SALT LAKE CITY — The Deseret News recently asked members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and musicians David Archuleta, Lexi Walker, Jenny Oaks Baker, Dallyn Vail Bayles, Kurt Bestor and Michael Ballam about their favorite Christmas songs. Read their responses below.
These responses have been edited for style and clarity.
David Archuleta: “The First Noel”
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “The First Noel.” The melody just gets to me. It sounds like a lullaby. I love how it describes the first Noel was sung to the simple shepherds. Instead of kings, or a giant city, the angels sang to them. It reminds me of the way that God reaches out to us: through simple and humble ways.
Lexi Walker: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Jingle Bells”
Honestly, I think every Christmas song is my favorite! How could I possibly pick just one?
For this holiday season, I think “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is one that I’ve especially enjoyed being able to perform and share its message with the audience.
“Mary, Did You Know?” is another one because I think after reading about her experience in Luke, you can tell she knew who she was and who her son would be.
One of the most fun for me to perform is “Jingle Bells” because the arrangement is a twist on a classic Christmas favorite, and if I sing it, I have to take my shoes off.
Jenny Oaks Baker: “The First Noel”
I have always loved the Christmas carol “The First Noel.” Earlier this month, my children — musical group Family Four — and I were blessed to be able to record a new “The First Noel” arrangement that Kurt Bestor wrote for us. We were looking forward to filming our “The First Noel” music video together for the #LightTheWorld campaign, but earlier this month, our plans to find a beautiful snowy forest to film the video were being frustrated by the complete and total absence of snow in Utah — even in the mountains. So we prayed for snow, and the next day Utah was blessed with a lovely blizzard that coated the entire Wasatch Front with a beautiful blanket of snow just in time for us to film our “The First Noel” music video together. What a joy it was to see our prayers answered, so we were able to create a video about the glory of the Savior’s birth. Now “The First Noel” is even more of a Christmas favorite for me and my family, as it is tied to this beautiful family Christmas miracle!
Dallyn Vail Bayles: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
I have several favorite Christmas songs, but one that I feel a consistent connection with is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I remember listening to the Mannheim Steamroller recording of this hymn growing up. They used the Latin text, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” sung by this beautiful choir that starts and ends the song with a haunting Gregorian chant and has a gorgeous instrumental underscoring throughout. The song itself captures not only the beauty but the spirit of Christmas. The lyrics reflect both a desperate plea for and a bright hope in the coming of the Messiah to redeem Israel. I love how the song expresses both joy and longing for all the things the promised Savior will do for each of us: cheering our spirits, dispersing the gloomy clouds of night, chasing away death’s dark shadow, opening the way to our heavenly home and leading us on the path that will take us there. I especially love the final line that’s repeated at the end of each verse: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” What a beautiful, hope-filled expression of faith that reflects the feelings of my own heart, especially at Christmas.
Kurt Bestor: “Angels We Have Heard on High”
As an arranger of hundreds of Christmas carols over the years (and composer of dozens of original holiday songs), it’s very difficult to choose one. There are some that are beloved for their gorgeous melodies, while others have touching lyrics. But I’ll place the top 10 in a Christmas stocking, shake it up and pull out one. “Angels We Have Heard on High” has been a carol that I have always enjoyed arranging and playing, perhaps because the joyous chorus where one sings, “Glo .oh oh oh .ria. In excelsis Deo,” is so wonderful and exultant that I never tire of hearing professional singers and amateur carolers alike sing it. If you’re asking for my favorite version, I would say (feigning humility), the one I arranged and performed with Lexi Walker last Friday night!
Michael Ballam: “O Holy Night”
There is nothing that comes close to “O Holy Night.” Written in 1844, the year of the martyrdom of (LDS founder and prophet) Joseph (Smith) and (his brother) Hyrum (Smith), it carries a token of them for me. It was the first Christmas song I sang in public when I was 5 years old. They had to put me on a table to be seen by the audience.
The English translation is very lovely and sings well because of all the open vowels. But the original French carries a more important message. When we say, “It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth,” the French is, “Où l’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’à nous,” which means, “A God is made man and descends to be with us.” When we say, “The weary world rejoices,” the French says, “Attends ta délivrance!” — “The waited deliverer has come!” When we sing at the “O night divine,” the French, “Voici le Rédempteur!” which means, “Behold the Redeemer!”
The message of a God being willing to come down to dwell with us and to redeem us is beautiful to me. The visual image of looking to behold the Redeemer brings warmth to my heart and tears of joy to my eyes. It has to be one of the most inspired songs of history.