Some of the songs I’ve chosen as my Christmas Song of the Day are those I’ve found by listening to contemporary Christian radio during the season. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 27 is yet another one.
During the Christmas season of 2012, the Stevens Point/Wausau, Wisconsin radio market had no commercial radio station that switched to a seasonal music format for the holidays. It might have been the largest market in the U.S. that could make such a claim that year. The one that had been doing so since at least 1997 changed formats to contemporary hit radio and didn’t feel it was appropriate to switch; no other station in the area picked up the slack. Instead, the only local source for Christmas music on the radio was one of the religious stations. They promoted the fact pretty heavily; part of their hope was that people who came for the Christmas music would stick around for the message after the season as well.
That year, in addition to some of the more familiar secular Christmas songs, I heard a lot of versions of carols performed by artists in the contemporary Christian field. I also got to hear many songs I still have never heard on more traditional Christmas radio. This is one of them.
Today’s song starts out softly; my first impression was that it reminded me of “In My Arms,” the 2007-08 pop crossover hit by Plumb. Then harmony vocals join, and it builds to a soaring chorus of praise. That would have been enough, but then, three minutes and 15 seconds into the song, it bursts into an almost manic celebration with drummers, channeling Ravel’s Bolero, proclaiming the great event. Just as suddenly, it goes quiet again and slowly diminishes to its end. I’d never heard a Christmas song quite like it in my life. And I had to find out what it was.
Naturally, I was driving at the time and, in those pre-Shazam days, I was unprepared; I had nothing to write with, or on! My only hope was to try to remember some key lines beyond the obvious “Hallelujah!” I did hear it again, and I was more ready that time.
I found out that it was recorded by a trio of sisters known as BarlowGirl. Rebecca, Alyssa and Lauren Barlow, who first performed as a group at a non-denominational church in a suburb of Chicago, were discovered at an industry seminar for unsigned bands in 2002. All three both sang and played instruments – Rebecca on guitar, Alyssa on bass and keyboards, and Lauren on drums. From the time their first album was released in 2004, they became one of the biggest groups in contemporary Christian music. They made their last album in 2009, and announced in 2012 that they were breaking up the band. For the most part, they seem to have stayed out of the public eye since then.
In time for the 2008 Christmas season, BarlowGirl released the CD Home for Christmas. One of the songs on that album, co-written by the three members of the band with Alyssa singing lead, is the song I heard on the radio for the first time in 2012. Their epic re-statement of the saga and importance of Christ’s birth is called “Hallelujah (Light Has Come),” and here it is.