Greetings and Welcome to the last issue of "Pianotes" for 2020! The December issue is always my favorite for the year with the Wishes List and lots of trivia about the holidays and the music of the season. I have to admit that I focused on some of the more off-beat trivia this year and hope you’ll enjoy it! I had a really good response to the Wishes List, too, so this should be a fun issue to read! I know the holidays are going to be much different this year for almost everyone world-wide, so let’s all remember to be a little extra kind to each other and we’ll get through this and on to 2021.
When she died in 1980, Katherine Davis left the royalties from her compositions, including “The Little Drummer Boy,” to the music program at Wellesley’s College of Music. The royalties have financed scores of scholarships for students who would not otherwise be able to attend the private college.
Ernest Tubb, known as the Texas Troubadour, had the first hit version of “Blue Christmas” in 1949. It went to #1 on the country charts and became the genre’s first Christmas hit.
Within a week of its 1952 release, the Archdiocese of Boston condemned “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” as immoral. Other groups from both Catholic and Protestant churches followed suit. Missing the point that the man in the lyrics was actually the singer's father dressed up like Santa, people wrote articles and gave speeches deriding the song for casting Santa Claus as a man who fooled around. Hundreds argued that the song was sending a horrible message to America’s innocent children. The record label flew the singer, 8-year-old Jimmy Boyd, then met with the head of the Catholic church in Boston. The boy explained the song to the church leaders, who took a second look at the song and removed its objections to it. In the process, millions of peopled tuned in to hear what all the fuss was about! The song quickly jumped to #1 on the charts and stayed there for two weeks. Three million copies were sold the first year.
“Silver Bells” was originally titled “Tinkle Bell” until the wife of one of the songwriters reminded them of the double-meaning of the title! She was concerned that people would think more of bathrooms than of Christmas, so they changed it to “Silver Bells.”
This month, we have a nice mix of new holiday music, new music from some long-time favorite artists, a couple of new classical albums, and lots more! There is some really great music here, so take some time to browse! I also reviewed new songbooks by David Nevue and Gary Schmidt. You can find links to all of the reviews here
. If you are shopping for recordings and/or sheet music for the holidays, we have separate pages for those linked from the homepage, too.
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!
Nat “King” Cole was chosen by the song’s composers to do the original recording of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting By An Open Fire)” in 1946. However, the color of Cole’s skin limited the way Capitol Records could market him and the recording. Many radio stations, especially in the midwest and south, refused to play Cole’s music once they discovered that he was a black man. However, the song became a hit as thousands of white Americans purchased the record. The success of that one record opened the door for other black artists to put their own spins on holiday classics.
Judy Garland almost didn’t record “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” because she was horrified by some of the lyrics and insisted that they be changed. The offending verse was “Have yourself a Merry Christmas / it may be your last / next year we will be living in the past.” It was during WWII and Garland refused to sing about loved ones who might not return from the war.
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.
Annual Holiday Wishes List:
This year’s Holiday Wishes List
makes it abundantly clear that most of us are hoping for pretty much the same things. I love the humanity that flows through this list and hope it will uplift everyone’s spirits. If you would like to add your wishes to the list, send them to me via firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add wishes through January 1. Enjoy!
“Carol of the Bells” was named to honor a story that claimed that the moment Christ was born, every bell in the world chimed.
“Carol of the Bells” was written in the Ukraine and was first performed at Kiev University in 1916. Its original title was “Shchedryk,” which means “The Generous One,” and choirs performed it almost as a round by having singers start at different times, making the song sound much more complex than it was.
Within twenty-four hours of its radio debut, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” had sold more than 30,000 records and a hundred thousand copies of the sheet music.
“Jingle Bells” was originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh” and was written in 1850 by James Pierpont, the son of a pastor in Massachusetts. It was first performed by a children’s choir at his church’s annual Thanksgiving service in front of a packed house. There were so many requests for another performance of the song that it was performed during the services on Christmas weekend and became one of the most popular Christmas songs ever.
December Birthdays: There is an impressive list of musical December birthdays. Here are some of them:
12/2: Tom Nichols & Michael Whalen
12/3: Jim Hudak
12/6: Louis Anthony deLise
12/7: Ken Townshend
12/8: Loren Gold
12/11: Samer Fanek
12/12: Stan Berger
12/13: Holly Jones
12/16: Eric Tingstad & Richard Dillon
12/17: Andy Iorio
12/19: Gary Schmidt
12/22: Kevin Kern
12/26: Vin Downes
Happy Birthday to all of you!
“Silent Night” was the first holiday recording to become a national hit and is the most-performed Christmas song in history. Both of the composers of the song, Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, died penniless, aware only that their carol was gaining popularity as part of the holiday season in Austria and Germany.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast created our image of Santa as a jolly, bearded fellow dressed in red. He also created the donkey and elephant as the political symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties.
