“Music is such a bridge,” internationally renowned pianist, Jim Brickman began, “Because it’s the emotional connection there that doesn’t’ need the spoken word to communicate.” And a bridge, is quite literally what he and Five For Fighting, AKA John Ondrasik, hope their newly released holiday single, “Christmas Where You Are”, will be to troops deployed this holiday season.
The single debuted in advance of Brickman’s new holiday album entitled, A Joyful Christmas. He said of the album, “It’s probably the most eclectic guest roster that I’ve ever had and I’ve had some eclectic ones. But this one I think takes the cake!”
A Joyful Christmas boasts features from a wide-ranging celebrity cast to include Dick Van Dyke and Jane Lynch. Jim added, “When you’ve got Dick Van Dyke and Five for Fighting, it’s like wow, how did those two come together? But Christmas music brings us together and it’s a very joyful way to celebrate the season.”
Long before the lyrics and melodies of “Christmas Where You Are” were penned, what brought Jim and Five For Fighting’s frontman together was mutual respect for each other’s artistry. Jim relayed, “I’d always been a huge fan of his music and the sensibility of his playing, because he really writes a lot on piano and it is very much like mine – very melodic and very romantic.”
John continued, “I’d known of Jim for a long time. We hadn’t met til a couple of years ago when he reached out to write a song. But you know, certainly as a piano player, I’ve been aware of him. It’s very impressive to build a career as an instrumentalist. Very few people can do that. So, I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. It was fun to get together and write a song or two. And this Christmas song was born out of that relationship.”
Their friendship sparked a conversation between both men about the work they have done throughout their careers with the USO. Each candidly shared with me pieces of that conversation and the inspiration behind the song. Jim began, “The biggest memory for me was working with the USO on something called Operation Care Package that we did, not every year, but the most significant year was in 2010. We performed for the men and women deployed from and returning to the Baltimore Airport. We had a concert in the airport, for both the troops that were deploying before they departed, and for the others coming in for their leave. It was just incredibly stirring!” He added, “A lot of the footage of this show is in the music video. We took some of it from that day and it’s just, you just want to lose it. It’s just like, just the look on some of the kids’ faces, its just amazing!”
Five for Fighting’s Ondrasik revealed, “One memory that has really struck me, was almost 8-9 years ago, I’d done some USO tours and I was talking to some of the USO management and I asked them, where does nobody want to go? I figured they would say, Iraq or Afghanistan, certainly, because it’s dangerous. But they said Gitmo. They said, nobody wants to go to Gitmo. So I said I would go to Gitmo. I went really not knowing what to expect. The first performance I did there was very surreal. It was literally on the Cuban shore, right next to the prison, to the extent that the search lights running around the prison would hit me as I performed. And there’s just one big cement block, there’s no stage. It’s just a big cement block, kind of on the sand and I put my keyboard there. In front of me there was this little bar called Survivor and that’s where the National Guardsmen go. There’s benches in the sand and at the little bar, and that’s where you play for them. In the distance, I’ll never forget, I was playing a song called ‘Freedom Never Cries’ And it just hit me, on the other side of that fence, it’s a different world. They don’t have the freedoms we have here.”
Concluding, “Certainly there was a lot of controversy about Gitmo and this was during the days there was a lot of entertainers that didn’t want to put their name with it. I just wanted to go because there’s soldiers there right? The soldiers don’t get to choose where they go and they were there, doing a really hard job. It’s our obligation to go and support them.”
And so, those memories burned deep in their souls and from them came a collaboration of grateful respect for the troops that was written nearly overnight. John elaborated saying, “We talked about it and Jim started dabbling on the piano and that night I wrote the lyrics and together we wrote the music.” Further revealing, “My goal with this song has been different than any other single I’ve had.” Explaining, “It’s not to have another hit song, or to sell records. It’s about having the song out there for the next decade or two and for the troops to have a Christmas song dedicated to them.”
A percentage of the proceeds of the song will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities, as well as What Kind Of World Do You Want, an initiative Ondrasik created which raised more than $250,000 for five designated charities — Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.
In addition, Brickman will also be on tour, donating tickets to troops and veterans in over 30 cities. He said, “My holidays have become about celebrating with community and with the veterans that come to the show and military families we invite to the show. So this year, especially as we’re doing this with the USO and Operation Care Package and donating a lot of our tickets to military. It’s a really great way to enhance the holiday season for them, but this particular year I think is special because of that. Concluding, “It’s always a great way to celebrate every night to music, because it’s a very happy, happy moment, especially with the state of the world. I want it to be escape and light hearted and happy and cheerful and just a couple hours of joy!”
John also has a holiday special set to air on BYUtv called Christmas Under the Stars where he performs with Jim. He summarized, “It was the first time Jim and I ever played ‘Christmas Where You Are’ live. The nice thing about Christmas songs is it’s not like they are one and done. So Jim and I will be playing this song for a lot of years to come and hopefully the troops take this thank you and hug and remind themselves how much we care for them and appreciate what they do for us.”
One of the most profound gifts citizens of the US receive year round is the gift of freedom, given to us by brave men and women who make the sacrifice to fight for it and lay their lives down. It is sustained by generations who follow suit with the same commitment. It is only fitting on this week of thanks to express gratitude to those who may not be able to come home in time for the Thanksgiving day feast and holiday festivities.
Watch the lyric video for “Christmas Where You Are” now: