New Christmas carol cuts through the jingles

Australian crossover singer Mirusia and the Brisbane Symphony debuted a new Christmas carol with Jesus at its heart on Sunday, 17 December, at a full-house concert in Brisbane City Hall.

Christmas is Here Again by Christian songwriter Jon Seccombe is a reworking of Reginald Heber’s famous hymn Brightest and Best, with lyrics updated to connect with contemporary audiences.

The new carol starts with familiar Christmas imagery – stockings, trees and candy canes – then points people to the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus’s birth and our need for a response.

While the weekend concert was the first live performance of Christmas is Here Again, Mirusia has recorded it, and it is the first song on a compilation Christmas album, Merry Christmas, carried by JB Hi-Fi and Sanity, which features other artists such as Paulini, Marina Prior and John Walters.

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The Mirusia & friends Christmas Spectacular at Brisbane Town Hall.

Getting Mirusia on board is a coup for Seccombe, who has been writing Christmas music for four decades and has experienced many setbacks. A Brisbane-born soprano with Dutch heritage, Mirusia is a huge name in the classical crossover world, especially in the Netherlands. Named by ARIA as Australia’s No 1 Classical Crossover artist in 2022, she has been touring internationally for 17 years with artists such as André Rieu, who calls her the Angel of Australia. She has featured on over 20 million records sold worldwide, both with André Rieu and as a solo artist.

“One of the songs she’s performed online has got 67 million views on YouTube and 63 million views on Facebook, which is a huge number,” says Jon.

Jon believes traditional Christmas carols have lost meaning for many, while fresh, new carols can cut through to the person in the street if they have a good melody that people can sing.

“The Christmas carols that we have are very good, but they’re on cycle and recycle, and the words get lost in translation for most people,” he tells Eternity.

“Christmas has been mythologised and reinterpreted so much that the original meaning is often lost.” – Jon Seccombe

But there’s a problem: 90 per cent of new carols submitted to major competitions worldwide are secular carols that completely confuse the message of Christmas.

“Christmas has been mythologised and reinterpreted so much that the original meaning is often lost. So if we have some new carols, they can help people reinterpret Christmas to understand its correct meaning,” he says.

Jon Seccombe with his wife Jodie at their home in Wollongong, NSW.

Christmas Is Here Again was a finalist in the US 2022 Song Door competition and reached the semi-finals in the 2023 UK Song Writing Competition. Another of Seccombe’s carols, Bells Are Ringing, was a finalist in the same competition in 2021 and was selected for live broadcast on British TV with a West End cast. Unfortunately, COVID caused the concert’s cancellation, and when planning resumed two years later, an alternative production company removed it because it had “too much Christian emphasis.”

“The difficulty we have is that Christmas has been reinterpreted as a secular festival. And I know originally it was the Feast of Saturnalia, but the reality is, for 1700 years, it’s been a really strong point for Christians. For many churches, a carol service is probably the biggest point of contact that they have with non-Christians. So it’s absolutely critical that if this has become our one point of contact with non-Christians, then it’s something we must do very well.”

Jon encourages churches not to sing his new carol as it’s for performance rather than congregational singing. Instead, he urges churches to play it while showing the beautiful sand art picture created by Blue Mountains artist Lee-Ann Byrne, especially for children and public performances.

“It’s absolutely critical that if this has become our one point of contact with non-Christians, then it’s something we must do very well.”

Jon says he is working very hard to overcome the strong biases against Christian content in the Arts field. When speaking to Eternity, he was waiting to hear whether another of his carols, Joyful Christmas, would be included in a Christmas movie being produced in California by a prominent film company to be released for TV at Christmas.

“It’s being mixed down at the moment, and the backing vocals have been sung by Kim Chandler, who has backed Bee Gees in England.”

Disappointingly, the recent actors’ strike in Hollywood halted production on a movie featuring Christmas is Here Again.

“We’re up in the air at the moment. We don’t know if or when they’ll finish it,” he says.

“Their only contact with Christianity is Jesus as a swear word. And that is the saddest thing in the world.”

Jon is working on a song for release in June that reworks a John Newton hymn, How Sweet the Sound of Jesus’ Name.

“I’m tired of all the blasphemy I hear, both formerly as a teacher and in so many TV programs. This song deliberately but subtly emphasises Jesus’ name and tries to counteract that for most people, their only contact with Christianity is Jesus as a swear word. And that is the saddest thing in the world. So, Christmas carols have a critical role to play in changing people’s notions, at the very least, if not their becoming Christians. Just reminding them that Jesus is a very precious word,” he says.

As a former head chorister at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, Jon has developed an extensive knowledge of hymns and discovered the importance of melody while spending many hours mastering the piano. He attended the NSW Conservatorium of Music, then Macquarie University, which led to an extensive teaching career in English and history.

“One of the things that I have to work hard with is reducing the number of words I want to put in. My musical education was in a Cathedral choir where there is often a high volume of words, and that’s so different from contemporary styles. I generally find the melody easier to write, but all the best songs sync words and melody, so you can’t really divorce the two.”