16 episodes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The cookies, the mistletoe, the lights...oh, and the music! For Christians, Christmas carols mark a season of hope and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even in popular culture, these iconic jingles capture a warmth, a cheer and a nostalgia that transcends religious belonging.
But where do these beloved yuletide songs come from? What inspired the people who composed them? How did they become popular and even mainstream? And what impact do their ancient Christian messages have on an increasingly post-Christian culture?
America Media presents “Hark!” a podcast on the meaning and the making of our most beloved Christmas carols and their time-honored traditions. 

Hark! The stories behind our favorite Christmas carols America Media

    • Music
    • 4.9 • 142 Ratings

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The cookies, the mistletoe, the lights...oh, and the music! For Christians, Christmas carols mark a season of hope and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Even in popular culture, these iconic jingles capture a warmth, a cheer and a nostalgia that transcends religious belonging.
But where do these beloved yuletide songs come from? What inspired the people who composed them? How did they become popular and even mainstream? And what impact do their ancient Christian messages have on an increasingly post-Christian culture?
America Media presents “Hark!” a podcast on the meaning and the making of our most beloved Christmas carols and their time-honored traditions. 

    Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

    Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

    Our final episode of Hark! this season departs from the usual nativity of Christ in a manger, surrounded by shepherds and angels on high. Instead, our carol centers on the singular icon of a rose. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is a German Christmas song, first published in a Lutheran hymnbook in 1599. Although its believed to be much older, originating in a Catholic monastery with an uncertain date and writer. 
    And not only do we not know who wrote the text for our carol. The person behind the basic melody is also a mystery. The music is often credited to Michael Praetorius, a German composer, organist and music theorist from the 16th and 17th Centuries. But, Praetorius didn't compose the main melody; he only added the harmonies that have made this “the rose of all carols” among choristers and music maestros.
    Adding further to the mystery of this carol, the symbol of the rose is ambiguous. Depending on the translation and verse, the rose could represent Jesus or his mother Mary, who in Catholic mysticism is adorned with roses.
    Our heartfelt thanks extends to every musician, choir and soloist who gifted their music so generously to Hark! this season. On this episode we are especially grateful to:
    The Choir of King’s College Cambridge, The Ignatian Schola, Cynthia Boener, Katie Green and Karen Hefford, Barbara Rowe for sharing the music of her husband, the late Bryan Rowe, Gary Cope and the Encomium Ensemble, the music department of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, Stephen Lynerd, Winter Harp and The Notre Dame Folk Choir, under the direction of JJ Wright, who walked us through the music of “Lo How A Rose” on this episode.
    Special thanks to the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey Schola in Collegeville, Minnesota. In particular to Father Nick Kleespie who coordinated the performance of Father Anthony Ruff's arrangement of “Lo, How a Rose,” featured in this episode. To learn more about the monks of Saint John’s Abbey, please visit saintjohnsabbey.org.
    Support “Hark!” become a digital subscriber of America Magazine at: https://link.chtbl.com/04Jrg99F
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    • 48 min
    Go Tell It on the Mountain

