Greetings and Welcome to the Last Issue of Pianotes for 2017!
November was a busy month, but December will be even busier with a student piano recital on the 9th and John Paris’ Christmas concert on the 10th plus all of the fun and preparation for the holidays themselves. There is a lot of Christmas trivia and musical factoids this month, and I hope at least a few of them will surprise you! The Annual Wishes List is in this issue as well, so settle down with something warm to sip on and enjoy!
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” has been performed and recorded by a wider array of musical artists than any other piece in the history of Western music. Since it charted on popular radio playlists only once, this is pretty amazing!
The idea to celebrate the Nativity on December 25th was first suggested early in the 4th century by church fathers who wanted to compete with a rival religion that threatened Christianity. On December 25th, the pagan Romans, who were still in the majority, celebrated "Birthday of the Invisible Sun God,” Mithras. The celebration of Christmas in the Western world started in the year 337.
According to the "Guinness Book of World Records," the Bing Crosby version of “White Christmas” is the best-selling single of all time with estimated sales in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. Crosby took less than 20 minutes to record the song.
If you are looking for some new Christmas music, there are reviews of four new Christmas albums and one older one. Those are all here
. The complete list of Holiday albums that have been reviewed on MainlyPiano is here
. Altogether, seventeen new reviews were posted in November. You can find them all here
. There are also reviews of four great new songbooks here
and even a new cookbook! I’m pretty sure we’re going to break the record for the number of reviews for the year again this year! We’ll tell you our favorite albums for the year in the January issue!
“Carol of the Bells” was named to honor a story that claimed that the moment Christ was born, every bell in the world chimed.
The custom of embracing under the mistletoe goes back to 200 BC in Britain. The Druids celebrated the start of winter by gathering mistletoe and burning it as a sacrifice to their gods. Sprigs were also hung in their homes to ensure a year's good fortune and happiness in the family. Guests to a house embraced under the mistletoe. If enemies happened to meet under a tree that bore mistletoe, they were required to lay down their arms and forget their differences for a day.
The first Christmas stamps were issued in Austria in 1937. The stamp featured a rose, a popular Christmas symbol in that country. Brazil followed two years later with the first religious Christmas stamp, which featured a nativity scene.
We have two new interviews this month. Michael Debbage interviewed guitarist Robert Linton
, and I interviewed Joseph Akins
. Both interviews are really interesting!
The first person to put electric lights on a Christmas tree was the vice-president of Thomas Edison’s electric light company in 1882. He wired his tree with three colors of blinking lights and also wired a stand to make the tree rotate.
Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria, brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to England from Germany. A picture of the Royal Family gathered around their decorated tree appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1848. Almost at once, nearly every English family had a Christmas tree.
Wassail is a drink, the contents of which vary. Today, it is a drink of ale or spiced wine with apples and sugar. The recipe once included mulled ale, beaten eggs, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, sugar, and spices. The name comes from an Anglo-Saxon phrase that means “be well.”
Student Piano Recital: I will be having my first student recital in a couple of years on December 9th. I had mostly adult students for quite awhile and most of them didn’t want to play in recitals. I have six kids right now, one of which will be teleported to my living room from San Jose, CA with the magic of FaceTime! I’m really excited that my two most-advanced students will be playing duets with me of "Gemini" by David Hicken and "Clockwork" by David Nevue and Neil Patton! The other pieces will be a mix of Christmas music and non-holiday pieces that the students chose. As a special treat, John Paris will be here to play for everyone as well! Lucky students!
Traditionally, the Yule log is a large log, preferably oak or fruitwood, that will burn slowly. It must burn or smolder for the Twelve Days of Christmas, leaving a piece large enough to light the next year’s fire.
Many scholars believe that Jesus was born in 4 BC because King Herod was in power at Christ’s birth and died in 2 BC.
Rollo and Reginald were the names considered for the most-famous reindeer until Rudolph was decided upon. In 1939, the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago wanted something different for its Santa to give customers. Robert May, an advertising copywriter for the store, suggested an illustrated poem printed in a booklet that families would want to save and reread each holiday season. May wrote the poem, and Denver Gillen illustrated it. That Christmas, 2.4 million copies of the booklet were passed out in Montgomery Ward stores across the country. In 1947, Johnny Marks, a friend of May's, put the poem to music. He thought he had Perry Como lined up to record the song, but he wanted to change one of the lines. No one else would record it until 1949 when Gene Autry agreed after initially turning it down as too childish for his image. Since then, more than 300 different recordings have been made. Sociologists say that "Rudolph" was the only new addition to the folklore of Santa Claus in the 20th century.
Last House Concert of 2017:
The day after the recital (12/10), jazz pianist/composer John Paris will perform his Christmas concert here! John's concerts are always a lot of fun! Here is the info
about the concert.
We'll start the 2018 House Concert Season on March 12th with Robin Spielberg!!!
Saint Nicholas was the son of a well-to-do Christian family who lived in a province of Asia Minor in the third century and became archbishop of the seaport town of Myra. He inherited his family’s fortune and went to great pains to help people without letting them know he was the benefactor, slipping gifts into the homes of worthy people at night.
Santa must visit about 842 million houses on Christmas Eve! He has to travel at 4,796,250 miles per hour to do this!
