In the Bleak Midwinter
Judging from the statistics on iTunes, “In the Bleak Midwinter” is one of the less played or purchased singles from David Archuleta’s new Christmas album, “Winter in the Air.”
Admittedly, it is not the song I select first either, but I am here to champion this underdog track because there is still so much to enjoy and appreciate in David’s flawless rendition.
At the very least, it is yet another testament to his artistry and his unmatched skill in singing a story that reaches both heart and mind. A spiritual sensitivity and pure vocal prowess, that’s what it is.
A little about the song.
The lyrics in this traditional Christmas carol are based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894).
Her poem was first published in 1872, and was titled, “A Christmas Carol.” In 1906, it was set to music by Gustav Holst for The English Hymnal. It has actually been set to music many times and in many ways, but the hymnal melody is the one used most often by vocal soloists.
The song has been recorded by an endless list of artists. Every performing musician must want this carol included in their Christmas repertoire. Among the versions on YouTube, there were expected renditions and a few surprises. A few: Julie Andrews, King’s College Choir, Sissel, Tine Thing Helseth (trumpet), James Taylor, Paul Cardall, Susan Boyle, The Tabernacle Choir, Dan Fogelberg, Sarah McLachlan, YoYo Ma, Annie Lennox, Frida (ABBA), Orla Fallon, Indigo Girls, Moody Blues… See what I mean?
Back to David’s interpretation.
The original poem, now called “In the Bleak Midwinter,” is easily found online. It has five stanzas, and I have never heard a vocal version where the poem is used in its entirety. Artists and arrangers seem to pick and choose which lines they want to use, and that is what David has done.
He eliminated two stanzas, moved a couplet to a different place, changed the word order in one line, changed the rhythm of one line (à la Sissel), and replaced a couple of words.
He made it his own with the sequence of the verses and the lines he chose to use. It would be interesting to know his thinking behind the decisions he made.
Here are the lyrics for David’s version, showing where he paused for musical interludes:
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
Snow had fallen, snow, on snow, on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But only His mother in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped her beloved with a kiss.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
The production on this song is unusual and really interesting. It begins with chimes and a Gregorian-like undertone that supports the opening lyrics: bleak, windy, cold, etc. This creates the visual of a physical setting for me, maybe something from the time period of the poet. I could imagine David in an old and beautiful but cavernous cathedral, perhaps pondering what it must have been like on that wintry night when Christ was born.
When David begins to sing, there is a slight echoing of the music, which adds to the image of a large space where even the softest sounds reverberate. (You can almost picture the voluminous stained-glass windows.) David’s beautiful voice is calming and reverent but purposeful, if that is an apt description.
The first interlude has different chimes, more melody and more movement. There is obviously more story to be told. An accurate explanation of the interlude passage is difficult because it is a sound you feel, something between haunting and ethereal. It is not music for a sunny summer day, but it belongs.
Listen to how David’s tone gradually intensifies when he sings about the Savior’s birth, His crucifixion, and the anticipated Second Coming. His voice is accompanied by fewer chimes and more strings—less cold and more warmth. He finishes the stanza (with the couplet he moved) to remind us of the humbling circumstances with the bleak midwinter cold.
Another interlude follows, using the same chimes as the first, but it is longer, building toward the announcement of the birth, and then it stops. David begins a cappella to tell us about the sacred scene at the manger. There is very little accompaniment thereafter and his vocal interpretation is beyond perfect. I hear awe and reverence and love. So good!
David sings the last stanza in the same worshipful manner. His voice lingers on the final mention of Jesus Christ as the song ends. I am completely blessed by this. Amen.
Wow, Tates! Fascinating stuff on this carol… I had no idea! Love how you walk us through the song, need to go listen more closely. I didn’t really know it before, tbh. I found it really interesting that he decided to sing this one in Spanish for Navidad instead of Glorious, like you said about his choice of which lyrics to sing and in what order, would love to grill him about so many things, lol.
Taterzen, thank you for the beautiful explanation of this song and the way David recorded it. I love it when someone opens my eyes or ears to things I didn’t see or hear before! You’ve added to the enjoyment of a song I’ve always loved, but didn’t really know anything about it. I’m off to listen right now for all the things you mentioned. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!
First of all, thank you Taterzen for your lovely appreciation post of this song, love this. It’s like you told a wonderful story about this old classic that flowed so beautifully. You enlightened me to certain facts about this carol too. Thanks so much!
Secondly, this song if one of my absolute faves off the album, I was thrilled when I saw that David was including it. Even though various artists have recorded this song in the past, very few seem to record it today, that I have seen. I love that we got a double dose of this beautiful song in English and in Spanish, I adore both.
Thirdly, one of the reasons I really love this song is that is has personal meaning for me. It was one of my Mother’s favourite Christmas songs and she taught it to me as a child. She would play it over the holidays and even sing it around the house. She grew up as a child in England singing this song in a Church choir and it had special meaning for her. She inspired me with the song and it always reminds me so much, at this time of year of my Mother. I can hear her singing this song, just as though she is still here
So, I am very grateful to David for recording this one. He sings it so beautifully and the verses he chose to sing are so gorgeous, moving and inspiring to me.
Just my own appreciation post for this wonderful appreciation post and song. 🙂
Thanks taterfriend, this is a lovely post and you said it all when you wrote, “his vocal interpretation is beyond perfect”. I completely agree !I have an audiophile friend who has deemed the production first rate and coming from him, that is the ultimate compliment. now off to listen again. on a quick note, I’m finding the Spanish version much as i did with o ven, in a deeper, richer tone.
More Phils stuffs (those backup dancers tho’ 😆 😆 :lol:)
The ending on this one is aMAZing!!!
And be sure to follow the lovely & amazing JR4DA’s youTube channel for all the latest!!
SO pretty! And bless the girl to his right for pushing the mic back towards him! 🙂
He’s so open and honest about personal things when he’s in Manila, it’s really lovely to see… I think he senses that people aren’t just being nosy but that they have great love for him and want to get to know what makes him tick and that they want him to be happy. *verklempt*
Nice interview with Mike Krompass that mentions his work with David:
Reading that made me realize I know nothing at all about electric guitars.
David on Pickler & Ben… I’m loving these acoustic CEDs!
Such an interesting post!
I’ve always liked this song.. especially Sarah McLachlan’s version, but of course D takes up a few thousand notches!!!
Love your way with words! ❤️
I have Sarah McLachlan’s version and it’s the only track I don’t play from the Christmas CD that it is on, I just couldn’t get into it. Whole different story with David’s version. The whole “Winter in the Air” CD is just incredibly good. Taterzz, thank you for helping me understand why. ❤
About his hobbies: “Oh, I don’t know, I go to the food bank”… oh, David. 😂 Nice Interview: http://smashinginterviews.com/interviews/musicians/david-archuleta-interview-american-idol-star-sets-a-christmas-mood-with-winter-in-the-air