Gresham College Lectures

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Anatomy of a Christmas Classic

December 14, 2023 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Anatomy of a Christmas Classic
Show Notes Transcript

This lecture investigates how and why the song ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ has become so popular, transcending its roots in the MGM musical Meet Me in St Louis to become a presence in the canon of secular popular Christmas songs.

Live and recorded examples from artists including Judy Garland and Sam Smith will explain both how this remarkable song works and the process by which it became so popular. What gives this song its prayer-like quality?

Professor Broomfield-McHugh will be joined by singer and actor David Bedella.


This lecture was recorded by Dominic Broomfield-McHugh and David Badella on 6th December 2023 at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, London.

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/merry-little

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It is exactly 80 years this week since Judy Garland stepped into a recording studio at MGM to record this song, have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas for the very first time. And apart from the writers and the immediate production team, the orchestra were the first people to hear it. And so it's amazing to think that 80 years on it has all this history that we're looking at tonight. And as you can see from this studio document, it cost just over a thousand dollars to record the song because of a three hour recording session for 32 musicians. Over the course of the talk, I'm going to be thinking about the context in which the song was written. I'm gonna look at the sketches for the song, which I've managed to obtain scans of from the Library of Congress in Washington dc. We'll think a bit about Meet me in St. Louis, the film from which it's taken, and then look at some of the later recordings of the song and examine how it's gone on a very strange reception journey so that the meaning of the song has decidedly changed over time. And part of that was, um, achieved kind of mechanically because the words were changed. Frank Sinatra commissioned the original songwriter 13 years after it had been written to change the words so that it had a different flavor. But we'll get onto that later. So we start with context. There's another rather sad anniversary this week, which is that 82 years ago, tomorrow was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the following day, America was plunged into the Second World War. You can see the front page of the New York Times here on that day. And immediately you can see the shock and the gravity of the situation which matters because this song and this film were created under the shadow of war. And I guess my argument is going to be that the reason why this song has endured and also gone on this interesting journey is because it was created in this very poignant context that continues to speak to us today. Because there are things in the song that I think are more about wartime than about Meet Me in St. Louis. Um, considering the impact of the war over the course of the Second World War, about 16 million Americans joined the Armed Forces. And in addition to that, there was a big campaign called the Rosy the Riveter Campaign, which encouraged women to go out into professions that had been traditionally, um, barred from them. So replacing men temporarily. And the result of all of this was a lot of displacement, that people weren't where they had been before. So most American families were affected by all of these changes in one way or the other. And popular music, uh, responded in a number of ways. One of them was in a series of songs that were sort of jolly songs about fighting, where they were trying to persuade, um, people that it wasn't gonna be so bad. So I've been particularly fond of this song, praise The Lord, and Pass The Ammunition, which was written by Frank Lesser a few years before he went on to write Guys and Dolls, which is a masterpiece, um, on, in the West End at the moment in, I dunno how many revivals it's had now. And this rather cute song is about, um, a kind of a group of soldiers who are being attacked and there is a, a clergyman amongst them and they turn to him and sort of say, what should we do? Expecting him to say, well, let's pray. And instead he says, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and get stuck in with the fighting. So there's a sort of tenor to all of this that's, uh, not really aligned with what was actually going on. And in a similarly, quite often, jolly way, there was a major, major musical stage musical called, this is the Army written by Irving Berlin, one of America's great songwriters. And it was written in response to the war. He was a great patriot. He loved to get stuck in with, um, what needed to be done for the nation. And he did this on a number of occasions in different ways. And one of the things he did was to write this show, um, for the us um, army to produce and perform themselves. And it was done in, in, uh, aid of the war effort in, in aid of this specific charity, the us, the, sorry, the Army Emergency Relief Fund. I can never remember it off the top of my head. And they went around the world with this. So it opened on Broadway in 1942, went across the states and then came over here and even played Glasgow. So it was quite a major effort. And as you can see from this photograph of the three Koreans, everybody in the show was a soldier and they were all men. So the whole thing