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Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough

Megan Hilty’s stint with the Tabernacle Choir last year O Holy Night, narrated by Neal McDonough, will air on PBS December 13th & BYUtv December 18th

Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough

Megan Hilty's stint with The Tabernacle Choir last year O Holy Night, narrated by everybody's favorite baddie Neal McDonough, will air on PBS December 13, 2022 and BYUtv on December 18, 2022.

This, the latest edition of PBS' #1 primetime holiday program for seventeen years, "Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir," features an Irish-themed program of holiday and classical music. I had the opportunity to participate in the live portion of the Zoom preview presentation with Megan, Neal, Ron Gunnell, (Global Convoy of the Tabernacle Choir), and The Tabernacle Choir's musical director Mack Wilberg via Zoom from Salt Lake.

This special, a combined recording of the three-night live performance taped in Salt Lake's City's Conference Center during the end of pandemic lockdowns, required the daily COVID testing of the over-500 volunteer singers and musicians that comprise The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells at Temple Square and Gabriel Trumpet Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough Ensemble. The fact that Megan and Neal share Irish heritage made them the perfect choice for this program of Irish Christmas carols.

Asked the importance of music to Neal's family: "The one thing that the Irish have is their family. Music is the key to families. You go to any pub in Ireland in the back corner, someone breaks out a fiddle, and all of a sudden a tin whistle comes out. Then all of a sudden, an accordion comes out and seven hours goes by. It's always the family environment of the Irish that really keeps everything together when you're going through tough times. It is, and I learned from my parents - 'Family first, me second!' My parents came from Ireland with nothing, and they built a really great life for themselves with six kids. We own a small motel in Cape Cod and the work ethic was always there for all of us in the family. I'm so proud to tell of our Irish heritage on a show like this because I think it's just important for the whole world to see it all and to see it all come together to different faiths. I think it's just a beautiful, magical thing."

Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough Neal has kept his strong Irish traditions alive to this day with his wife Ruve and their five children filling their household with Christmas decorations, music and the traditional lighting of a candle in the window (now lights instead of actual candles). Neal's favorite Irish Christmas tunes are 'Danny Boy,' the not so Irish Vince Guaraldi's 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' and Bruce Springsteen's 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town.'

Megan's pick for uplifting song of the holidays - 'Have Yourself Merry Little Christmas.' "When you look at it, it's a sad song. But it's all about having hope. You know this time next year 'We'll all be together.' Yes, we know that times are hard now. Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough But let's 'Let our hearts be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.' I just love the sentiment of that song and I love that you can sing it in in different ways and it resonates differently.

"Music has that way of just bringing you right back to that place where you first heard it or experienced it. So much of my holiday seasons had the soundtrack that my dad put together. There was music playing all the time. Music has transcend everything, right? I've been in the music business for 40 years, and I still can't put words to it. It is this intangible feeling, this vibration, you know that connects us and instantly brings us back to those wonderful memories of all the Christmases before."

Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough Megan starts her Christmas decorating on the wedding anniversary with husband songwriter/musician Brian Gallagher - November 2. With all the out-of-town concerts and gigs between the two of them, they are hardly at home during the Christmas months, so the length of the decorations up doesn't seem that uncommonly long. "We do not subject our neighbors to the decorations until December though. Once it's December, we're like okay, now we can decorate outside."

Megan's holiday tradition is making her mother's Christmas Day cheesy potato casserole. I asked her if she shares the recipe. "Noooo! I change it a little bit every year. I change it just a tiny, tiny bit - but I always tell my mom."

Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough The song Megan and her hubby Brian teach their kids isn't necessarily Irish traditional. "Being Rankin/Bass fans, we do the song from 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' that Clarisse sings, 'There's Always Tomorrow' and they love that. That's been a lullaby for a long time."

When asked about their first time in the Salt Lake's City's Conference Center auditorium, Megan replied, "This was a singer's dream to get to sing with this legendary choir. Luckily, I was lucky enough to sing with them before, so I was actually prepared for the energy of that space. You can't really put into words what it feels like to step out onto that stage. It is enormous. I think one of the greatest parts of it is standing right next to that glorious choir, almost like bathing in the sound. It is an experience unlike Interview: SMASH-ing Broadway Baby Megan Hilty Talks Caroling with The Tabernacle Choir & Neal McDonough any other I've ever had. To sing with that amazing orchestra and these arrangements and working with Neil and Ron, I mean from top to bottom, like every single moment of this experience, was profoundly special. And I'm just so grateful that that we get to share it with the world now."

As for Neal: "There's no way you can prepare yourself for being on that stage. I just remember walking out, actually running out by myself before it all started. And I stood there. This place is amazing! Incredible! Then I went back later on when everyone's in, and I stood out in the audience and looked. Knowing that everyone here was volunteering their time to put on the show to spread the word of God throughout the whole world and they're there on their own time. For me, it was just one of those powerful feelings I've ever had. To watch Mack do what he does so well and to be on stage opposite Megan, who has just a voice from God herself. It was such a beautiful, fantastic evening for everyone. I can't wait for everyone to see this. I can't wait."

Catch O Holy Night: Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir on PBS December 13th and on BYUtv December 18th.



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From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)


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