Chew on This: A Christmas CD with a Cause
by Anne Levin
From U.S. 1, December 12, 2007
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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
For more information, visit Friends of the World Food Program (http:/
www.friendsofwfp.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to building
support for the WFP (http://www.wfp.org).
Tom Meagher (A Princeton Christmas) / 908-907-3377
Maria Reppas / firstname.lastname@example.org
/ 202- 530-1694 x 111