again, was rather comical. And it had songs like, oh, how I hate to Get Up in the Morning. So again, this is not particularly drawing attention to what's, um, unhappy about war. And I think if we think about these themes of loss, absence, um, displacement that actually characterized the feeling of being at home in America in this period, we have to look to Christmas songs, in my opinion, to find proper expressions of what it all felt like. And so I've drawn out these three, um, the first two of which sort of lead to the topic of our talk tonight. First of all, white Christmas, which first appeared in 1942 in the movie Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Second came a year later, 1943, I'll be home for Christmas, also recorded by Bing Crosby. And finally, have yourself a merry little Christmas recorded of course, by Judy Garland for the film Meet Me in St. Louis. So if we look first of all at White Christmas, very briefly, it really will be very brief. Um, Berlin actually wrote this song in the late 1930s, probably just before the war started. So it wasn't actually created, um, in wartime. And because of this, what the song is actually about is revealed in the verse, which we don't hear that often. Some popular artists have recorded the verse, but we can see the words of the verse are the sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills LA but it's December the 24th and I am longing to be up north. And then the refrain starts, and I have a copy of the sheet music of this song that has a deck chair on the front. So you'd never know it was a Christmas song, and it's because it's about someone sitting in the sunshine of California thinking about some kind of vague white Christmas in the north. Um, Berlin always in, uh, atten intended to go back and added second refrain, but he wrote the song for a musical that was abandoned in about 19 38, 39, and then took it outta the draw to stick into the film. Holiday Inn played it for binging Crosby who loved it. And then it became a big hit. And um, if we look at the first couple of lines, it seems to me that this phrase, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. And it's that phrase, just like the ones I used to know, that seems to draw on this feeling of absence and kind of poignancy that taps into a wartime feeling, even if it wasn't written during the war. You can see why it was working and, um, the sense of loss of the past of something that's no longer here, of something that we had before. That's actually emphasized by getting rid of the verse because this is all the information we have now. It goes straight in on this dream of something no longer achieved. This was the perfect message for wartime America. And I found this lovely quote. Um, it's actually quoted in, um, the complete lyrics of Irving Berlin book. So I don't want to take credit for researching it, but I was really struck by this quote from the Chicago Times from December, 1942, where a major writer, Karl Sandberg, who's um, who won the Pulitz surprise for writing a major biography of Abraham Lincoln. And he said this about the impact of the song in this moment. So this is December, 1942. We have learned to be a little sad and a little lonesome without being sickly about it. This feeling is caught in the song of a thousand Duke boxes and the tune whistled in Streets and homes. I'm dreaming of a white Christmas when we sing that we don't hate anybody and there are things we love, that we're going to have some time if the breaks are not too bad against us. Way down under this latest hit of his Irving Berlin catches us where we love peace. And so it seems to me that this moment solidifies the relationship between Christmas songs being poignant and wartime. And so we move on to the second example. I'll be home for Christmas, different writers, but again for binging Crosby. And this is more explicitly about the war because the words are, um, framed in the form of a letter. So it's about a soldier writing home to his family while he's away from home during Christmas time or during the run up to Christmas. And the whole thing is a kind of almost like a con because he says, oh, we'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. We'll have snow missile toe and presents. I'll be there on Christmas Eve. And then the final line kills the whole thing because it says it only in my dreams. So effectively, if we bring the first line and the last line together, we have, I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams. And this really tugs on the heartstrings being released at the height of the war. And in fact, it was deemed to be so emotional that the BBC banned it from being broadcast because they thought it was bad for national morale in this country. But it was a big hit in America. And that takes us to the subject of tonight's talk, which is have yourself a merry Little Christmas. And I'm very pleased to say that it's music time. We're going to hear the song now. And I'm also very pleased to say that I will not be singing it instead, as you've already heard, one of the great figures of the West end of television and of film is here with us tonight to do as the honor to sing it for us, as well as a few more bits and pieces. So please welcome the great David Ella s Have yourself. Oh, merry little Christmas. Let your heart be like next year all troubles will be out of sight. Have yourself Merry Christmas. Make the next year. All our troubles will be miles away, as in days happy golden days of Faithful Who until have to muddle through a soon we all Hello? Hello again. Super. You're you are Switch on. I was gonna ask you actually, so you grew up in America? I did, yes. Chicago. And I was wondering, can you tell us about the status of Judy Garland in America? Because I think over here, obviously she's very known and she did some late career work here. She did the film. Yes. I could go on singing and she did various gigs here. But it seems to me, would it be fair to say her cultural status in America is <laugh>? It is. Great. Can you Talk about it? Yeah, yeah. Um, she had a career that, that not only, you know, a lot of people know her starting with, uh, uh, the Wizard of Oz and sort of ending with a Stars Born. Mm-Hmm.