I usually attend a number of concerts and events during the holiday season, and this year is no exception. However, this season, I’ve noticed how enduring some of these classic tunes are and wondered what circumstance brought them to us.
Many of us are familiar with the miracle of Silent Night being performed on Christmas Eve, 1818, accompanied by guitar due to a broken organ. Actually, that is a legend. Father Joseph Mohr requested Franz Gruber, the organist in the church in Oberndorf Austria, to set music to a poem he had written in 1816. Father Mohr asked Gruber to create a melody with guitar accompaniment, which is my favorite setting of this quiet, soothing carol. We have this available in two choral arrangements, BRM 07335 and BRM 19198 with an echo choir for a nice change. In audio format, you can learn it on alto sax (DBM 02791), flute (DBM 03261) two guitar versions (DBM 02241 and DBM 03151) and piano (DBM 01787.) Here is a lovely choral version for your listening pleasure.
Bells are featured everywhere this season, and crossing the pond we have the cheerful Ding Dong! Merrily on High from England. George Ratcliffe Woodward wrote the lyrics and matched them to a secular dance tune known as “Branle de l’Official.” This cheery carol was first published in 1924 in Woodward’s The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons. The NLS Music Section has it available for SATB at BRM 02503 and soprano, soprano, alto (SSA) at BRM 05205. And, we can offer the revered British composer/arranger Sir David Willcocks’s arrangement of this carol in Carols for Choirs at BRM 24098.
Little Drummer Boy, also known as Carol of the Drum was written by American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. My introduction to this classic was a recording by a full choir, and I was struck by the story’s simplicity, as well as the music. What a beautiful offering, a song! Davis based her composition on a Czech carol style, and the famous Trapp Family Singers recorded it in 1955. The Music Section can offer a piano arrangement (BRM 19004) and a six-part choral version at BRM 28721.
For my last favorite, I’ve heard Sleigh Ride every Christmas that I can remember. And this year, it is especially appealing when I consider Leroy Anderson’s motivation for its composition in the middle of a very nasty heat wave in July, 1948 in Woodbury, Connecticut. I can imagine a summer chore like mowing the lawn, and it might be easier to do if you concentrate on hearing sleigh bells. And, besides having a great opening melody, the orchestration paints a fun picture and keeps the percussion section on their toes. First, we have the sleigh bells themselves, the horses’ harness jingling. Then we hear their hooves with the clip-clop of the woodblock. And to get to our destination in a hurry, we hear the whip cracking over their heads. But the horses have the last laugh, literally. In the closing measures, the trumpet is assigned the honor of neighing the final note as the revelers arrive. We can loan you Sleigh Ride at BRM 08306 transcribed as a piano solo or as a lead sheet in PMLS #30, or if you want to sing it, we have it available for voice at BRM 07934.
Happy Holidays, have a merry old time, and give yourself a wonderful present. Listen to some classic holiday music!