Ding, dong. Ding, dong.

silverbellsI can’t hold off any longer. One of my personal favorite songs of Christmas is Carol of the Bells. There is something powerful yet simplistic about the music. Although it has lyrics, even without them, this piece is moving in both a literal and figurative sense. It makes you wish you had musical talent and the ability to conduct a full orchestra even though it was originally intended to be sung without accompaniment.

In the early 1900’s, Russian composer Mykola Leontovych created the music for the Carol of the Bells, and Peter Wilhousky added the lyrics based on a traditional Ukrainian folk chant. It’s the repetition of the familiar four-note motif (ostinato motif) that creates the melodic consistency, which serves to imbed it in your mind.  Listen to the instrumental version to see if you don’t agree.

When you listen to the Carol of the Bells sung, it is often difficult to pick up on the words because of the tempo and high soprano voices. Yet the refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” is easily discernible and a message anyone could embrace. In written form, however, you could see a deeper, more meaningful message, one that is also simplistic yet formidable. (See below)

The lyrics capture the essence of bells ringing out an announcement of great import. Like the melody, the words bring impact because of their consistency and inclusivity. The message is for everyone – young and old, those meek and bold – much like the Gospel itself.  The true point of Christmas affirms Jesus is here, God is with us. He came bringing good cheer (good news) bears the same tidings of the angels on that first Christmas. The refrain of “Merry, merry, merry Christmas” mirrors that of the excited shepherds who couldn’t wait to visit the babe in the manger and share with everyone what they saw. The message does not change. It continues and the bells pound it out far and wide so that everyone has opportunity to respond, just as we do today.

Ok, so now that I’ve thought a little more about the song’s lyrics, I like that version, too.

Carol Of The Bells

Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
“Throw cares away.”
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
Filling the air

Oh how they pound,
Raising the sound,
O’er hill and dale,
Telling their tale,
Gaily they ring
While people sing
Songs of good cheer
Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

We Need a Little Christmas

christmas-notesWho would have thought that Jerry Herman’s 1966 score, We Need a Little Christmas, from the Broadway musical Mame would hold such relevance in the Christmas 2012 season?

The flamboyant flapper, Auntie Mame – tasked with rearing her orphaned nephew during the dark days of the Great Depression – wondered if things could get any worse. First performed by Angela Lansbury, Auntie Mame demonstrated a vibrant wit and characteristic style. She determines that the situation required a measure of jollity that could only come from Christmas. Although the calendar revealed that it was a week before Thanksgiving – not Halloween as we see today – she overcame this challenge by moving up the celebration  – decking the halls with holly, putting up the tree in the parlor, hanging the stockings and asking Santa to come early.

The lyrics speak of a spirit of hope, though certainly based on the trappings of the season rather that which could provide a true solution. Nevertheless, if you think about it in a symbolic sense, you can gain a measure of substance beyond that which makes you merely feel good.

Auntie Mame demonstrated her positive perspective that the present circumstances were limited and that things would get better. Although her focus was on a symbol rather than the Person from whom all blessings come, she dispelled the negativity of the tragic circumstances that surrounded her by changing her perspective.

I’m not sure what your situation is today, but if the 6 o’clock news holds any validity, heartache and tragedy abound. The economy is not better. Many people are without meaningful work. Doctor’s offices are crammed. It could get you down if you did not look to the babe in the manger – the true “Little Christmas.”

Click here to listen to a more mature Angela Lansbury perform this song.

Who knew?

Mary kissing baby jesus, dark-hairedDid Mary know?

Looking for something new and fresh for his Christmas choir’s program and considering the talent of one of his church members, Mark Lowry’s pastor asked him to work on this project. Lowry, a Christian comedian, singer and song writer, began the creative process with a series of questions he himself wanted to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus.

As a performer with Bill Gaither’s Vocal Band, Mark traveled via bus with other members of the group from concert to concert. To while away the time, these artists typically wrote music often collaborating with one another. Such was the case when Mark Lowry created the lyrics and Buddy Greene the melody for the now popular song, Mary Did You Know. Although they wrote the piece in 1984, the song did not debut for the public until 1992, and did not hit the charts until 1997 when Wynonna Judd and Kenny Rogers recorded it.

The song’s message causes you to think beyond Santa and reindeer and the pristine nativity pageants we’ve come to equate with Christmas to the real reason Jesus came, to become the Savior of the world. Look at the lyrics for yourself and then click here to sing along. During a hectic Christmas season, the message will brighten your day with truth.

Mary Did You Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

Is there room in the mall?