<affirmative>, uh, it's, which is a very short span of her career. Um, when I was a kid, uh, one of the things that was on on Saturday mornings were, were the, um, the Andy Hardy films. She did a whole series of films with, uh, Mickey Rooney. And they were young teenagers who were, um, they were, uh, they, they thought they could fix everything by singing a song, you know, and, uh, and we'll get my dad's barn and, and we'll get someone to write the music and we'll, we'll put on a show. And that would sort of heal all of the woes of the world. So that's how I first got introduced to Judy Garland. And, and, uh, my, my parents and I used to watch these films all the Time. Are you a fan? Uh, Love her very much. Yeah. Oh, very, very good. Well, she doesn't mind me taking her songs tonight. No, Not, not at all. No. I'm absolutely thrilled. Should we chat more later? Absolutely. About absolutely. Our next one.'cause we have a fun surprise coming up. Oh, am I singing again now? No. No. Okay. Bye for now. Bye for now. No, we have to keep the anticipation going for that time. Wonderful. So you can see from the slide that I've put a slightly strange attribution to this song, which says Music and Lyrics by Hugh Martin. And then I've put also attributed to Ralph Blaine. And so the official Sheep music and the royalty situation with this song is that it's divided between these two guys, Blaine and Martin. But in actual fact, um, it's been revealed quite a long time ago that Ralph Blaine didn't really have anything to do with very much with any of the songs from Meet Me and St. Louis. And they had a kind of a strange relationship whereby they worked together on films or they worked on the same films, but separately. So by which I mean they would each go off in a corner and write music and lyrics to a song, present them to the producer or whoever, and then songs would be chosen. And in the case of Meet Me in St. Louis, none of Ralph Blaine's songs were chosen. So all three of the main songs in this film are actually by Hugh Martin, who you can see on the screen here. And Martin is such an incredible figure that he's almost better known apart from his songs from me in St. Louis as a vocal arranger who was an absolutely amazing vocal arranger. If you hear, um, recordings of the original version of Gentleman Preferred Blondes, not the movie, but the stage show. They have these spectacular eight and 12 part vocal arrangements where he's doing amazing things. And that's all him rather than Julie Stein, who is the great composer of the great songs. But it's very much, um, a collaboration in that direction. And so I became curious to learn more about how it worked with Hugh Martin writing these songs on his own. And a friend of mine, Paul Christman, has written a very good article on, um, Hugh Martin songs and knew him. And he told me that Martin's sketchbooks were in the Library of Congress. So I wrote to the Library of Congress a month ago, actually quite recently, and they very kindly scanned some of the sketches for me. And here is the front page of Volume six of the Hugh Martin, MGM sketchbooks, which I'm sure you've all always wanted to see.<laugh>. I, it sounds like a very academic thing, but I actually think even the front page of this document is just full of, um, the atmosphere of Hollywood in the 1940s. Because not only does it have Martin's address on it, but it has the address of the music department at MGM at Culver City. And at the bottom, he's written this very cute little note saying, please return if lost, important to owner. And if we start looking inside, then we can see why it's important to the owner. It's because it has the sketches for have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in it. And this is the first page. And when one starts, and there are two sketches on this page I should say, and when one starts looking at the top one, it appears initially that it really didn't take very much effort to, um, play this cheat or to write this tune, I should say. Let me read it off here.'cause the, the screen is miles away. So, um, in fact, this is the wrong one. Oh, well I'm gonna have to read it off there, but it goes, okay, all very good. And then we've got as far as there, and then, and then he has written the correct tune. But in actual fact underneath that you can see that originally it went. So even there, there's something about the workings outta this song that was a bit complicated. And it's kind of weird because if you just look at the final version of the song, it's so recorded and well known now, it almost seems kind of innocuous. It seems so obvious because the tune is just like the most basic chord in music split into a melody and then a, um, a simple scale. But in actual fact it was quite complicated to get there. Okay, so we carry on, I'm gonna have to check what this says now. Uh, so it then carries on and then he does something and that's how it was gonna be. And so he's kind of lost his way and can't work out what to do. So then we see the second