint on a particular song, admittedly it’s  good to frequently examine what we sing and what we say.  Scripture reminds us to do so, especially teachings, spirits and self.  Re-examination not only yields growth, it also deepens discoveries that yield fruit.  Those who lead music for Christian worship are regularly challenged to test the lyrics of newer songs for theological accuracy as well as singability.

 At the same time, it’s important to frequently revisit beloved “traditional” songs to make certain we know what we’re saying, and not just singing songs because “it’s my favorite.” Grasping the intent or rationale of creator (small C) is essential in evaluating any work of art, be it music, book, film or visual.  This is, perhaps, a reason for some of the conversations about holiday outside of church circles today.

Carol Story Promo
“Carol Story” cast, Michael Edgar Myers, Vikki J. Myers and Garlan

Over a decade ago, Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, which my wife and I co-founded as an outgrowth of our work in Christian education at our home church, took such a lyrical journey. We took a fresh look at the lyrics and origins of songs associated with Christmas, and discovered fascinating and cathartic messages. 

Exploring the Christmas songs — notably the carols —  enables a careful listener to actually hear the gospel message of Christ:  from birth to death to resurrection to second Christmas yet-to-come.  This discovery enabled us to create a one-act play, “Carol Story,” that consists solely of the lyrics of Christmas carols spoken as dialogue.

Carol Story The Easter Edition
“The Easter Edition” songs & scripture.

“Carol Story” has grown beyond our expectations and is now a requested holiday season presentation.  So much  so, we received a request for a companion piece for Easter.  While our “Carol Story” schedule for this year is filled, the stories associated with the songs are on-going.   So, in this space and in our social media outlets, we’ll share some of the stories behind the 61 songs that are adapted for the scripts of “Carol Story” and “Carol Story: The Easter Edition.”

LEARN MORE:   The Carol Story & Carol Story Easter Edition Playlist

We do so because, just as there are some songs we only hear during the Christmas season then forgot for a year, there are many more whose message should be remembered for eternity.

LEARN MORE:  Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

From the Other Side of the Pond

Many of the songs we associate as Christmas songs, or as Christmas carols, originated in other nations.  As often occurs today, new songs were created by adapting fresh lyrics to standard tunes.  The process made the new tune singable more quickly. 

LEARN MORESee “Carol Story” Live.

Two well-known non-Christmas examples are “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),” whose tune is the British national anthem, “God Save The Queen;” and, the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That patriotic poem Francis Scott Key wrote during the War of 1812 was paired with a popular drinking song hailed in American pubs as if to thumb their noses at the British. 

LEARN MORE:  KIT Ministries Ensemble Productions

The prelude to “Carol Story” demonstrates examples of this technique with brief samples of popular Christmas songs whose origins were folk songs on foreign shores.  One from England, one from France, one for Ukraine. As a bonus, we  wish you a Merry Christmas in the spirit of Christmas today — joy in His name — not as the song was originally intended: as a sarcastic response from the poor to the rich, but a heartfelt sign for you to learn and share when the time is appropriate.

Greensleeves (England)

Shchedryk (Ukraine)
Minuit Cretiens (France)
We Wish You A Merry Christmas (signed)