Tom Meagher is a sucker for Christmas music. He starts listening to his holiday CDs — he has has dozens — well before most people have even begun thinking about Santa Claus, snow, and schlepping through the mall. Meagher, an attorney and Princeton native, also has a social conscience — he worries about people suffering, particularly children starving in Africa. It was while listening to his favorite album, “Hallmark Presents the Tradition of Christmas,” which features Princeton’s American Boychoir along with Harry Belafonte, that the proverbial lightbulb went off in Meagher’s head.
“I thought, we have all these great choral groups in Princeton. Why not grab them to do something to help the children in Africa?,” Meagher says. “My original thought was to do a concert at Richardson Auditorium, but in going through the logistics I realized that wasn’t going to happen this year. What did happen was that the project evolved into a Christmas CD.”
“A Princeton Christmas: For the Children of Africa” is a compilation of performances by eight Princeton-based musical groups — the American Boychoir, Princeton Day School Choir Madrigal Singers, the Princeton Girlchoir, the Princeton High School Choir, the Princeton University Chapel Choir, the Tartantones of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, the Westminster Choir, and the Westminster Concert Bell Choir. Proceeds from the $35 recording, which is also available through the iTunes Store, Amazon MP3, and other sites for 99 cents a song, go directly to the School Feeding campaign of the United Nations World Food Program in Africa.
“I wanted it to be related to hunger and starving children,” says Meagher. “My first thought was the American Red Cross, but they advised me to go to the UN World Food Program. The School Feeding program seemed best because it feeds the kids and also entices them to go to school.”
Meagher, the son of a patent attorney for RCA and General Electric and a stay-at-home mom, is a partner with Duane Morris LLP in New York, where he specializes in patent litigation and licensing. He graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon in 1979 and earned his J.D. from Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, in 1982. He lives in Lawrenceville with his wife, Debbie Meagher, a stay-at-home mom, and their four children. It was while listening to his daughter sing with Stuart Country Day’s Tartantones, that the idea of getting local choirs together began to take shape in his mind.
“It was last year and she was performing at Morven,” Meagher says. “They were so good. And I knew that the Princeton University Chapel Choir was great. And then there’s Westminster, not to mention the American Boychoir. Just about everyone loves Christmas music, so why not?”
As Meagher, who says his do-gooder bent comes from parents who were involved in many church and civic projects, began to pursue his original idea of a concert, he was met with universal enthusiasm at every school he approached. “No one turned us down,” he says. “Everyone believed in the idea and wanted to participate.”
Once the concert idea fizzled and the CD concept emerged, Meagher had no trouble getting all of the participating groups to donate recordings of their performances. All except Stuart had existing recordings; Meagher paid for the Tartantones to record their renderings of “Night of Silence” and “This Christmastide (Jessye’s Carol).” It was then that he met recording engineer John Baker, an independent classical recording engineer based in Princeton, who had worked with many of the groups and recorded the Tartantones.
‘If I hadn’t stumbled across John Baker, it would have been a lot harder,” says Meagher. “He is the recording engineer for many of the local choral groups, and it turned out he’s a great guy and a nice guy and was willing to help in a number of ways. He helped me to find many of the groups because he knew them.”
Baker, who was born and raised in Princeton, had the archives of most of the participating musical groups. He also puts together Public Radio International’s annual “Carols for Christmas” concert on Christmas Day. He accompanied the Princeton High School choir on a recent trip to Sweden.
“Tom realized he would need someone, and I was happy to help,” Baker says. “I jumped at the chance.” Meagher also credits his designers Evelyn Good (logo and CD design) and Martin Olech (web design); all the choir directors, such as Penna Rose of the Princeton University Chapel and Charles Sundquist of Princeton High School Choir; and PR people, including Eric Swartzentruber at the Academy of the Sacred Heart and Anne Sears at Westminster, among many others, for making the project possible.
The CD is an hour long and includes 20 songs from the familiar “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (Princeton Girlchoir) and “Ding Dong! Merrily on High” (American Boychoir) to such lesser known entries as the traditional Icelandic carol “Mariabaen” (Princeton University Chapel Choir) and “Hodie Christus Natus Est” (Princeton High School Choir). Westminster Concert Bell Choir of the Westminster Choir College of Rider University contributes a charming rendition of the “Marche” from “The Nutcracker,” arranged by William H. Griffin.
Westminster’s dean and director Robert L. Annis says in a statement that the school is honored to be part of the project for more than one reason. “The Westminster’s Choir’s performance of ‘The Hills Are Bare at Bethlehem’ is the ensemble’s first recording with its new conductor, Joe Miller — a fitting debut that epitomizes Westminster’s mission of service through music. We’re also pleased that the Westminster Concert Bell Choir’s performance of the Marche from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ brings a different dimension to the recording.”
The Tartantones’ tune on the CD, “This Christmastide” by Donald Fraser has been selected for by iTunes as part of its “What’s Hot” holiday iMix selections.
Meagher says his target market for the CD is people who like good choral music and are willing to make a donation to a worthy cause. “My thinking is that there are a lot of great causes out there,” he says. “But where you actually have kids starving — they say that every day 24,000 people die of hunger and hunger-related causes, and 75 percent of them are children in poor countries.”
One purchase of one CD ($35) will feed one African child for nearly three months, Meagher says. The purchase of one download (99 cents) will feed a child for two days. He invites individuals, companies, and organizations in search of holiday gifts to call him at 908-907-3377 to arrange to acquire the CDs in bulk with free delivery in exchange for a check made out to the Friends of World Peace Program.
“A Princeton Christmas” is not planned as a one-time thing. “I definitely want to continue this in some fashion, either as another CD for next year or a concert,” says Meagher. “The need is there.”
A Princeton Christmas CD, on sale at www.princetonchristmas.org, www.iTunes.com, Amazon MP3 downloads, and the Princeton University Store.
It will also be available at the following concerts: American Boychoir, Saturday, December 15, at Princeton University Chapel, 609-924-5858, extension 18, and Sunday, December 16, at Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-5000; Christmas Evensong, Thursday, December 13, 7:15 p.m., Stuart Country Day School, 1200 Stuart Road. 609- 921-2330; and upper school winter concert with the Madrigal Singers, Wednesday, December 19, 7:30 p.m., Princeton Day School, McAneny Theater, 650 Great Road, 609-924-6700.