sketch at the bottom, which goes, And so we've still lost our way. So he is kind of got some stuff in there, which is quite good, and he's sort of finding the tune and he sort of made his way to the middle of the song kind of, but he can't work out where to go from here. So he then starts exploring the words logically enough. And there's all these kind of fragments on the first page of lyrics. So at the top we have, while the time is ripe, I guess that would be have your South of Mer Little Christmas while the time is ripe. Then we have, it may be your last <laugh>, And then we have Trim the Tree with Glee, that one's not so inspired. And then we have this weird kind of tune in the middle, which I guess that I don't think that this was supposed to be melody. I think it's supposed to be sort of filler between the phrases. And it's very odd that he's just written that in the middle of things. And then he carries on Next year we'll be far away from home, but if the fates allow something, something, something, something rhymes with somehow. And then he's sort of found his way to the end of the song without having written the middle yet, which is So Have Yourself a Merry, Merry Christmas Now. And he repeats the word merry. So this is kind of a fun document in that it shows in real time kind of the creation of the song. So we carry on and we see that already he has tapped into this focus on time, which we saw in white Christmas. And I'll Be Home for Christmas, IE the past the future where we are now. So we have, for example, um, maybe your last, next year, Merry Christmas now. So he's getting into what's gonna make this song kind of magical, which is as much the words as the music, although I think the music is great. So the next page, he's kind of found the structure of the song, not quite the right words yet, but he's finding out how it's gonna look. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. It may be your last, next year. We will all be living in the past. Okay, second phrase, have yourself a merry little Christmas pop. That champagne cork. Next year we will all be living in New York. And this is a, to be fair to him, this is a reference to the the plot of Meet Me and St. Louis, in which the Smith family, which is all about, are threatened with moving from St. Louis to New York because the father gets a job in New York. So it's not as desperate a lyric as it sounds, but it would not have been a hit for Frank Sinatra. So then we get to the most difficult part of the song to write because it's the the bit that gets kind of complex, the middle bits of songs, of popular songs of this kind. The third phrase, the middle eight, the bridge, it's given different kinds of names is typically the bit that most resembles kind of Schubert or European art music. It's where the songwriter, if they're a decent composer, tries to do something a bit sexy and kind of show off how they can transition through keys or do something a bit imaginative. And so we're back to fragmenting, um, lyric ideas. So we have no good times like we used to have. We will choose to be aloof, which rhymes at the bottom with under some far distant roof, not so great. We've got no old comrades. But once we're there they will wonder where. So it is all getting a bit messy again. And indeed there's page after page trying to develop this part of the song. So here we have another one. No good times. Like there used to be those happy golden days gone by and he changes that to of your, which begins to sound a bit more familiar then we have no good friends crosses that out. No time of abandons that those good friends who were true to us, we'll say a due to us no more. That one's quite fun. No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of your faithful friends who were dear to us will be near to us no more. So we can begin to see where this is going now. So he is kind of happy with where we're up to moves onto the final phrase. And this strangely, even though it has the most emotional part of the song, this strangely, is the bit that seems to have come to him the easiest. And he says, though we know we'll always be together if the fates allow from now on, we'll try to model through somehow. So have yourself a merry, merry Christmas now. So you can see we're almost there with how the song is going to be. And we have the first complete draft, nevermind that it's a bit reasonable. So I wonder whether we could persuade Mr. Ella to suffer his way through this slightly awkward lyric to show us how this might've worked. Okay, Would you mind? Let's give It a go. Let's give it a go. Yeah. To make, have yourself merry little Christmas. It may be your last next year. We'll all be living in the past. Have yourself on merry little Christmas, pop the champagne. Next year we'll all be living in New York. Terrible. No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of your faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us. No more <laugh>. Oh, Somber. Not so much with this. So this not somber the story goes then that Judy Garland heard this and went, there is no way on earth <laugh>. How did you feel about doing that? I mean, is it hard work to put that across? It is. You feel kind of silly singing such bleak words to the public. Yeah, it's not nice. Okay, so we'll carry on and <laugh>. So Judy Garland says, therefore, you know, there's no way I can deal with this, right? So power. So what do you think happens? What Happens? Judy Garland says, go back to the drawing board, Hugh Martin. And that's the end of that, the power Of the artist<laugh>. So thank you very much. Okay, thank You For all that