A Review of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

As some of you may know, lately I’ve been working a lot with my long time friend Kyle Harrison on various film projects. He is an apt and talented director and cinematographer, and I get to see that every time we work together. What I don’t get to see very often is his acting. When he told me that he was in a music video, I was eager to see him on the other side of the lens.

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a poem written on Christmas Day in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of my favorite poets of all time. The poem was written shortly after the death of his wife and after hearing news that his son had been severely wounded in battle. John Baptiste Calkin, an organist, is the one who first set the poem to music. He did so in 1872.

The screenplay was written by Michael Biancardi and the video was directed by Brandon Porter. Biancardi is also the composer/arranger of the music, which is adapted from the melody written by John Baptiste Calkin. Before talking about the cinematography, let me just say: WOW. This arrangement is stellar, and it is brilliantly performed. The production is top notch – a squeaky clean and precise recording that still manages to convey the emotion and conviction of the piece through a varied dynamic range and precise attention to detail. Sometimes, studio recordings of orchestral pieces fall flat – but this one soars. It is a beautiful rendition of the piece, and the shift to a minor tonality half way through captures the essence of these verses:

“Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

I hope that this piece is circulated and performed widely by string ensembles around the nation. It is sure to stir the soul and help us contemplate the reason for the season and the hope we should find in Christ.

Make sure to get your free download of this piece here:

http://www.biancardimusic.com

The video itself is a perfect portrayal of the lyrical content of the poem. As it begins, all is well. A family sits happily at home, enjoying the company of one another. Eventually, the main character has to say goodbye to his older brother (Played by Kyle Harrison) as he goes off to war. Fitting, given the history of the poem and its author.

A farewell to a family member is a rough way to start the holidays. As the narrative progresses, the protagonist begins to see the darkness and the hate in the world around him. Event after event escalates until “In shame, he bows his head.” Unbeknownst to him, his older brother, deployed overseas, is attacked. In his fear and despair, the soldier thinks of home. We then see that he is being thought about by his family in his hour of need.

At the height of despair and tension, it is revealed that the main character was righting the wrongs of this cruel world the entire time instead of running away. From this we can learn that while “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth,” the “wrong shall fail, and right prevail” if we so choose to make it so.

Brandon Porter captures some truly stunning shots. A single violinist, drenched in gold sunlight, looks out over the Utah valley and plays along passionately. A string quartet vigorously bows amidst the Rocky Mountains, snow capped and glorious. While the lighting may not be entirely consistent throughout, and some shots stronger than others, it is great to see the blossoming talent of this director. He has an eye for beauty. I can’t wait to see what he will do in the future.

All in all, it is refreshing to see young talent trying to produce quality art – the kind that brings goodness and beauty into the life of the one who views it. I was inspired by this video, and it definitely got me in the mood for Christmas. I deem this share-worthy.

My name is Zach Collier, and I appreciate this video.

 

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