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Friday, May 20, 2016

Three Christmas Song Greats that Americans and Canadians Have Come to Love

by Ihor Cap
How did the Americans and Canadians come to know and love three great Christmas Carols?  
“Carol of The Bells”
“Carol of the Bells“ was composed by a Ukrainian choral conductor and teacher Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych in 1914.  The original song was called “Shchedryk” (The Generous One). It was based on a pagan four-note New Year folk chant believed to have magical properties. A swallow would fly into the house and foretell of wealth to come in the spring. After 988, the year Christianity came to Ukraine, the song became associated with the Feast of Epiphany which is known as “Shchedry Vechir” (Bountiful Evening). As such, Ukrainians sing “shchedrivky” or songs to welcome the New Year which, for them, arrives January 13 by the Julian calendar. 
“Shchedryk” made its first public appearance in 1916 in the city of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.  In 1919, the Olexander Koshetz (Koshets’) Choir then toured France and Germany with this song. It was performed in England in 1920. On October 5, 1921, the Ukrainian National Chorus performed this song in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.  Passaic, New Jersey Educator and Choral Director Peter J. Wilhousky wrote the English lyrics to this song in 1936. They have little in common with the Ukrainian lyrics. The song quickly became popular as a Christmas song in the United States and later in Canada.  Today, the Ukrainian “Shchedryk” is sung or played worldwide as “Carol of the Bells”, “The Ukrainian Bell Carol,” or “Ring, Christmas Bells.” 
“Silent Night”
Another Christmas song great in North America is “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht). The lyrics to this song were originally written in German by an Austrian priest, Father Josef Mohr in 1816. The Austrian headmaster, Franz Xaver Gruber, created the accompanying melody to this Christmas carol.  The carol made its first public appearance in the Church of St. Nicholas in 1818, Obendorf, Austria.  John Freeman Young translated “Stille Nacht” into English in 1819.  Folk singers from the Ziller Valley region toured Europe with this song but local performances would not credit the writers’ of this song. It was published in a songbook in the Salzburg area in 1866. The English version was published in 1871 in an American hymnal. St. Nicholas Church was demolished because of flood damage in the early 1900s. A new chapel, the "Stille-Nacht-Gedächtniskapelle" (Silent Night Memorial Chapel), and nearby museum were built in its place but in a safer location further up the river. Many tourists frequent this museum, mostly in the December.
The way “Silent Night” is sung today differs from the original 6/8 time upbeat guitar playing dance tune it once was. Today, we all know it as the soft and slow, lullaby-like version. The carol was first performed with the accompaniment of a guitar because the church organ broke down, according to Austria's Silent Night Society. However, there is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that Father Mohr simply wanted a new Christmas tune to play on his guitar. It was not until 1995 that Father Mohr and Franz Gruber were actually credited for creating this song for it is in that year that the lost manuscript was recovered. Until that time “Silent Night” was always thought to be a traditional Austrian folk song.  But experts authenticated the rediscovered manuscript at circa 1820. It clearly illustrates that Father Mohr and Franz Gruber were its authors’. Many myths abound about the lost manuscript. The most popular one includes the one about Karl Mauracher,  the organ repair technician who found the lost document in 1825 and gifted it to the Rainer and Strasser families who brought the song with them to Zillertal of Tyrol in 1819, to Russia around 1822, to Leipzig in 1832 and finally to New York’s Trinity Church in 1839. Christian missionaries further propagated this Christmas carol around the globe.
More than 300 recording artists have since popularized this song through radio, television, and music recordings throughout North America. Some of the more famous recording artists were Andrea Bocelli, Bing Crosby, Boyz II Men, Mahalia Jackson, Mannheim Steamroller, and the Irish group Enya. But many other versions of the carol exist, including several choral recordings.  Today “Silent Night” is sung in hundreds of languages and dialects and sometimes without the accompaniment of musical instruments.
“Jingle Bells”
The author of the “Jingle Bells” song is officially, James Lord Pierpont. However, the “little gem” Church History of UUSavannah says that Rev John Pierpont, Jr, composed "Jingle Bells" when he was called to minister to the Unitarian congregation in Savannah, Georgia in 1857.  J. Pierpont copyrighted the “Jingle Bell’s” song as “One Horse Open Sleigh” that very same year and even credited his brother James who was the church organist at the time for composing the song. He did this because he was to busy ministering his ever diminishing congregation that was in financial trouble then.  Two years later there was no money left to pay for a minister, practically no congregation to speak of and Rev Pierpont left the ministry for the insurance business with his brother-in-law.  In 1859, the song was re-copyrighted as “Jingle Bells or One horse open Sleigh” with the Oliver Ditson & Company publishing house. This time it included the title the public gave it as well. 
