I hope things are going well for you as we move into the holidays! The December issue of Pianotes is always fun to put together each year. The trivia this month is about some of the Christmas carols and songs as well as some traditions from other countries. There is also a link to this year's Holiday Wishes List. The photos above are from the family Christmas card when I was about 3 years old. No, I won't tell you what year that was! Enjoy!
“We Three Kings” is a comparatively new carol, dating back to the middle 1800's. It is one of the few carols where both the words and music were written by the same person. Its composer, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., was the son of the second bishop of Vermont. He was a poet, a musicologist, a composer, and the rector of various parishes. In his spare time, he designed stained glass windows.
The words to “Angels From The Realms of Glory” were written by James Montgomery, who published the poem in his own newspaper in Sheffield, England in 1816. Montgomery was jailed several times for championing causes that were unpopular with local authorities. Each time he went to jail, he found that he was more popular and famous. He was also a devout Christian and wrote the words to nearly 400 hymns.
“I'll Be Home for Christmas” was first released in 1943 when millions of servicemen were scattered around the world wishing they could be home for Christmas. Bing Crosby recorded it first.
As it usually is, November was an especially busy month for writing reviews, so there are lots of new ones for you to peruse. I also reviewed five new songbooks, so if you are looking for some new sheet music, you've come to the right place!
If you are looking for Christmas and holiday music, I did a tally yesterday and there are 214 reviews of holiday recordings on the site as well as reviews of 40 holiday songbooks. If you want to find those specifically, go to the MainlyPiano.com
homepage, click on "Explore,"
and then find the tag for what you are looking for - either the full menu of reviews or for specific years.
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. It was traditionally sung in Welsh homes as Christmas decorations were hung.
“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.
The words to “Coventry Carol” go back to 1534, and the melody is at least fifty-seven years older. It was first used in a Christmas pageant in England that included a scene in which the mothers of Jewish children sang this lullaby after hearing the horrifying order of King Herod to kill all of the baby boys.
I did an interview with pianist/composer Lynn Tredeau in November. Lynn released two new albums in a very short time period, and we talked in depth about both albums as well as her life. You can find the interview here.
“The First Noel” is one of the oldest Christmas carols, and its origins are not known. It is either English or French, and was a favorite of the shepherds centuries ago. Legend has it that when the shepherds sang it at Christmas, angels would join in one after another, singing it in its "round" form.
“O Christmas Tree” is known as "O Tannenbaum" in Germany. It celebrates the beauty of the evergreen, which has been a symbol of worship by many cultures for centuries. Modern use of a Christmas tree comes from medieval times when a popular play about Adam and Eve used a fir tree hung with apples to represent the "paradise" tree. It later became a German custom to have a fir tree in the home at Christmas to symbolize the belief that Christ's birth occurred for the purpose of wiping out the original sin. German immigrants to America brought the custom with them, and the Christmas tree in the New World is first mentioned in a diary entry made in 1821.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" comes from an orchestral piece written by Felix Mendelssohn. He wrote it to commemorate the development of the art of printing. Mendelssohn expected words to be written to his melody and asked only that they be happy.
Holiday Wishes List:
The Holiday Wishes List
is something I started with my piano students 38 years ago. As I became acquainted with more composers/musicians, I started adding them to the list as well. I retired from teaching with the pandemic, but the list continues to grow. I sent an email to the subscribers to Pianotes
and also posted on Facebook, and the response has been excellent. Obviously, most of the people who contributed have the same thing on their minds, and it's a very inspiring list. Here's the link.
"All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" was one of the first major-selling Christmas novelty records. The song was written in 1946 and became popular when Spike Jones and his band recorded it complete with the sound of wind whistling through the missing two front teeth.
Irving Berlin called his song, “White Christmas,” a peace song in wartime." It was first sung in the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn" by Bing Crosby, and has become one of the most popular songs of all time.
“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 for a time.
December Birthdays: Happy Birthday to all of the birthday babies this month - and there are quite a few of you!
12/2: Tom Nichols & Michael Whalen
12/3: Jim Hudak
12/6: Louis Anthony deLise
12/7: Ken Townshend
12/8: Loren Gold & Rada Neal
12/9: Lynette Sawatsky & Brian Golden
12/11: Samer Fanek
12/12: Steve Yip & Stan Berger
12/13: Holly Jones
12/16: Eric Tingstad & Richard Dillon
12/17: Andy Iorio
12/19: Gary Schmidt & Elizabeth Naccarato
12/22: Kevin Kern
12/26: Vin Downes
12/31: Lisa Linsky
Phillips Brooks, who wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” became Bishop of Massachusetts shortly before his death in 1893. When he was 30, he took a trip to the Holy Land, riding from Jerusalem to Bethlehem shortly before Christmas. That trip is supposed to have been the inspiration for the lyrics to the carol.
There are at least 40 different melodies that are used with the words to “Away in a Manger.”
“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.
December Music Holidays and Celebrations: Here are a few more things to celebrate this month!
8th: Flute & Piccolo Day
9th: Techno Day
12th: Choral Day
13th: National Violin Day
20th: Go Caroling Day
29th: International Cello Day
On the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the Giant Lantern Festival is celebrated in The Philippines.
An advent tradition in Sweden is the 13-meter Yule goat in Gavle’s Castle Square, but its presence has invited the new tradition of trying to burn down the goat.
In Austria, St. Nick has an evil sidekick, Krampus, who frightens naughty children.
That should do it for the last issue of Pianotes for 2023. I'll see you back here in about a month for the start of a New Year! In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, have a wonderful Winter Solstice, and may we all have a healthy and Happy New Year! Love to all of you!
In Iceland, during the 13 days before Christmas, the Yule Lads leave treats in the shoes of “good” children and rotting potatoes in the shoes of "bad" ones.
In Caracas, Venezuela, churchgoers use in-line skates to go to mass on Christmas Day.
In Colombia, Little Candles Day marks the start of the winter holiday season and everybody competes to create the best displays.
To the best of my knowledge, the "trivia" items are true, but I can't guarantee it.
One of my favorite Christmas photos ever! Smokey in the tree - 12/22.