Musician Who Pioneered a Hybrid of Rock, Classical and Christmas Music Dead at 61 — He Was Behind One of the Great Holiday Rock Classics

Apr 6, 2017  •  Post A Comment

A musician who was about Christmas music and heavy metal at the same time, who was behind one of the all-time classics of the holiday rock genre, has died.

Billboard reports that Paul O’Neill, the founder and leader of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a driving force behind the heavy metal band Savatage, and the co-writer of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” died Wednesday night at age 61.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra posted an announcement on its website noting that O’Neill died from chronic illness.

As a composer, lyricist, producer and songwriter, O’Neill melded diverse influences into music that crossed traditional boundaries, introducing classical audiences to rock and vice versa through his involvement with both Savatage and the operatic, classically oriented and often holiday-themed Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

“Christmas Eve/Sarajevo,” co-written by O’Neill and Savatage founder, keyboardist and lead singer Jon Oliva, first surfaced on the 1995 Savatage album “Dead Winter Dead” and was later rereleased by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which featured several members of Savatage. The instrumental is built around a medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells,” driven by searing rock guitar.

The song became a staple of TSO’s live shows, which were often Christmas-themed.

Here’s a clip of the Christmas rock classic “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” — play it loud!


  1. I had never seen the accompanying video!! Followed directions, played it loud and had a good cry. Love TSO! RIP Mr. O’Neill- we’ll not see the likes of you again…. but thank you for the Christmas gifts!

  2. Best music video ever!

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