Christmas Music Musings: Why Performing ‘O Holy Night’ Is so Powerful

A South Korean children's choir sings at Mass on Christmas Eve in Seoul. (CNS photo from Reuters)
A South Korean children’s choir sings at Mass on Christmas Eve in Seoul. (CNS photo from Reuters)

As a singer, I realize the natural bias that comes with the following statements:

  • Music is the universal language crossing all lines of ethnicity, economic background and experience.
  • Music communicates beyond the words sung or the notes played and can evoke moving emotions of the human spirit.

That being said, I find Christmas carols and songs to be a genre of music that inspires a sense of joy and happiness that really sneaks up on you. Christmas music starts playing like clockwork in my parents’ home on the day after Thanksgiving. Before we put up the Christmas tree and set up the decorations outside, we turn to our favorite Christmas songs to get us into the spirit. The Advent season is one full of preparation, excitement and hope. We prepare for the coming of Christ’s birth with great excitement! This hope fuels the belief that God is present with us and indeed has a plan for our lives.

Recently, I have been working with my voice teacher and the rest of my class to put together a Christmas concert that we will perform for seniors living in a local nursing home. When we were gathering our list of pieces to sing, we immediately decided that “O Holy Night” was off-limits as a solo piece and would be sung as a choral number. Thus, no diva moments for anyone. In the music world, “O Holy Night” is something of a singer’s go-to Christmas song because one can really show off whatever technical prowess one might have in the setting of the piece. I can’t lie — I love singing up into the stratosphere, especially when the last few notes of the refrain come up:

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine! 

Beyond the song’s ample riff potential, I find the message to be extremely powerful. To be sure, all Christmas carols share a universal message of reflection during the celebration of Christ’s birth. For me, “O Holy Night” embodies all those feelings and emotions that I was speaking about earlier. In singing or even hearing the piece, you can feel the excitement building in each measure. With each verse, the song takes a step closer to this divine night, this holy night, when Christ was born. I get chills just thinking about it!

For such a long time, the world has been waiting for the coming of the Savior promised to them, and this is the night when he will finally come into the world. In the last verse of the carol, the work of Christ on Earth is revealed:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name, all oppression shall cease.

At this time of year, we should think about the state of not only our personal relationships with family, friends and God, but we should reflect also on the state of our world. We recognize that in Christ we are all connected, and that we are responsible for each other’s lives and well-beings. This verse reminds us to work against the injustices in our world, such as the staggering rate of poverty and the repression of innate human rights for many defenseless persons around the world. This song embodies the joy and love and power of Christ’s message to us today. “O Holy Night” calls us to recommit to fully loving one another, just as Christ has taught us to love. Now that’s something worthy of song.

(Originally published December 18, 2013)