special. It's probably the last time you ever want to hear that song. And I'm sure it's the last time Mr. Ella ever wants to do it like that. Anyway, you can see that there's all these problems with it. And so Garland says, okay, go back to the drawing board. And we're now in sketchbook nine, <laugh> three sketchbooks on, and he starts to find some more fun ideas like make the IDE gay. Next year all our troubles will be far away. And suddenly the song becomes actually more poignant to meaningful, despite being less negative, which is kind of the key to why the whole thing works. And so if we start to compare that draft that we've just heard with the familiar version from the film that we heard earlier, we can see that we got rid of things like it may be your last and we get Let your heart be light. Judy Garland's character is trying to, um, comfort her younger sister who is upset about the fact that they're going to leave New York. They're looking out the window, there's snow on the ground, the snow people are in the garden, not just the snowman, but snow people. And it's all kind of overwhelming because Garland is trying to say positive things. Next year all our troubles will be miles away. And I think the most spectacular part of the song personally is the bit that I put in green, which is until then we'll have to muddle through somehow. This is such drama. And one of the hardest things to do in writing popular songs is using, using a kind of colloquial phrase in a way that actually works and making it po part of the poetry of the thing. It's very difficult. So I, I think that this is the, the line that really, um, makes this song. And this is also the line that makes it about the Second World War because it expresses that feeling of simmering emotion of we're gonna have to model through until all of this thing is over. So it's very much about 1943 when it was written, and yet where it appears is in this film that's about 1903. It's set in 1903. And the film itself is oddly, um, kind of about nothing. The film is kind of about nothing. It's about family life, uh, a family, the Smith family who lived through the Four Seasons. What we're seeing on the screen, there are four postcards, each of which introduces a segment of the film. So we start in the summer of 1903 and we go through wi uh, autumn winter and then the spring of 1904. And obviously the Christmas song appears in the winter sequence and appears in this kind of 11th hour of the film. It's very near the end. The heartstrings are being pulled. We've sat there for an hour and a half watching this family living their happy idyllic life in this pic picture postcard house. And then the father walks in one day and says, good news, I've got a new job in New York and we're all going to move to the big city. And so we get the Christmas song. And the funny thing about the scene, uh, or the funny thing is that the studio put out this advice to cinema owners about how best to promote the film locally. And they created that this little thing that says a theater snowman or for a contest. And they suggested that in snowy states that the cinema owners should build a snowman on the sidewalk every day or top it up every day as a way of advertising the film. And you can see there's this little photograph of Garland and Margaret O'Brien who plays her little sister. But in the film at that moment, the little sister actually attacks the snowman and knocks them all down. So there's a kind of irony in this. Meet Me in St. Louis, um, is based on a novel of the same name by a remarkable woman, Sally Benson, who is a very, very great writer. And in turn it's taken from a series of short stories, um, called 5 1 3 5 Kensington, which is the address of the house that the Smith family lives at, um, that were published in the New Yorker starting a few months before the start of the war and ending a few months after the start of the war. So you can see that this too has this proximity to the Second World War in terms of what it's about versus when it was written. And it was purchased very quickly by NGM and turned into a film rapidly directed by Vincent Anelli starring Judy Garland. The two of them got married in 1945. And it really does, as I said, it really does just focus on the exploits, the everyday exploits of this family. Four daughters, one son, the father, the mother, and the grandfather. Not very much happens. They make ketchup, you know, they have pumpkins. And when I show this film to my students, sometimes they think I'm having a great time, but I don't really know what this is all about. And the answer is that this was the right film for wartime because it's about the trivial everyday things. And that's very much a part of the Benson original stories. But it, it completely translates into the film itself too, that it's not particularly the big things that you miss at these moments of displacement. It's the everyday suddenly seems blissful. And this is what the song and the film tap into. It seems to me. The other great moment in the film, which we're going to celebrate now, is the Depiction of Desire by Judy Garland. Again, this sort of conventional everyday desire. She sings a song called The Boy Next Door. And it is a deliberately a series of cliches.'cause again, it's tapping into this not very specialness, this everyday thing where it's special to the person. It's very personal, but it's not extraordinary. And so this is one of the two great ballads in the film. We've already heard the first one, but I wonder whether we can possibly demonstrate the boy next door now. Okay, let's do it. Let's do it. Suspend your disbelief.