Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christmas in July - Jolly Old St. Nicholas

It’s hard to imagine, especially given the mid-90 degree temperatures we have been experiencing on the east coast, but Christmas is exactly five months away.  The tradition of celebrating Christmas in July goes back at least 100 years.  In the northern hemisphere, it’s a happy reminder of cooler temperatures and the holiday season.  In the southern hemisphere, July is typically the coldest month of the year, making it a nice time to think of snow and Santa Claus.  Christmas in July also has given stores an excuse to offer sales in the middle of summer.  It’s also a good reason for people to give gifts and spread the joy of Christmas throughout the year.

The phrase itself was further engrained in our minds by the 1940 Preston Sturges film “Christmas in July,” which featured Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.  Interestingly, it was released in October of that year, not July.  The film tells the story of a young couple who suddenly become rich after the husband thinks he has won a prize of $25,000 (adjusting for inflation, that is over $400,000 in today’s economy).

I am celebrating Christmas in July this year by resuming work on my Christmas song arrangements for wind, brass, and string instruments.  Today I completed the sheet music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas.  The wind and brass music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of concert B flat, so all band instruments can play it together.  The string version of Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of C.  There are also versions of the carol in seven different keys, so anyone can find an arrangement that matches their range or comfort zone.  Merry Christmas in July!




Thursday, December 15, 2016

The History of Ding Dong! Merrily on High


Ding Dong! Merrily on High is one of the happiest and most spirited Christmas songs, and like many of the traditional carols that are sung today, it was written hundreds of years ago.  The earliest record we have of the song is from 1588, making it at least 428 years old.  However, the piece originally had nothing to do with Christmas -  it was a standard tune used for French dances.  The melody is written (sideways! - see the image below) on page 92 of a book called Orchesographie by Thoinot Arbeau, which was the pen name of Jehan Tabourot (1519-1595).  His choice of pen name was particularly interesting because it is an anagram of his real name (the same letters were placed in a different order).  A facsimile of Orchesographie can be viewed on the Library of Congress website.  


Orchesographie is a very important historical document that provides us with many of the popular melodies of the French Renaissance, and it gives instruction on how to dance to the music.  The book also includes woodcut illustrations of dancers and musicians.  The melody of Ding Dong! Merrily on High has the title Branle de L'Official, and while the book is authored by Arbeau, there is no indication that he wrote the music.  The entire book was translated to English in 1948 by Mary Stewart Evans and is a fascinating glimpse into the world of sixteenth century France.  It is available on Amazon with the title Orchesography: 16th-Century French Dance from Court to Countryside.


The tune circulated through Europe for over 300 years until it was set to a new English text by the Anglican priest George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), thus creating the Christmas carol Ding Dong! Merrily on High.  The song was first published in 1924 in The Cambridge Carol Book.  The sheet music to Ding Dong! Merrily on High is available at ChristmasMusicSongs.com, as are the lyrics to the carol.  It is now ten days until Christmas, and as I write this post, the wind chill temperature is 4 degrees fahrenheit outside.  Performing Ding Dong! Merrily on High is a nice way to warm the day!


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Twelve Days Till Christmas


It’s only twelve days until Christmas!  I’d like to celebrate the countdown to Christmas by featuring some of my favorite carols.  It seems appropriate to present The Twelve Days of Christmas today.  Although some people think that the celebration of twelve days occurs before Christmas, it actually begins on Christmas day and continues through early January.  The sheet music to The Twelve Days of Christmas is now available on ChristmasMusicSongs.com as a free, printable PDF.



The Twelve Days of Christmas carol dates back to the late eighteenth century, and tells the story of how one’s “true love” gave gifts for twelve straight days.  Many gifts!  If you add up the total number of presents given over the course of the twelve days in the song, it adds up to 364!  For over thirty years, PNC Bank has provided a whimsical financial analysis of how much it would cost to purchase each of the gifts.  They call it the Total Christmas Price Index. In 2016, the total cost would amount to $34,363.49, which is a slight increase over last year’s total, due to the lack of availability of Turtle Doves, and “wage increases for the Drummers and Pipers.”  However, if you were to actually purchase all 364 items, it would run you $156,507.88!  The site is very interesting and entertaining, and it even includes a coloring book of the images used for the index.

The tradition of celebrating Twelve Days of Christmas began before the middle ages.  Different parts of the world have observed the holiday in different ways, but basically the celebration begins on December 25 and continues until January 5, also known as Epiphany Eve.  The conclusion of the holiday features a big party called The Twelfth Night.  Each of the twelve days has religious significance or is associated with a saint.  WhyChristmas.com presents an informative history of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and explains the significance of each day.

In anticipation of the holiday, here are two drummers drumming (I didn’t have time to create twelve).  Visit the Two Happy Bears for a countdown to Christmas day.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Welcome to Joyful Santa!

Welcome to Joyful Santa!  My goal is to help people celebrate the Christmas season, and to present information and news about my Christmas websites.
It's December 1, and time to start the Christmas countdown.  As of today, there are only 24 days left until Christmas.  For those who can't wait, here is a precise counter that shows how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Christmas:  http://www.christmasmusicsongs.com/countdown-to-christmas.html
Fluffy and Ivy, the Two Happy Bears, will help Santa calculate exactly how many days until Christmas.  Let the countdown begin!
How many days until Christmas
Fluffy, Ivy, and Santa countdown the days till Christmas