Christmas Countdown: O Little Town Of Bethlehem

 

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is a popular Christmas carol. The text was written by Phillips Brooks (1835–1893), an Episcopal priest, Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. He was inspired by visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in 1865.

Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church and his organist, Lewis Redner, added the music. Redner’s tune, simply titled “St. Louis”, is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings O Little Town Of Bethlehem

 

Christmas Countdown: Still, Still, Still

Still, Still, Still

Still, Still, Still is an Austrian Christmas carol and lullaby. In German its first line is “Still, still, still, weil’s Kindlein schlafen will!” (Hush, hush, hush, for the little child wants to sleep!)

The melody is a folk tune (authorship unknown) from the State of Salzburg. The tune appeared for the first time in 1865 in a folksong collection of Maria Vinzenz Süß (1802-1868), founder of the Salzburg Museum; it has changed slightly over the years but remains attributed to G. Götsch.

The words, which run to six verses in German, describe the peace of the infant Jesus and his mother as they sleep. There are various English translations.  This is one version:

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.
For all is hushed,
The world is sleeping,
Holy Star its vigil keeping.
Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.
The night is peaceful all around you,
Close your eyes,
Let sleep surround you.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth.

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

Christmas Countdown: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

hark

Charles Wesley (1707-1788),  the younger brother of John Wesley wrote the words to this Christmas Carol.

Charles was a hymn writer and a poet, also known as one of the people who began the Methodist movement in the Church of England. Hark the Herald Angels Sing appeared in 1739 in a book called Hymns and Sacred Poems.

Wesley envisioned this being sung to the same tune as his hymn, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,  and in some hymnals it is included along with the more popular version.

This hymn was regarded as one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns and published as number 403 in “The Church Hymn Book” (New York and Chicago, USA, 1872).

To celebrate the invention of the printing press, Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata in 1840 called Festgesang or “Festival Song”. The melody of Mendelssohn’s cantata was then used by William H. Cummings and adapted it to the lyrics of Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

And, of course, no one can do it better than The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

 

 

Christmas Countdown: Carol of the Bells

 

Carol of the Bells

Carol of the Bells was composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877-1921) in 1916. Originally titled Shchedryk, this Ukrainian folk song is sometimes called Ukrainian Bell Carol. “Shchedryk” which was associated with the coming New Year, originally celebrated in April.

Leontovych used this tune in 1904 along with lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky to create the version that everyone knows today. It gained popularity during the 1920s and 1930s, and was introduced to an even wider audience when it was used in the movie “Home Alone”.

It was first performed in the Ukraine on the night of January 13, 1916, on the Julian calendar this is considered New Year’s Eve. In the United States the song was first performed on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.

This video is from the Christmas special of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, presented at the BYU channel. The orchestra and choir produce a very beautiful sound.

Not the standard version –

The O’Connor Music Studio has several versions of this Christmas Carol available for loan, including this version from the Mannheim Steamroller:

 

Christmas Countdown: Angels We Have Heard On High

 

Angels We Have Heard On High

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains
CHORUS:
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song? ChorusCome to Bethlehem and see
Him Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King. ChorusSee Him in a manger laid
Jesus Lord of heaven and earth;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior’s birth. Chorus

This is a traditional French carol (Les Anges dans nos Campagnes) that was translated into English by Bishop James Chadwick.

This carol commemorates the story of the birth of Jesus Christ found in the Gospel of Luke, in which shepherds outside Bethlehem encounter a multitude of angels singing and praising the newborn child.

In 2009, Andrea Bocelli and David Foster collaborated to produce a Christmas album with a number of other music legends. This is “Angels We Have Heard on High” with choir and orchestra.

The Piano Guys, Peter Hollens, David Archuleta, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir get together to sing “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Christmas Countdown: I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day

 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

 

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a Christmas carol based on the 1863 poem “Christmas Bells” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The song tells of the narrator’s despair, upon hearing Christmas bells, that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men”. The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.

This version is done by Casting Crowns.  I chose it because the Pender choir sang this on Christmas Eve with past-Associate Pastor Dan Elmore singing the solo…and I fell in love with this version.

As seen on 2008 TBN Christmas special. “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” is available on Casting Crowns’ Christmas album, Peace On Earth.

More traditionally, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Christmas Countdown: Sleigh Ride

Sleigh Ride

I’ve always liked Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride as a secular Christmas song 🙂  It’s not technically a Christmas song since the words never mention Christmas but it’s often played now so it seems like a way to ease into the season.

Anderson had the original idea for the piece during a heat wave in July 1946;  he finished the work in February 1948.  Lyrics, about a person who would like to ride in a sleigh on a winter’s day with another person, were written by Mitchell Parish in 1950.

The orchestral version was first recorded in 1949 by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra. The song was a hit record and has become the equivalent of a signature song for the orchestra.

A fun arrangement has been made for piano duet.  I have copies here for loan and it’s available on amazon (of course! What isn’t?)