<laugh>. The moment I saw his smile, I knew he was just my style. My only regret is we never met though I dream of him all the while, but he doesn't know I exist no matter how I may. So it's clear to see. There's no hope for me though. I live at 51 35 Kensington Avenue and he lives at 51 33. How can I ignore the boy next door? I love him more than I can say. Doesn't try to please me, doesn't even tease me. And he never sees me glance his way. And though I'm heart. So the boy next door affection for me won't display. I just adore him. So I adore him. So, Okay, back to the Christmas song. So the performance history of this song is quite complicated. I had the misfortune when I set out on this lecture to think that this wasn't gonna be so bad. And then I found a very good but distressing website called secondhand songs.com, which lists over 2000 versions of this song. And I thought, how on earth am I gonna make sense of all of this? And it ranges from the Muppets to Dame Curry to Cana <laugh>. But there is something in the fact that artists from so many areas of popular music or indeed beyond popular music have wanted to cover this song. And I think the key to it is the fact that Frank Siner in 1957 asked to change the song officially. So he made his first recording of the song in 1948, recorded the Judy Garland version, and then in 1957, by which point he'd become a major recording artist, um, partly due to the advent of the long playing record. So Sinatra is at the peak of his pop music powers. And he decides to make a Christmas album in 1957 called A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra. And he said, well, I can't sing this sad song on it. So dear Hugh Martin, 13 years on, please can you change the words so that it's kind of happy now. And remarkably he agreed to do it. And so the second Sinatra version replaces various words and also phrases to erase some of this uncertainty and poignancy from it and make it kind of about a merry little Christmas. So there are some subtle changes. He changes Next year, all our troubles will be outta sight and puts from now on our troubles will be outta sight. So we don't have to wait for the end of trouble. It's here now. And then further down the end of the song, instead of someday soon, we all will be together. He says, through the years, we all will be together. So there isn't this sense of having to wait for that either. It's just from now to the end of time, we all will be together. And the biggest change was that he removed the best line of the song, which is until then we'll have to model through some how and replaces it with a shining sour upon the highest bow, which I think is such a disappointing line about decorating Christmas trees now, not managing sorrow. And so the song starts to take a completely different character officially. And from there other people say, oh, well this is okay now because this is actually a different kind of song from the one that we thought it was before. And starting particularly with Ella Fitzgerald in 1960, we suddenly get catchy song, Have yourself of merry little Christmas, let your Heart Be Light Next year. All our troubles will be outta sight. The problem with it is that that rhythm and all of those little, um, arrangement effects starts to overwhelm what the lyric is about. And she kind of sounds happy about this whole thing. And then there's the Jackson five version, which when I played it for my mother earlier in the week, she thought I was playing a James Bond theme. I mean, I actually quite like it, but it's certainly taking the song in a new direction. Then we have the Carpenters 1978, and they have this way over the top arrangement by Billy May. Listen to what's happening in the orchestra between the first and second phrases. We're just gonna hear a very short clip. I mean, it's clever. I really like it and I'm really not denigrating any of these artists. But it's a very, very curious decision to sort of flip the significance from of the song, from this intimacy of the lyrics into all the things that are being thrown at the music by the arranger, if you like. And this continues in other popular arrangements. Here's one that has no sense of intimacy about it at all. It's very catchy. Dear Near Shining. I'm finally The Overtones. Another really fun version. Have yourself Christmas, let Your Be Very cute. So it seems to me by this point that we have two songs. We now have the kind of the merry little Christmas song and we have the Muddle through Somehow song. And although they're kind of the same, they're completely different. And one curious trend that I did find while trying to wade through 2000 versions of the song is that in the 21st century, several artists have tried to go back to what was being aimed at in the early two thousands. And oddly, uh, earlier in the afternoon, I was trying to decompress in the cafe next door and the first one of these came on while I was sitting there. So we definitely have to hear this. This is, um, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and it's just singer and piano. Here we're As golden of your And Faithful Friends. Dear once More. The Sam Smith version starts with 20 seconds of unaccompanied singing. Have I'm Little Christmas, let Your Heart Light From I. And there are a number of these kinds of recordings going on. So I guess my conclusion is that one of the reasons why this song is so brilliant and unusual is that the spectrum of ways in which it can be reinterpreted is much wider than your average Christmas song, which is weighed down with seasons greetings. Because this one is both a dramatic monologue