Clement C. Moore was a professor of divinity in New York City. He wrote “The Night Before Christmas” for his children in 1822. It was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel on December 23,1823.
The oldest Christmas carol is thought to be “The Boar’s Head Carol,” which was part of a collection in England in 1521 and which might have been the first printed music in England.
A Few Thoughts On All Things Digital: As more and more of our lives have become digitized, I’ve been wondering what will happen when “the cloud” or other online storage facilities blow up or become obsolete. Obsolescence seems to be happening faster and faster these days, and I would expect that it will only get worse. Our family photos will be gone, our recordings will be gone, our books and sheet music will be gone. It makes me wonder how this will affect history. Mom still has old family photos going back to when photography was a new thing. I have had a chance to see what some of our ancestors looked like and how a family resemblance has passed through the generations. Yes, having all of our photos in one place is convenient, but where will they all go when our devices break down or become obsolete?
What has really triggered my thinking about this is artists making their recordings and sheet music digital only. I totally get that it’s cheaper and a lot more convenient, but how long will it last? I still have every LP I ever bought - not for the value that may or not be there, but because much of that older music is not available in a digital format. People are rediscovering how much better the sound quality of LPs is, too. I remember a proofing job I did several years ago for David Lanz. There was a note in the music that I just couldn’t hear on the CD. It was from an earlier recording, and when I listened to the LP, POOF, there it was! Several artists are making their recordings available as LPs again, and I think it’s a great idea. And what about sheet music? I have file cabinets and bookshelves full of printed music. Eventually, the digital copies will go away or be inaccessible, but those printed books and sheets could last a couple hundred years.
It’s something to think about.
Mistletoe is said to bring happiness, safety, and good fortune unless it touches the ground.
Gene Autry got the idea for “Here Comes Santa Claus” while riding a horse in a holiday parade.
Handel’s “Messiah” was actually composed as a fund-raiser for prisoners in Dublin, Ireland.
Santa must visit about 842 million houses on Christmas Eve! He has to travel at 4,796,250 miles per hour to do this!
Well, I think that’s about all of the news for this month! Wishing everyone good health and an abundance of happiness. I’ll see you on the other side with the first issue of 2021! Here’s some more trivia for your amusement and a few photos of what Florence, OR looks like this time of year.
Some interesting Christmas superstitions:
—It’s bad luck to let your evergreen decorations fall or to throw them away. You should burn them or feed them to your cow.
—If you eat a raw egg before anything else on Christmas morning, you will be able to carry heavy weights.
—If you refuse mincemeat pie at Christmas dinner, you will have bad luck for a year.
—Eating an apple at midnight on Christmas Eve will bring good health for a year.
—In Greece, people burn their old shoes during the Christmas season to prevent misfortune in the coming year.
"Good King Wenceslas" was a real person. He ruled over Bohemia from 928-935 AD, and was loved by his subjects for his goodness and kindness.
To remember the American hostages being held in Iran, the White House Christmas Tree remained dark in 1979. A relative of one of the hostages persuaded President Jimmy Carter to light the tree on Christmas Eve in 1980, allowing one second for each of the 417 hostages - a total of six minutes and 57 seconds.
The story of Mistletoe in the Christmas tradition is from Norse mythology. Balder was the best-loved of all the gods, and one night he had a dream of impending danger. When he told his mother, Frigga, about the dream, she promised to protect him. Frigga went throughout the world asking and receiving a promise from everything, even the rocks and trees, that they would not harm Balder. When this was known, it became a sport to throw deadly objects at Balder since they would always fall short or turn aside because of their promise. Everyone was happy about Balder’s safety except Loki, who was jealous. Loki found out from Frigga that there was one very insignificant plant the she had overlooked when getting the promises - the mistletoe. Taking a sharp sprig of mistletoe, Loki went to Holder, Balder’s blind brother, and asked why he didn’t join in the game of throwing objects harmlessly at Balder. Holder said that he was blind and had nothing to throw. Loki gave him the mistletoe and guided his hand. The dart went straight to Balder’s heart, and he fell dead. Frigga blessed the plant, making it a symbol of love, and promised to bestow a kiss on all who passed beneath it.
The original Christmas trees were lit with candles - obviously a real fire danger. Buckets of water were kept around the room to put out the fires that started much too easily. Substituting electric lights first occurred to Ralph Morris, an employee of New England Telephone in 1895. The actual strings of lights were already being manufactured for use in telephone switchboards and Morris was the first to put them on his Christmas tree. Strings of lights were an immediate commercial success and allowed many firefighters to finish their dinners!
To the best of my knowledge, the music trivia and "factoids" within Pianotes are true, but I can’t guarantee it.