The 9-year-old girl's clear, bell-like voice sang the plea, "Santa, can you bring my Daddy home?" and then added in a near-whisper, "I love you, Daddy."
Tears welled in the eyes of those listening in the music room of St. Clare's School on Myrth Avenue in Essex.
Written by a couple who teach at the school, the song was inspired by the anguish on young Lindsey Zulauf's face during a television interview at the school about her father's departure for the Persian Gulf aboard the Baltimore-based hospital ship, USNS Comfort.
"I saw how upset Lindsey was. It inspired me to want to do something to recognize other families, all those who have loved ones serving over there," said Jane Matarozza, 28, the music director for the Roman Catholic school and a professional musician and composer.
"She wrote the lyrics in one night. She was on a roll," said Darryl Matarozza, 40, who said it took him just two days to create the haunting melody for his wife's words. "I'm hoping we have the Christmas hit of the year."
"I think it's pretty beautiful," Lindsey, 9, said of the song.
Recorded Monday by a 12-voice choir of third- to eighth-grade girls from St. Clare's and the nearby Essex United Methodist Church, it has been delivered to several local radio stations. According to the principal, Joan Depkin, it will be featured by NBC News.
Although Lindsey is not in the choir, she sang along yesterday as a local television crew filmed the group. WBAL-TV plans to send a videotape to the girl's father, Charles E. "Chip" Zulauf, the Comfort's first mate.
Mrs. Depkin also dispatched a copy of the audio tape to the Alexandria, Va., headquarters of the Military Sealift Command, to which the Comfort is assigned.
The command has sent the cassette on to the Navy's broadcasting service for possible transmission to the forces abroad, a spokeswoman said.
St. Clare's has "adopted" the hospital ship because of Lindsey's father, Mrs. Depkin said. "We've sent 'care' packages to the crew, and the second-graders wrote letters. The first grade made place mats, and they made a banner that everyone signed," she said.
What pleased Lindsey most about the song is that Kristi Gordon, the soloist on the recording, "is my best friend. We signed a paper -- in red ink."
The two girls, who wore the school uniform of tartan jumpers and white blouses at yesterday's film session, are fourth-graders. Lindsey's sister, Lauren, 6, is in first grade, and her brother, Charley, 5, attends kindergarten.
Kristi, who gazed wistfully out the window as she sang and then moved gracefully to a seat among the other girls during the filming, said she was happy to be able to do something nice for her friend "and for all the soldiers and sailors who are over there."
Mrs. Matarozza said she and her husband, the school's physical-education teacher, auditioned girls for an ecumenical chorus to sing at events in Essex. She chose Kristi as the soloist for the Christmas song because her voice was "childlike and innocent; honest may be a better word."
"It's a beautiful song; I cried when I heard it," said Beverly Zulauf, Lindsey's mother. "It's going to touch a lot of hearts."
She said she knew nothing about the song when she told her children that her only Christmas wish this year was that "Santa would bring Chip home. He did three years ago [in a surprise Christmas Eve return from another trip], but I don't think so this time."
As a merchant mariner since 1976, Chip Zulauf "has come and gone before, but this time it's different," said Mrs. Zulauf, whose husband's ship sailed for the gulf Aug. 11. Mr. Zulauf will be 37 Dec. 22, "and he won't even be here for his birthday," she said. "But he said for us to be strong."
For the Matarozzas, the song marks their first musical collaboration since their interfaith marriage in August. They met a year ago through their Christian music, but until now each has composed separately.
Mr. Matarozza said he wanted "the support of all Baltimore and the whole country" for his song as a message to U.S. military personnel serving abroad at Christmas.
Santa, Can You Bring My Daddy Home?
It's cold outside my window, snow is everywhere,
It's Christmastime at our house, but something's missing there.
The lights are on the Christmas tree, the star shines from above,
But it doesn't feel like Christmas, without someone you love.
See, Daddy is a soldier, and he has to do his part
To keep our country safe from harm, but it means we'll be apart.
I know he's doing what is right, and I'm so proud of him,
But who will put the star on top when the Christmas tree is trimmed?
You can keep your toys, dear Santa,
'Cause they're not on my list.
It isn't very long this year,
'Cause I've only got one wish;
See, Mom and I are on our own,
And we're here all alone,
Santa, can you bring my Daddy home?
I write my Dad a letter almost every day.
I tell him that I miss him; "How long will you be away?"
But I tell him not to worry; I'm taking care of Mom.
We're wrapping up the Christmas gifts, and trying to be strong.
I know that there are other kids who feel just like I do.
Some have Moms and Daddys, and families serving, too.
We'll miss them all this Christmas, and we'll love them even more,
"Peace on Earth" means more this year than it ever did before.
Refrain, with additional final line, "I love you Daddy."
1990, Darryl and Jane Matarozza