    Go Tell It on the Mountain

    We’re looking at a song that is indisputably a Christmas carol but with a reach that extends to every season – “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” It belongs to a collection of historic Negro Spirituals, which likely started on the slave plantations in the American South and were later picked up in the Civil Rights Movement by activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and later, The Freedom Singers. 
    “Go Tell It on the Mountain” has been performed by a multitude of heavenly singers and we were lucky enough to speak to one such star- Vanessa Williams- about why she chose to feature the carol on her 1996 Christmas album, Star Bright. Maggi Van Dorn, Hark’s host, also garnishes rich cultural and theological insight from Catholic liturgical heavyweight, Eric Styles, along with expert music and history lessons from the wildly talented Emorja Roberson, Assistant Professor of Music and African-American Studies at the Oxford College of Emory University.
    The music featured in this episode is thanks to The OK Factor, Caleb Noeldner, Kendra Logozar, Kim and Reggie Harris, Vanessa Williams, and Universal Music Enterprises. Special thanks to Pauline Books and Media for the recording of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A. We're grateful to Emorja Roberson for providing commentary and his singing voice throughout, and to Frank Tuson for his audio wizardry as the engineer on this episode. Frank also composed the Hark! theme music and successfully convinced members of his family to record “Down to the River,” heard on this episode.
    Support “Hark!” become a digital subscriber of America Magazine at: https://link.chtbl.com/04Jrg99F
    Or you can play a little reindeer game with us and win a subscription to America! 
    At the end of this episode, we’ve left a clue about next week’s carol. Guess the carol in an Instagram post, tag three friends, and follow @americamedia, and you will be entered to win a one-year digital subscription to America.
    No purchase necessary. Open to U.S. residents only 18 and older. Prize value is $49.99 each. Promotion period November 26 to December 22, 2023. Twenty winners will be randomly selected and notified by D.M. by January 10, 2023. Instagram does not endorse this giveaway.


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    • 49 min
    The Wexford Carol

    The Wexford Carol

    “The Wexford Carol” is heralded as Ireland’s oldest recorded Christmas carol. It’s been performed by world class cellist Yo-Yo Ma and American country music star Allison Krauss. Yet, the history of this carol is difficult to trace. We know that it was passed down in the oral tradition for hundreds of years. Some scholars claim it originated in the 16th century, while others believe it has even older roots in the 12th century. However, it was not until the 1920s that a certain music scholar and organist by the name of W.H. Grattan Flood plucked this jewel of a carol from the obscurities of history and preserved it for posterity. But where did Grattan Flood first hear this carol? And how did he manage to transform the song from folk legend to international sensation? 
    Host Maggi Van Dorn travels to Enniscorthy, a small hillside town in County Wexford, Ireland, where Flood first put the carol to paper. She speaks with Flood’s grand-daughter, Margaret Franklin, along with famed novelist and Enniscorthy native, Colm Tóibín. And Hark! welcomes back the illustrious liturgical music composer, Christopher Walker, to unwrap the beauty of “The Wexford Carol” and its likely roots.
    Semibreve Duo, Brad Prevodoros of Manzanita Productions, Heather Dale, Avaendil, Rosalind band, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Étáin and Máire  of An Chéad Ghlúin Eile, and to Richard Jeffrey-Gray and Hoxa Recordings who gave us permission to play the 1997 performance of the Wexford Carol as arranged by John Rutter and performed in 1997 by the Choir of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, England under the direction of David Ogden. 
    Support “Hark!” become a digital subscriber of America Magazine.
    Or you can play a little reindeer game with us and win a subscription to America! 
    At the end of this episode, we’ve left a clue about next week’s carol. Guess the carol in an Instagram post, tag three friends, and follow @americamedia, and you will be entered to win a one-year digital subscription to America.

    No purchase necessary. Open to U.S. residents only 18 and older. Prize value is $49.99 each. Promotion period November 26 to December 22, 2023. Twenty winners will be randomly selected and notified by D.M. by January 10, 2023. Instagram does not endorse this giveaway.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 45 min
    O Holy Night