and comforting all at the same time, depending on where you want to take it. Now, there is a coder to this story, which is that, as you know, songs from films can get, um, academy Awards for Best Song, but Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas wasn't even nominated for the best song. It was another song that was nominated called The Trolley Song. And if we look at early reviews of the movie when it came out, we can see why that all the reviewers are latching on to the trolley song rather than have yourself a mer little Christmas in the reviews. In fact, the Los Angeles examiner says that Garland does a great job of the two Ballas, but she's really a baby lark when she goes to work on the top tune the trolley song. And this also became a major marketing opportunity For the film. And so again, the studio was encouraging people to use the trolley scene as the thing to advertise the film with The inspiration from the song. Despite what I was saying about Martin and Blaine before actually came from Ralph Blaine, the studio was not happy with the songs that they, the two of them had tried to write for the moment in the film when Judy Garland and a whole of her friends get on the trolley to go and visit the site of the World's Fair, which is being built kind of up the road. And so they said, we really need a song that's gonna be about the trolley rather than where you're going. And so Ralph Blaine the story goes, went to the library and found a clipping of a trolley car from 1904 in the library. And underneath the photograph it said Clang clang, clang goes. The jolly little trolley handed it to Hugh Martin and this is what he did with it. Please welcome back David Ella. Go on. Final performance. Now you're in for it.<laugh>. I thought about coming my fringe forward but decided against it. This is gonna spin a little bit, isn't it? Let's go for it. Okay, you got your page Turner. Page Turner, our distinguished page. Turner Sophie, The page turner. This really could not happen without her. And you're about to see why are we good Uhhuh<affirmative> with my high starched collar and my high top shoes and my hair popped high upon my head. I went to lose a jolly hour on the trolley and lost my heart. Instead, with his light brown derby and his bright green tie, he was quite the handsomest of men. I started to yen, so I counted to 10, then I counted to 10 again. Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, ding, ding, ding went. The bell ing ing sing went my heartstrings. From the moment I saw him, I fell. Chug, chug, Chuck went the motor went the break. T thump, thump went my heartstrings. When he smiled, I could feel the car shake. He tipped his hat and took a seat. He said he hoped he hadn't stepped upon my feet. He asked my name. I held my breath. I couldn't speak because he scared me half to death. Buzz buzz, buzz went. The buzzer, the wheel. Stop, stop, stop heart. As he started to go, then I started to know when the cue buzz, buzz buzz went, the buzzer, plop, plop, plop, went the wheel. Stop, stop. When my heart heartstrings. As he started to leave, I took hold of his sleep with my hand. And as planned, he stayed on with me. And it was to stand with his hand to the end of Thank you guys.<laugh>. Thank you very much. Here. The questions Okay. Okay. I'm here. Well, Dominic and David, absolutely fantastic.<laugh>, thank you for taking us through that song. I've got, um, one question just with an open mug for questions to the floor, which after the, the concert like that seems quite hard, but I, we're all on The floor now. Yeah. Okay. The trolley is gone and so have we. So when you, let's start with you David. When you start to work on a song, how much of the history of it enters into your working out the interpretation?'cause we've seen a, a long story here leading us up to. Um, So, uh, I would say quite a lot because I think with, with certain songs they've been in our hearing for so many years that, well, I should just speak for myself. I don't really, I'm not really thrilled about hearing somebody do their own spin and their own interpretation. That's all great. But really I want to hear what I fell in love with in the first place. So I tried to be as true to the original versions, the original arrangements. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, the original phrasing. I tried to take on board as much of that as I could. And then of course it's gonna be you 'cause it's coming out a whole different machine than the original person. So that to me is enough of a spin to put on it. But I try to stay true and traditional. I guess that's it. I'm a bit of a traditionalist. And Dominic, you're coming at it as an academic, God forbid, <laugh> Gresham College. Yes. Working Your way through. Mm-Hmm.<affirmative> well, two, 2000 or so recordings of this thing. How do you pick your way through that to find that thread that takes you back to the origin? How do you start doing the homework? Well, I deliberately didn't play the Judy Garland version and I deliberately really wanted David to come and sing the song because I wanted someone who was gonna be an actor as well as have a lovely voice. I wanted to hear what the words are about. You know, one of the things that we hear backstage in the profession is sing the damn song that is so irritating, as you say, when people come in and try to sing everything. But the song that all the notes change, the words start changing and you sort of lose the kernel of what's great about it. So I think for me, it was about starting with Judy Garland and looking at this sketchbook and then thinking about wartime. And I suddenly realized that most songs of the 1940s are kind of, they're not dead to us. And I, it's, it's the period of song that I love. So I'm not being negative, but they do seem about them. Whereas these Christmas songs seem to live through time, they actually have commercial viability, which is very strange. So then I was trying to get into what's all of that about? And I think it's because this sense of loss and poignancy and absence speaks to us wherever we are.'cause most people feel it. Is this answering the question? Probably not.