And the Ringing of the Bells


The faux marble columns rose beyond the neck-craning point, the lights danced on the walls like a planetarium on holiday steroids. The music rocked and swelled, an ocean of sound thanks to the pipes of the likes of–I am cribbing from the program here–Chris Brown, rising young singer from Tappahannock, VA; Taylor Hicks; Il Divo, Corinne Bailey Rae, Bianca Ryan, and Gretchen Wilson.

Per the usual, there was soul, and country and classical, and then there were the choirs, both excellent. But the American Youth Choir rocked the roof off the place with a sound that was tight as a drum and swung like Bassie.

It was Christmas in Washington. Ok. It's only Dec. 10, but the season is in full swing anbd the spirit already moving in the land. This Christmas is TNT's–originally NBC's–taping of the annual Christmas in Washington holiday special at the National Building Museum in Washington, now in its 25th year.

Formerly a pension building serving soldiers after the Civil War, the museum has a ceiling that soars to a very civil service-like, unornamented peak, but its space is a huge, grand neoclassical expanse that, with the aid of George Stevens Jr., is transformed to something out of the Nutcracker, with heralding trumpeters and sets lit to an ethereal gold, the lights, when not dancing, slicing through the slightly fogged air like a hot knife through a baked Alaska, but more on that later.

The taping has become something of family party for A-list Washington politicos.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps was chatting with Ed Markey, soon to be chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee. The arrival of Jonathan Adelstein, the commission's other Democrat, completed the dance card. The three are on the same page when it comes to wanting the government to put public interest conditions on the AT&T/Bell South merger.

Copps and Adelstein were getting in some last minute holiday cheer before heading off early in the morning for the media ownership public hearing in Nashville Monday.

In fact, Adelstein had the line of the night at the post-taping party, adding some decidedly black humor to the primarily red and gold decor. When asked whether he was ready to head to Tennessee, he pointed out that all the commissioners were going to be flying on the same plane. "We'll all be on the 8:40 in the morning he said. If that plane goes down, you'll really have a story."

The tallish Tony Snow was at the center of one clutch of revelers, with Wolf Blitzer working the crowd. CNN was much in evidence, with Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider and Jamie McIntyre all taking advantage of the fine spread, which included baked Alaska (come to think of it, I didn't see Ted Stevens there), Christmas cookies, fuge, torte, and candies. But only after the ham and crab cakes and wild rice and turkey and stuffing, and speaking of stuffing, I was stuffed like a goose and eventually had to waddle out.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow both had tow-hearded little ones in tow, with Martin and his wife thoughtfully checking out the alternate seating arrangements in case little Luke became to vocal during the vocalizing. McSlarrow was doing the fatherly duties, serving as pack-dad during the food rush while, I assume, his wife got a chance to grab some food. That's how I know he is a good papa.

The music was on the rocking and soulful Christmas side, which was OK with me. Taylor Hicks, he of American Idol-created fame impressed me more than he ever did on the show. And that 12-year-old kid, Bianca Ryan, from ABC's version of American Idol, America'sgot Talent, belted out a "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that strained credulity for its sheer power, and I hope did not strain her voice, though she seemed to have plenty left for the finale. Christmas CD in stores Dec. 12, I'm told.

One comment. Too much Star Searching of the notes, which means embelish almost every not with runs up and down the staff, which can start to wear a bit thin. Same with Brown. Both are true talents, but I think singers now equate vocal gymnastics with style. Better to learn and understand and feel the lyric, then style it. But hey, I'm toiling in the trade vinyards and they are knocking on Grammy's door, so the better advice is probably to ignore me.

There was some cute banter with Time Warner topper Dick Parsons and show impressario Stevens. Parsons said that at a certain age, you need cards to prompt you about what to say. His card–he held it up– said "Thank George." Someone saw the card and said. "You can't refer to the president as George." did I mention the president and First Lady were there (as was former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, by the way).

Anyway, I think the joke was that the "George" he was going to thank was Stevens, but maybe not because Parsons then went on to thank the President. When Stevens spoke, he said: "I had a card and it said 'Thank Dick.' And someone said, "You can't refer to the vice president as…." Ba da bum. Bish!

When the president took to the rostrum, he thanked Dick and his wife, Laura, then stopped and added Laura Bush Parsons, which seemed to strike his fancy, though it left mine scratching whatever passed for a fancy's head.

The show is on Wednesay at 10 p.m. on TNT and from my vantage. The music was rousing enough that I may watch it again, and I didn't even get in any crowd reaction shots.

By John Eggerton