Tag Archive | bells

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.

Jingle all the way

Bells have long been used to herald news of significance – signaling warnings, proclaiming glad tidings and calling people to gather for worship services or public meetings. Tracing their use back to earlier times, pagan cultures often used them as part of their celebrations to ward off evil spirits. As time passed, bells have found their way into celebrations for Christmas and songs of the season.

One traditional favorite is Jingle Bells, written by Lord Pierpont in 1850, copyrighted in 1857. Though originally inspired by the Salem sleigh races,* Pierpont later introduced it as a Thanksgiving song to a Georgia congregation where he served as organist. The bright melody and cheerful lyrics brought immediate popularity, and it carried over and became a standard Christmas tune.

As a quick aside, if you ever wondered what “bells on bobtail ring” were all about, they are referencing the sleigh bells that adorned the one horse whose tail had been “bobbed” or shortened to avoid becoming tangled in the reigns. People traveling on foot would not hear a sleigh traveling across the snow, especially at night, and the bells would announce the sleigh’s approach.

Although Christmas is traditionally connected with winter – in our northern climates that equates to snow – and also a heightened sense of fun and laughing, you don’t see much else in Jingle Bells that brings real Christmas meaning to the song. You could think of it as just entertaining, and that is ok. But in another sense, it offers a metaphor of hope, and perhaps that’s why it has gained seasonal popularity.

Most people enjoy watching the snow fall and relish the pristine beauty that covers the mundane and drab winter countryside. Though today thoughts move more to the interruption of life and the work involved to eradicate it. The open sleigh in our song offers an opportunity to travel across its surface and enjoy, rather than curse, the gift.  Perhaps it is good to be reminded that the snow covers even the ugliest of surfaces and transforms them into things of beauty, and isn’t that why Jesus came at Christmas?

*Check out the full lyrics using the link and you’ll understand the connection to sleigh races.