If there was ever any question about the “true” author of the “Jingle Bells” song, there are even more mysteries to solve that follow. American Ethnomusicologist Bill Edwards, say’s  that the song may have been written as early as 1850. Maybe at Simpson’s Tavern in 1850 over in Medford, Massachusetts, and not Savannah, Georgia or even earlier according to Jeff Westover in his article “The Battle Over Jingle Bells.”  To complicate matters, local historians contend that Pierpont resided in California that year and hardly ever a snowflake appears in balmy Savannah, Georgia.  In any case, the song was copyrighted in the state of Georgia, and Pierpont made Savannah his home after 1853. This issue will not rest any time soon since historians have recently unearthed evidence that Pierpont also played the same tune in Medford before a church audience in the 1840s.
As you can see, the authorship of the song is not the only debatable item in this Christmas story.  One might say that “Jingle Bells” has more to do with ones equestrian abilities than Christmas per se and the current words to the song are different from the original ones, to an extent. In short, the lyrics of the Jingle Bells song  “…talk about embarrassment (falling on one's back and being laughed at by a man in a sleigh, for example), liberation, and picking up girls”, says freelance musician and reporter Kim Ruehl. True as that statement is, you might also say the song is essentially about the joy of riding “In a one horse open sleigh.” A winter song perhaps, performed at Christmas time. In the end, none of these issues made this catchy song less popular with the public and adults do tend to sing different verses of the song than the ones selected for children. 
“Jingle Bells” was first recorded on a phonographic cylinder in 1898 by the Edison Male Quartette followed by the Hayden Quartet in 1902. Benny Goodman and his orchestra played it in 1935. It made the hit charts in the 1940s and 1950s with such recording artists as Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and Les Paul in 1951. By 1955, dogs from Copenhagen, Denmark barked to the tune of “Jingle Bells” and this innovative gig helped them sell a million albums. Many other famous performing artists helped popularize the much-loved “Jingle Bells” song. Their voices were heard and loved by audiences around the world.  Some of the most famous of these earliest beloved artists were Perry Como and  Frank Sinatra.  The song continued on the up and up with American jazz musicians and singers such as Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck,  Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Adams Coles (as Nat King Cole). The song took on different musical styles with the Southern Gospel singers “The Hoppers”, pop artists Boney M and recording and performing artist Ann Hampton Callaway. More recently, American adult contemporary pop/R&B singer Kimberley Locke brought the song back to the top of the charts in 2006.
Well-known Canadian Grammy Award jazz musicians and singers Oscar Emmanuel Peterson and Diana Krall provided their own unique musical and vocal arrangements to the “Jingle Bells” song. Today, you can hear the song in many languages of the world. The words may vary from the original meaning of the song, but the tune is definitely “Jingle Bells” whether it is sung as Feliz Navidad (Jingle Bells) in Spanish, Vive le vent (Long Live the Wind) in French, Chriskindl and Christmastime in German or Dzen’ Dzelen’ (“Ding-a-Ling”) in Ukrainian. Jingle Bells was even performed by American astronauts in space in 1965!
Author Information:
Ihor Cap, Ph.D. is a Web Author and Marketing and Promotions Manager for EzReklama.

Carol of the Bells aka The Ukrainian Carol  

Carol of the Bells - Ukrainian choral work "Shchedryk"  performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra

Колядка "Щедрик" Schedryk - "Ukrainian Bell Carol"   (in Ukrainian)

 Mahalia Jackson -- Silent Night Holy Night

Diana Krall-Jingle Bells

“Shchedryk”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
“Carol of the Bells”,  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
Svoboda, The Ukrainian Weekly, “Український ,Щедрик’ та інші відомі колядки Америки”, [The Ukrainian “Shchedryk” and other well known American carols]. Vol 116, No. 49, Dec. 4, 2009, p. 20. (in Ukrainian)
“Silent Night”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
“Joseph Mohr”, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,
“Franz Gruber”,, The World’s Leading Q & A site,
“Silent Night - How We Got One Of Our Greatest Christmas Carols”,
“Carol History”,
“History of UUSavannah”,
“Jingle Bells or The One horse open Sleigh”,
"Jingle Bells" - James Lord Pierpont: History of an American Folk Song, By Kim Ruehl
The Battle Over Jingle Bells by Jeff Westover over at the site.
First published Dec 31, 2009 in

Ihor Cap is a web author and Dad.