Time to add some new songs to that Christmas playlist.
The Ellas, a three-girl singing group formed by BYU alumna Jennifer Denmark, are writing songs about what Christmas is like today. Though the lyrics reflect modern holiday traditions, the sound and tone of the music is reminiscent of Christmas songs of old.
“‘The Christmas Song’ is a beloved Christmas song, but no one really roasts chestnuts over an open fire anymore,” said Emily James, another member of The Ellas.
Denmark said no one rides in a one-horse open sleigh either. “We thought it’d be fun to write about traditions in our own families,” she said.
This season their wildest dreams came true when they were invited to play at the Grand Ole Opry on Nov. 27.
“That was one of the most exciting things to happen to us,” Denmark said. “We are getting these opportunities that we never thought were possible.” They are also scheduled to perform at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville later in December.
Denmark majored in business management during her years at BYU, never taking a single music class. “I didn’t even know song writing was a career,” Denmark said. Once she joined the music industry, she moved to Nashville and has been there for several years.
Denmark said she remembers that BYU is very encouraging of musical talent. “BYU breathes a creative environment,” she said. “Being raised Mormon, we are just taught to magnify our talents.” She admits she wouldn’t be a songwriter now if her mother hadn’t put her in piano lessons as a little girl.
The Ellas’ first album, “Merry and Bright,” dropped on Nov. 6 and is comprised of 16 original Christmas songs. Their songs are about baking cookies, greeting cards and what it’s like to walk down a street “full of hanging lights.”
Denmark, James and The Ellas’ third member, Melissa Fuller, filmed a music video for their song “Bakin’ Cookies” in the fall which was released the day after Thanksgiving.
The women met in Nashville through their jobs as country music writers. They bonded over their love of Christmas and jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald (the inspiration for their group name) and Frank Sinatra.
Big band gives The Ellas’ music that traditional Christmas sound. According to Raymond Smith, a professor in BYU’s school of music, big band “is a larger jazz ensemble.”
A big band is made up of 18 to 19 people. There are multiple trumpets, trombones and saxophones with a combo of piano, guitar or base providing rhythm.
“A lot of things you hear on the radio is big band,” Smith said. He said seven out of eight tunes playing in stores during the holidays will probably be big band. Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr. use big band in their Christmas albums of covers.
The Ellas recorded their “Merry and Bright” album in 2012 but were unable to release it until this year because other opportunities came up. For example, each of them had a baby soon afterward. Denmark said balancing motherhood and her career has been “difficult,” but performing seasonally helps.
“We wanted to be seasonal so we could go back to our normal lives the rest of the year,” James said.