<laugh>, I specialize in not answering the question. It'll do. I wonder if, if you have ever seen the film, the Victors, which was made in 1963 in which the song have yourself and Merry Little Christmas is used to devastating effect are, do you know this? No. Tell us All about It. Well, the, uh, the Vic, I managed to see it in 1963, luckily because it was withdrawn and cut to pieces soon afterwards. A devastating war film, anti-war film. And there is a scene in which a deserter is being taken out on Christmas Eve in the snow to be shot. And over the soundtrack is Frank Sinatra singing? Have Yourself Mary, little Devastating. Um, mm-Hmm.<affirmative> try to see it somehow. I don't know if uh, if it's available anywhere, but do try<laugh>. I will, I will. Thank you. Could You tell us the title once again? The victors. The victors. The Victors. The Victors. Okay. Okay. Next Questions. Cheery. Yeah.<laugh>, what's your favorite Christmas song? The one I go straight to is I'll Be Home for Christmas. It has a quite a poignancy for me. Um, I've spent most of my life away from my family, um, uh, because, um, I'm, I, I, from a very early age, I was doing shows, which have you in the theater when everyone else is at home celebrating Christmas. Um, and then I moved to England and I've been here for 23 years and oftentimes wish I was home back in Chicago with my family and I'm not there. So that song has a particular resonance for me. Um, my mother also used to share that it was her favorite because of the wartime, because, um, when she first knew the song, uh, she had brothers who were away fighting and she didn't know whether or not they'd be back for Christmas or not, whether they'd be back at all. So, um, it just has a lot of weight to me and I love it. Great. Well, I have to say this is my favorite Christmas song, but I think, yeah, I think so. But, but it may be that I've just spent so much time with it in the last few weeks that <laugh>, I'm not acknowledging any of the song. I think having looked at, um, how much it meant to people in the 1940s during the war and how much it meant to people who remembered that time, as you are alluding to that, some of the later ones, even by very good people that are very good songs are beginning to seem to me a bit, um, like they're lacking in substance or lacking in something which I'll be home for. Christmas does not lack anything. No, I think it goes over the top for me. I can't cope with how sad it is. Yeah. Whereas this one is this sort of simmering Does it mean, I was just wondering is generally societies become less religious in many ways, whether Christmas songs particularly become more popular, tug at the heartstrings more so as a result of that perhaps? I I do think it's, it's, sorry, I just jumped in. No, no. I wanted you to jump.<laugh>. Please jump. I, I do think there's been a, a significant change in what Christmas means to society. And, um, we, uh, Christians now know that this time of year is not just about our beliefs and our religion. Uh, and so we have to, I I think songwriting has become more ecumenical. It's become open to, um, songs about good feelings and family rather than about Christ our Lord. Um, and a lot of people, you know, myself included, we struggle with the significance. Do we want it? Do we, uh, enforce our beliefs by singing these songs or put those aside and, and, and do something that more people can relate to without being disrespectful to other religions? So it's a bit of a struggle to know, um, where to go with the Christmas song these days. Even to call it a Christmas song, you know, uh, separates it from, from a whole sect of people. So yeah, it's, it's a struggle. Hugh Martin was a, a Christian, and, um, and he actually wrote a religious version of The Lyric, have Yourself a Blessed Little Christmas. Uh, I, I drew the line at also performing that one.'cause I think we've heard this tune a lot of times this evening, but that clearly meant a lot to him. I think it was in the 1990s that he, he, um, tried to give it that spin. And the other thing that we didn't get into in the talk, which I should mention, is that there is a verse to this song, which is not in the movie, Christmas Future is Far Away. Christmas Past is Past, which actually explicitly addresses one of some of the things I was talking about, but that was just added to the published sheet music as far as I can tell. And so rather than getting into all of that, I decided to leave it out because something had to not be there. But I thought I'd mention it now so that we don't get a hundred comments on YouTube saying that I didn't know <laugh>. Right. Thank you. So, well, um, you'll be able to watch this lecture again in about seven, two hours or so on our website. And we, we'll probably be able to learn the lyrics ready for next year and, um, whichever version you choose. Um, in a few minutes when you get to the back, you'll be able to have a glass of mo wine and a mint pie, a good start to Christmas. But in the meantime, please would you thank Dominic and David for a fantastic evening. Thank.