Here’s a unique early Christmas or Chanukah present you can give your family — a hugely enjoyable and extremely surprising afternoon where you will discover that many of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time were actually composed by Jews. Rob Kapilow returns to Boston’s Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory on Sunday, December 8th at 3 p.m. for a program called “What Makes It Great?—Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas.”
The songs are already in everyone’s heads—”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” “White Christmas,” “Baby, it’s Cold Outside,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and countless others.
The stories behind the songs, Kapilow points out, are household names in a much smaller number of households:
“A generation of Jewish composers who were seeking to assimilate into American culture in the first half of the 20th century, composed each of these amazing Christmas songs. Remarkably, these Jewish composers found a place in American society by creating these Christmas masterpieces. We’re going to find out what makes these songs unique, and how they came to be a part of the fabric of the holiday season.”
Kapilow, a Yale-trained music conductor and composer, fell in love with popular music (pop) when he became the conductor for the Broadway show “Nine“ back in 1981.
“After that experience,” Kapilow recalled, “I started an NPR show called ‘What Makes It Great?’ Initially, I was explaining sections of pieces from Beethoven or Mozart. But I discovered, thanks to my Broadway experience, that popular music could be just as complex, fascinating, and captivating as classical music. So I started doing evenings of exploring those songs, first at Lincoln Center, and then around the country.”
Kapilow’s explorations into Great American Songbook composers like Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin put him on the trail toward discovering the hidden secret behind Christmas music—that almost all of them have Jewish roots, or rather, composers behind them.
“All of the stories are amazing,” Kapilow described. “The biggest surprise was discovering the origin of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ It’s not what you think. But you have to come to the show on December 8th to find out what the song is really all about!”
The program, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston, will feature performances by vocalists Michael Winther and Gabrielle Stravelli and the Labyrinth Choir.
The songs, Kapilow revealed, tell tales of the composers’ Russian and Yiddish roots, as well as excursions through Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood.
“It’s amazing to think that a group of composers who had survived poverty and pogroms in Russia could come to the United States and practically invent the soundtrack to America’s Christmas,” Kapilow added.
So if you are a fan of these holiday classics you hum, tap, dance, and sing to, then make it your business to see Kapilow present this Sunday afternoon in Boston. The holidays are guaranteed to sound even better than ever.