It's Christmas time. Music is such a big part, so I hope you will enjoy knowing something of where and when our Christmas music originated and some of the stories associated with the music. Each song has a story behind it, so we take a look at only a very few of them.
There are many Christmas songs ranging from those that are meant to be fun and humorous to those which are strictly religious. Examples of the humorous are "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," "Nuttin' for Chrsitmas," and Yogi Yorgesson's "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas."
Examples of religious songs include "O Holy Night," Angels From the Realms of Glory," Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and, of course, George Frederick Handel's "The Messiah."
An e-mail tells us what Christmas carols are and where they originated: "Christmas carols are based on Christian lyrics and relate, in the main, to the Nativity. Christmas carols were introduced to church services by St. Francis in the 12th century.
As to the word carols, "carol" is a derivative of the French word caroller, the interpretation of which means dancing around in a circle. Carol and carols eventually came to mean not only to dance but included music and lyrics, hence modern Christmas carols."
"Silent Night" is known as one of the most beloved of all Christmas songs. It had its beginning in 1818 in a tiny Austrian Alps village when the local priest sat writing some appropriate stanzas for the season. The church's pipe organ had quit working with no chance of being repaired for the Christmas service.
Joseph Mohr, the priest, asked Franz Gruber, the organist, to provide a simple tune for the priest's text. This he did, including parts for a tenor, a bass and a guitar. The song spread through the years and reached England where the Rev. John Young put the English words we use today to the melody. It is now known as the most familiar traditional Christmas song.
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" was written as a poem in 1868 by Phillips Brooks and, later the same year, Lewis Redner set it to music. The world has loved this masterpiece ever since. It has become a favorite with church choirs and carolers.
"Joy to the World" found its words in the Old Testament's 98th Psalm. An English hymnist and cleric, Isaac Watts, published a book titled "Psalms of David" in 1719 that contained slightly altered verses from the 98th Psalm.
In 1839, an American composer, Lowell Mason, set them to music. It is interesting that Mason, who idolized Handel, the composer of the Messiah, indicated his tune was from Handel. It was fortunate for Mason that he died before musicologists learned the truth.
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is a quite recent song by Meredith Wilson, who also penned "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" and "The Music Man." Wilson wrote this song in 1851. Perry Como recorded it, and it reached the top 20 on the pop charts.
"The Christmas Song," also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," did not begin as a Christmas song, but as a birthday song. Robert Wells, who wrote the lyrics, was watching his mother preparing stuffing for his birthday turkey dinner and noticed a bag of chestnuts to be used in the stuffing. It reminded him of the New York street vendors and of the chestnut fragrances that accompanied their product during the Christmas season.
Wells called his poem "The Thoughts of Christmas Season." He showed it to his friend, Mel Torme, a well-known supper club entertainer also known as "The Velvet Fog." Torme enthusiatically took the poem, wrote the music for it, and then recorded it. Later, Nat "King" Cole also recorded it, and it became a hit.
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" started as a promotional pamphlet for Montgomery Ward in 1939. Ten years later, composer Johnny Marks turned this little story into a song. He offered it to Bing Crosby, but he turned it down. So Marks then gave the song to Western star Gene Autry, who recorded it. It reached No. 1 on the pop charts and sold more than 8 million copies.
Crosby then changed his mind and recorded it the following year when it sold well enough to reach No. 14 on the charts.
"White Christmas" was first sung by Crosby in the movie "Holiday Inn" in 1942. It was written by Irving Berlin, who had previously written "Easter Parade" and Happy Holiday."
Berlin wanted to write something special for Christmas and was pleased with the result in "White Christmas." He said to a friend, "I think it's my best song I ever wrote. It's the best song anybody ever wrote."
Crosby made a recording of "White Christmas" which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, had sold some 170 million copies in America by the end of 1987. According to the Readers Digest notes on this music, "Based on sales figures for both recordings and sheet music, 'White Christmas' is the most popular song ever written."
"Silver Bells" has an interesting story. It was written in 1950 by composer Jay Livingston and lyricist Ray Evans for the Bob Hope and Maryilyn Maxwell movie, "The Lemon Drop Kid." They decided to place it in the city atmosphere rather than in the country and centered it around "bell." Hope and Maxwell introduced the song. Crosby then recorded it. Livingston said, "When Bing recorded a Christmas song, it was almost un-American not to buy it."
It is hoped that this short sampling of Christmas music, their dates and stories, have pleased you. There are many, many more, and I hope you may enjoy learning of them.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.