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Column: 'Go Tell It ...'

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Earlier this month, Becca and I went to a marvelous Worthington Chamber Singers concert. We were both greatly impressed at the quality of the performance and with the talent demonstrated by people living here in our community.

There, was, though, one very minor shortcoming in my view — and it’s one I’ve both observed and borne witness to far too many times to count over the years. The Chamber Singers’ rendition of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” was mighty fine indeed, but it just couldn’t quite measure up to that of the absolutely amazing Jack Halloran Singers.

Maybe some of you readers will know who Jack Halloran. I didn’t know much until a few weeks ago, and that gives me a strange new appreciation for the man.

First, a little about “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” and Christmas for yours truly from ages 12 or so through my early 20s. Music, to be certain, was always a big part of this season, particularly on my dad’s side of the family. I have fond recollections of multiple McGaugheys standing at the piano at my grandpa and grandma’s house, singing Christmas carols in the evening of Dec. 24, at a very young age. By the time I was in junior high, though, we were mostly doing Christmas with my dad and stepmother, as well as my mom (though there were occasional trips to Florida to see the grandparents, where they had started spending winters at that point). That meant different traditions in different houses, and to say they were slightly different would be a colossal understatement.

While I easily could write an entire column about what Christmas was like at each place, I’ll focus on a small component of just one for now. Specifically, my stepmother had a Christmas album that my brother (Ian) and I determined upon our first listen to be the best such recording ever committed to vinyl. At least one song on it, anyway … though we can each recall other selections with some (albeit less) enthusiasm. “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” perhaps to our father’s and stepmother’s collective chagrin, became often imitated but never quite duplicated by the Brothers McGaughey.

Given our ages at our introduction to the Jack Halloran Singers’ “Go Tell It ..”, it makes sense in retrospect that we were mesmerized by the voices of the bass section. Our own voices hadn’t changed yet when we first heard this recording, and I’ve no doubt that our attempts to replicate the sound of a group of low baritones must be have hilarious (and, dare I say, perhaps a tad annoying eventually). But there’s so much more to this particular version of this traditional spiritual than just the bass vocals. All the voice parts fit together seamlessly, and — perhaps most importantly — there’s a bit of syncopation thrown in that I haven’t heard elsewhere. The overall energy and dynamics are glorious, too.

I’d love to read a professional music reviewer’s take on this particular “Go Tell It” rendition, but haven’t been able to find one. I did, though, find something else the other day thanks to the magic of the internet.

My brother and I were talking on the phone about how much we loved the Christmas album with “Go Tell It on the Mountain” on it, but we each couldn’t remember the recording artist. Leave it my brother to come up with it — and for me to learn a little bit more about a man who did far more than just record a memorable (for who knows many?) collection of holiday carols.

Halloran must have been important enough to have his own Wikipedia entry. He was ”an American composer and choral director,” it says, and there’s plenty more:

“He sang with a male quartet called the Cadets on several Chicago-based radio shows, including ‘The Breakfast Club With Don MacNeil.’ He later formed the Jack Halloran Quartet, which appeared on the television programs ‘Dave Garroway at Large’ and ‘The Pat Buttram Show.’ Relocating to Hollywood, Halloran became a choral director for films, records and television, working with such entertainers as Roy Rogers, Pat Boone, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He landed the job as choral director and arranger on The Dean Martin Show while working with the singer on his recording of ‘Volare.’ Halloran also organized the Jack Halloran Singers, which performed throughout Southern California. Halloran directed the orchestra and chorus for Bing Crosby's 1959 LP Join Bing and Sing Along. He directed the chorus for Bing's 1962 LPs On the Happy Side and I Wish You a Merry Christmas and Bing's 1970 LP A Time to Be Jolly. He was also a member of the Ray Conniff Singers, appearing on such albums as Speak to Me of Love (Columbia, 1963).”

Perhaps some of my older readers have some of the albums mentioned, and certainly most will know many or all of the other performers listed in that paragraph. But here’s the thing that made me gasp the most: Halloran (Jan. 10, 1916 – Jan. 24, 1997) was “born in Rock Rapids, Iowa ... (and) earned degrees in music from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and Northwestern University.”

My brother will be arriving in Worthington for a brief visit on Jan. 10. We already have it in our minds (though, to be fair, we’ve yet to really talk about how serious we are about this) to drive to Rock Rapids to pay a Jack Halloran homage of sorts on what would have been his 103rd birthday. I’ve no idea if Halloran is buried in the community of his birth (he died in Lancaster, Calif.), but perhaps we can simply stand somewhere in the middle of town and offer up our pale-in-comparison version of a classic.

Even if we don’t head to Rock Rapids, we’ll no doubt listen to the song — together — for the first time in quite a while. And … if you can get online, here’s a link for you to hear it, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL8TKEWmM5o.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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