    O Holy Night

    Hark! Season 3 debuts with a crowd favorite- “O Holy Night.” Born as a French poem in 1843, and set to music a few years later, this carol was banned for two decades from the Catholic Mass. It resurfaced in the hands of a Unitarian minister in the U.S. and became an anthem for abolitionists before the Civil War. It is also the song that you, our listeners, have overwhelmingly asked us to feature on Hark!
    Conductor Colin Britt returns to the show to unwrap the soaring verses and repeating leaps and skips in the music. Daniel Williams, professor of American religion and politics and author of several books on related subjects, narrates how “O Holy Night” has helped to shape Christmas culture in 19th-century America. Finally, Greg Boyle, S.J. of Homeboy Industries, shares with host Maggi Van Dorn the profound meaning this beloved carol has for him. 
    The episode features a brand new recording of “O Holy Night” performed by the renowned choir of King’s College, Cambridge, under the direction of Daniel Hyde, and arranged by John Rutter, featuring the Britten Sinfonia.
    The story of Reginald Fessenden broadcasting “O Holy Night” was a theatrical production designed by our engineer, Jim Bilodeau. It incorporated a reenactment of the event available on Walts Welt Soundcloud channel. 
    Special thanks to Molly Cahill, Malukah de los Santos and Alexander Knutsen, Firjii, Salt of the Sound and Echoes Blue Music, and Chad Rehmann and Cremaine Booker of Grey Duck Records for providing music for this episode.
    Support “Hark!” become a digital subscriber of America Magazine.
    Or you can play a little reindeer game with us and win a subscription to America! 
    At the end of this episode, we’ve left a clue about next week’s carol. Guess the carol in an Instagram post, tag three friends, and follow @americamedia, and you will be entered to win a one-year digital subscription to America.
    No purchase necessary. Open to U.S. residents only 18 and older. Prize value is $49.99 each. Promotion period November 26 to December 22, 2023. Twenty winners will be randomly selected and notified by D.M. by January 10, 2023. Instagram does not endorse this giveaway.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 48 min
    COMING SOON: Hark! Season 3

    COMING SOON: Hark! Season 3

    Hark! Season 3 debuts November 26 with new episodes dropping every Sunday leading up to Christmas. Be sure to follow Hark! on your favorite podcast app and never miss a beat. 
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 2 min
    Joy to the World

    Joy to the World

    For our last episode of the season, we’re blasting “Joy to the World” a carol that for many is synonymous with Christmas, but which has almost nothing to do with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. 
    The prolific hymn writer, Isaac Watts, first penned “Joy to the World” after Psalm 98, which reflects the joy that followed Jewish deliverance from exile. But as a carol, it anticipates the second coming of Christ. 
    As for the iconic tune, that is set by American music director, Lowell Mason, who borrows the melody from the regal masterpiece of George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah.” 
    Colin Britt returns to the podcast to explain this carol’s musical journey, and Dr. Cecilia González-Andrieu helps us interpret its meaning through the lens of theological aesthetics and eco-theology.
    Cecilia’s latest book: Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty
    We also want to thank Christopher Walker, Matthew Pierce, Daniel G. Stocker, Smoking Bishop, Sasha Samara, Juan Carlos Quintero, Red Mountain Music, Heather Dale, and the Ignatian Schola for the music on this episode. And to Barbara Rowe, who allowed us to play music from the collection of her late husband Bryan Rowe.
    Support “Hark!” and subscribe to America today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 42 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
142 Ratings

142 Ratings

Reverend Samantha ,

Rev. Samantha

Hark! This is fabulous podcast that opens up beloved Christmas carols in a whole new way. Maggi masterfully welcomes us behind the scenes: taking us through the background of each carol and helping us appreciate each one all the more. Thank you! A must listen for people across faith traditions and ages. What a joy!

josie729 ,

Wonderful podcast

This podcast has been a joy to listen to. I appreciate Maggi van Dorn’s openness and curiosity about the carols and loved learning about the history, as well as the musical and theological aspects of the carols. The guests were all amazing. In my Lutheran church, we sing Lo How a Rose every Christmas Eve, and now I know why, as I learned that the carol comes from the German Lutheran tradition. But as the episode makes clear, there is mystery to the carol. I always associated its tenderness and quiet beauty with Mary, and I loved Maggi’s last words about it too!

Inside Thoughts ,

Something to look forward to each season!

Love this series. Producers Maggi and Ricardo have put together an outstanding podcast. It touches one’s heart, soul and intellect. The history, lessons and spirituality behind the carols is enlightening. I love being able to go back and listen to previous seasons as well. What a blessing. Bravo to the staff that produces this outstanding podcast.

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