DSCN1040Ah, the joys of Christmas. You know, making the list, checking it twice then hitting the mall to find that perfect gift for each one on it. This would be no problem if you were the only one shopping, but everyone else is there doing the same thing. And it is often contending with all those other people that robs you of that holiday joy. Sure, your arms are tired and your feet hurt, but they pale in comparison to waiting in long lines and trying to maneuver among throngs of frantic shoppers through narrow aisles and busy walkways and ecalators. What’s even worse is that some of those irritated individuals came with you. No wonder Scrooge avoided the mall. There was no room for him.

Those of the family of David, living at the time of Jesus’ birth, experienced a similar scenario. People from all over, not just their town, converged on Bethlehem to register for Caesar’s tax. They weren’t pleased to add one more thing to their already busy schedules nor did they want to travel so far just to battle the crowds. They needed food and lodging, but as Mary and Joseph soon found out, there was no room for them in the inn. Only a stable offered them shelter from the cold night air, and here Mary gave birth to the Savior and welcomed shepherds who came to see the babe in the manger. The angel’s message and song had prepared their sin-weary hearts. Not only did they worship but they also enthusiastically spread the message to others.

Does it make you wonder what people, absorbed in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, would do if out of the blue an angel (or someone who sounded like one) appeared and just started to sing the true message of Christmas? Would there be room in the mall? Click here to see.

Chorus lights up the block

handelsmessiahrocksCDI’ve a confession to make. My December blogs are life-changing for me – in one sense, the lights have been turned on. I’m really enjoying digging deeper into the history of some of the Christmas favorites, but I’m also getting outside my comfort zone in order to ask other people which Christmas songs they like the best. And as a result, I’ve met some really fantastic people. One, I talked with yesterday, had two favorites, one of which is the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.

Over 270 years ago at one of the lowest points of his life, George Handel composed The Messiah. Sensing God’s hand upon him and lacking consideration for his own needs of food or sleep, he dedicated himself to completing his work in 24 days. Based on the Biblical books of Isaiah and the four Gospels, this three sectioned oratorio  became his Masterpiece. From his harpsichord, Handel directed the first performance of Messiah as part of a series of charitable concerts in Dublin, England. Handel continued to revise his signature work and completed the version most closely resembling the one you would recognize today in 1754.  The most renowned movement is the Hallelujah Chorus, and tradition states that King George II concurred as he stood to acclaim the King of Kings at the culmination of the performance.

Interestingly in a 2008 interview with NPR,  composer Rob Kapilow discusses the impact of the four syllable word hallelujah how the “first note is lengthened and then exploded at the end so that you have  HAAAA-le-lu-jah.” Hallelujah loosely translated means, Praise Jehovah, you people. Kapilow continues to comment and attributes the power of the piece to the “King of Kings” section.

“The thing that’s so amazing about it is that it’s actually based on one of the simplest ideas you could possibly imagine: a single note repeated over and over again; one note per syllable — ‘king – of – kings’ and ‘lord – of – lords.’ ”

Handel does more than repeat the passage. He does so in “higher and higher registers.” As the momentum increases, you might suggest that Handel, through his powerful musical composition desired to illustrate God’s love for mankind. There is no one too low or too high to be exempt or unworthy of his mercy and grace. No one who comes to Jesus in truth will be turned away – another part of the real Christmas story. This truth can light up your life. AND if you click here, you’ll see how one neighbor lit up his whole block while keeping time with the Hallelujah Chorus.

Do you hear what I hear?

Do you hear what I hear 5451378Some songs resonate with us because their lyrics touch a chord in our hearts. Others impact our souls with their melodies. On rare occasions, a song will do both, and that impact often masks the writers’ original inspiration. Such is the case with the Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear?

Who’d have thought the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, would have inspired such a piece? During that period, Cuban Dictator, Fidel Castro feared the US would attempt to invade his small country and partnered with Nikita Khrushchev allowing the Russians to set up nuclear missiles – aimed at the US – on his shores. Although the negotiations eventually averted what historians term the closest the world ever came to nuclear war, tensions were extremely high –  not only here in the US but also around the world. The political situation prompted the husband-wife team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne to combine their talents to write a song expressing both their deepest desires and hope for peace.

Interestingly Noel, who usually wrote the musical score while Gloria wrote the lyrics, reversed their roles. Stirred by mothers pushing their babies in strollers along the sidewalks of New York City, he penned the words describing how the Night Wind brought the message of the baby Jesus’ birth and how it spread to the small lamb, the shepherds and eventually to the king. It went to people everywhere, and here he added his own plea – “Listen … Pray for peace, people everywhere.” Now a traditional favorite, Do You Hear What I Hear reminds us that true peace – goodness and light – only comes from that special Child, sleeping in the night.

You too can listen with greater understanding as you review the words below and hear Mannheim Steamroller’s version of this carol.

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light