A few years back I wrote a novella called “All Seated on the Ground,” about an alien invasion in which the aliens didn’t attack or try to take over the planet or even demand, “Take me to your leader”–they just stood there, glaring like the heroine’s disapproving Aunt Judith, while people tried frantically to figure out what they wanted.

The answer involved the lyrics to Christmas songs (it’s a long story), and in the course of the story I talked about everything from “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Including a way-out-there rendition of “Silent Night,” which was the only version of any song the aliens (called Altairi) responded to.

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” I asked. “Now we can analyze what it was that was different about it that they were responding to. Which version was it?”

Instead of answering, [Calvin] walked over to the CD player and hit play. A loud chorus of nasal female voices began belting out, “Silent night, holy night,” shouting to be heard over a cacophony of clicks and clacks.
“What is that?” I asked.

“The Broadway chorus of the musical 42nd Street singing and tap-dancing to ‘Silent Night.’ They recorded it for a special Broadway Christmas charity project.”

I looked over at the Altair, thinking maybe Calvin was wrong and they hadn’t really fallen asleep, but in spite of the din, they had sagged limply over; their heads nearly touching the ground, looking almost peaceful. Their glares had faded from full-bore Aunt Judith to only mildly disapproving.
I listened to the 42nd Street chorines tapping and belting out “Silent Night” at the top of their lungs some more. “It is kind of appealing,” I said, “especially the part where they shout out ‘Mother and child!'”
“I know,” he said. “I’d like it played at our wedding.”

I knew the song because we’d seen a Broadway musical some years ago, and the cast had sold CDs of the charity album, which included all sorts of Christmas songs done by the casts of shows on Broadway at the time, after the performance. But our favorite was 42nd Street’s “Silent Night,” which was bold, brassy, and ridiculously at odds with the usual sickly renditions of the carol. Energetically tapping and shouting out the lyrics introduced a whole new and funny dimension to the song, and we’ve played it every Christmas since.

I’m telling you all this because this fall I got a great e-mail from Mylinda Hull, a Broadway actress living in Brooklyn who had played Anytime Annie in the 2001 revival of 42nd Street (reprinted here with her permission):

“My name is Mylinda Hull and I arranged the version of “Silent Night” sung by the cast of 42nd Street for “Carols for a Cure” that she used as a plot point in her marvelous novella, “All Seated on the Ground.”

I came to the story randomly, browsing through the Brooklyn Public Library, and my eyeballs rolled around in my head for quite a while when I came to the part where she wrote about the song.

So I just wanted to tell Connie, thank you. I’m so glad she enjoyed it enough to include it. It must have tickled her, as it did me, to have the loudest tap dancing-est, trumpet blaring-est “Silent Night” on record. I’m curious to know if she happened upon it by chance, or if she did a search for group-sung versions of the song when she needed one for her story.”

I wrote her back:

“Thank you so much for your e-mail! I’m delighted to know who arranged it, since it’s my favorite “Silent Night” ever. The reason I knew about it is that I and my family went to New York the year of the 9-11 attacks. Mayor Giuliani (who I have since had many problems with, but who was great right after 9-11) had said to support the city by coming and spending money, so we did. We went to the Macy’s Parade, had Thanksgiving dinner at a deli off Times Square, visited Ground Zero, and saw the Rockettes’ Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. We also went to see the musical Urinetown, and at that performance they were selling the “Carols for a Cure” CD, which my daughter bought and we all loved. Lots of great carols, but yours was the most amazing!

I love irony in all its myriad forms–one of my other favorite ironic songs is Barbra Streisand’s sad, torch-song version of “Happy Days Are Here Again”–but your song is my absolute favorite! Particularly since I spent years and years in church choirs singing versions of “Silent Night” which put everyone–including the choir–to sleep. I honestly thought there was nothing to be done that could save the song, but you proved me wrong! We’re not the only ones who love it. We play it for everyone at Christmas, and everyone who hears it adores it!”

I asked her if the song was available anywhere else or if the CD could be bought somewhere, and she replied:

Yes, I looked and the album is still available at the Broadway Cares online store [2001 edition] and a person can buy single tracks on itunes. I made another recording for them, in the 2005 version when I was in Sweet Charity, the one with Christina Applegate. Much sillier, a Christmas comedy sketch of sorts, it’s called “Joy to the World.” As a fellow connoisseur of curious Christmas lyrics, you might enjoy that one as well.

So if you’re interested, you can listen to it, too. This is what I love about writing. You meet the coolest people! And what I love about libraries–you never know what you might find when you start browsing in them!

Connie Willis

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