Candles are an important part of Christmas. In pagan times, the burning of candles and building bonfires helped to drive away the forces of cold and darkness. In the Christian community, candles have always been symbolic of Jesus as the Light of the World.
Annual Holiday Wishes List:
One of my favorite events of the holiday season is compiling my Annual Holiday Wishes List. This began several decades ago as a feature with my students in my Pianotes newsletter (it used to be on paper - remember that???). Over the years, I started adding composers that I knew and the list just kept growing. Now it is mostly composers and musicians, but most of my students got in there this time, too!
This is what was asked: “As usual, the question is ‘What are your two biggest holiday wishes?’ I specifically ask for wishes because that opens it up to anything and everything. Wishes don’t have to be wrapped or fit under a tree. They can be ANYTHING. I ask for two because it just makes it more interesting. I make them ‘Holiday Wishes’ so that everyone will feel they can join in whether or not they celebrate Christmas.”
If you haven’t already, you are welcome to email your wishes to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them to the list. I will keep adding them as they come in and will plan to keep the list available through mid-January. Enjoy!!! Here’s the link
In Great Britain, Father Christmas takes the place of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas, although the two look almost identical. Children write letters to him, but these are not mailed. They are thrown into the fireplace, and if they go up the chimney, the wish will be granted.
Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” was the signal to Americans to evacuate Saigon in 1975. As the Viet Cong army surrounded the city, embassy officials had quietly spread the word to head for the helicopters at a radio announcement that the temperature in Saigon was “105 degrees and rising,” followed by the song.
“White Christmas” is the second-most-recorded song in history. “Silent Night” is the first.
"The Boar’s Head Carol" is thought to be the oldest Christmas carol. It was part of a collection that was printed in England in 1521. This may have also been the first printed music in England.
The origin of “Deck the Halls” is uncertain, but the melody goes back to at least the 1700's, because Mozart used it as a duet for violin and piano.
“O Holy Night” was written during the 1800's by Adolph Adam, a composer of at least fifty works for the theater. One French bishop claimed that the song had a total lack of musical taste and a complete absence of the spirit of religion.
December Birthdays: Some of the musical birthdays this month include:
12/2 Tom Nichols
12/11 Samer Fanek
12/16 Eric Tingstad and Richard Dillon
12/19 Gary Schmidt
12/22 Kevin Kern
12/26 Vin Downes
Happy Birthday, y’all!
The words to “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” were written by Rev. Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church. Charles Wesley wrote more than 6,000 hymns. For the first hundred years after the poem was published, it was sung to various tunes. In 1840, Felix Mendelssohn wrote Festgesang #7 in honor of the anniversary of the invention of Gutenberg's printing press. The second section of the piece seemed appropriate to sing, and Mendelssohn said that the subject should be a "national and merry subject," and that sacred words would never do. In 1857, ten years after Mendelssohn's death, an English church musician discovered that Charles Wesely's words fit the piece perfectly. The carol as we know it today was finally completed 120 years after the words were first written.
“Silent Night” has one of the most interesting stories of all of the Christmas carols. Franz Gruber was the church organist in a small town in Austria. On Christmas Eve 1818, the assistant pastor, Joseph Mohr, made the unhappy discovery that the organ wasn't working. Father Mohr felt that something special should be done to make up for the loss of the organ on such a special occasion, so he sat down and wrote the lyrics to "Silent Night." He then asked Gruber to write the music for guitar and choir. Gruber was able to compose the melody and write out the parts in time for a rehearsal before Mass at midnight. The world's most popular Christmas carol was actually composed in St. Nicholas' Church. The beautiful hymn was an instant success, and one of the men in the church wrote the music down and passed it on to a travelling singing group. No one knew who wrote the hymn until 30 years later, when Gruber produced the original manuscript as proof that he had written the piece. Pastor Mohr had had a drinking problem, and died penniless in 1848. His parishioners had to take a special collection to have him buried. Between 1924 and 1936, the Silent Night Chapel was built at the site of St. Nicholas' Church. The chapel seats 22 people who can listen to the original setting of "Silent Night" through headsets while looking at the wooden nativity scene that stands there. Oddly enough, Mohr's skull was placed in the nativity scene.
“Jingle Bells” was composed in 1857 by J. Pierpont for a Sunday School celebration in Boston. It was originally called "One Horse Open Sleigh." The second verse is usually omitted, but here it is:
A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride,
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side;
The horse was lean and lank,
Misfortune seem'd his lot,
He got into a drifted bank,
And then we got upsot!
Not very Christmassy!
Wishing all of you a wonderful December and the Happiest of Holidays (let's celebrate ALL OF THEM)! I'll meet you back here in about a month to kick off 2018!!! Love to all!
The ringing of bells at Christmastime is a holdover from pagan mid-winter celebrations. It was believed that when the earth was cold and the sun was fading, evil spirits were very powerful. One of the ways to drive them off was to make a lot of noise. Since making noise can be a lot of fun, these ceremonies brought with them much goodwill. Bells were a useful part of the ritual as you can play a bell and shout or sing at the same time. In modern times, bells ring around the world on Christmas Eve to welcome the spirit of Christmas with a joyful noise.