Thursday, December 07, 2006

Songs of good cheer

I was sitting at lunch today when I gradually became aware of the restaurant music playing. I usually tune out Christmas music, but the Carol of the Bells always seems to grab me. It's just such a pretty melody, and usually instrumental.

I think the Carol of the Bells is my favorite Christmas song, and has been since grade school. The first time I remember it being performed was at a choral concert my sister was performing in. They had a bell choir, and the music struck me as being so incredibly pretty. I know at some point in choir, I sang the song myself, and some of the lyrics have always stuck with me. I especially remember singing it a cappella and in the round.
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. ...

Gaily they ring, while people sing, songs of good cheer, Christmas is here. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas. Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.
As I was sitting at lunch, I then started thinking about what Christmas songs do have particular meaning for me, or evoke a particular memory, and my mind immediately jumped to first grade. In my elementary school, across the hall, there was a dedicated class for deaf students from throughout the district. Every once in a while, one of the students or teachers would come into our class and teach us some sign language. At Christmas time, they taught us how to sign Silent Night. And while learning the signs, we really had to pay attention to what the song was saying. Unfortunately, I've long since forgotten the signs, but I certainly have never forgotten the lyrics to the first verse.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
For some reason, even though I was in a youth church choir for many years, I don't have any specific memories about singing Christmas carols with that choir. Although, there was the Easter that we recorded a performance at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village to be piped throughout the hospital. Interesting, how no specific songs stick in my mind from those years.

But in fourth or fifth grade, I remember a Christmas performance where I had the special duty of having to decorate a Christmas tree with another student during one particular song. Perhaps that was O Tannenbaum. Not sure. I just remember that we had to practice several times to get the coordination and speed down to get the garland on quickly enough. That was also about the time that schools became very aware of students who didn't celebrate Christmas, so a few Hanukkah songs were thrown in. I still remember:
Hanukkah, Hanukkah, festival of lights. Candles glow, in a row, seven days eight nights. Hanukkah, Hanukkah, make your dreidel spin. 'Round and 'round, 'round and 'round, everyone join in.
In Girl Scouts, I know we went caroling several times. I think we even might have gone door-to-door once or twice. I know we visited some of the area nursing and retirement homes, but I can't remember if that was through Scouting or the youth choir or the middle school swing choir -- perhaps all of them at one time or another.

My most vivid memory of middle school swing choir is the year we performed on television. We were on the local kids show "Kidding Around," and got to take a bus into the city to record at NBC studios. We sang "Rock and Roll Christmas", and had a choreographed routine using milk crates. I can't seem to find any mention of this song using Google, and my memory of the lyrics is kind of spotty, but here's a sample:
I heard that rock and roll finally reached the North Pole, and Santa got hooked on the sound. When he heard the beat, he just jumped to his feet, no you couldn't keep old Santa down. ...

And on Christmas Eve, would you believe, when I peeked out to see, there were Santa and his reindeer rockin 'round the Christmas tree. It was a rock'n'roll Christmas. The world was filled with sweet harmony. And everybody was dancin', and rockin' round the Christmas tree.
When we performed this song, I had a special role to play. When the following lyric came up, I (being the tallest) had to pretend to be a teacher who was holding the kids back, and they eventually broke past my arms:
The teachers at our school broke every rule when they held a Christmas dance in the gym. We got there you see, we were mad as could be, cause they wouldn't let the students in. ...
I can't remember the rest, but we have the performance on videotape. It was the early '80s and few people had VCRs yet, but we borrowed one from a neighbor and taped the show. I haven't played it in years. I hope the tape still works.

Whenever I hear Handel's Messiah, I always think of my sister and going to her high school choral performances. It was a tradition for the choir to sing the Messiah, and choral alumni were invited to come up and participate during the Hallelujah chorus. Her choir actually recorded an album one year, going to a church to perform. I know someone in the family still has a pressing of it. Would be interesting to hear that again.

I'd long given up choir by the time I reached high school, instead concentrating on my violin and orchestra. Nothing Christmasy pops to mind in those memories, except for perhaps playing Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. But truthfully, that's as much a wedding song to me as it is a Christmas song. (In fact, I think I had my wedding attendants enter to this song.)

Finally, back to carols, I'll never be able to hear Angles We Have Heard on High without smiling. Shortly after Dave and I married, we went to a Christmas Eve service with his Mom and brother. The congregation always sings Christmas carols, with the lyrics printed in the program. Well, that year there was a typo. I pointed it out to Dave's brother, and somehow, unspoken, we both decided to sing the typo. "Angels we have heard on hig, sweetly singing o'er the plains." At that point, we both broke down into the worst case of the church giggles and had to excuse ourselves. Now Dave always gives his brother credit for this story -- all I can think is that Steve must have sung the typo louder.

I didn't realize until I sat down to write this, how many memories I have associated with Christmas music, and I'm sure I have more socked away in my brain, waiting to be remembered. Perhaps, that's part of the appeal of Christmas music. The nostalgia, during such a nostalgic time of year.

Anyone else have specific memories associated with specific holiday songs?


  1. I have that song Rock N Roll Christmas and I'm trying to find out who sings it and where I can buy it. I have it on tape but it belongs to a friend and the recording it not so good. Please let me know if you have found out any more.

  2. Anonymous2/16/2013

    Hi Haley,
    Funny thing, for years I thought about this and another song we sung in the elementary school choir's Winter Concert just 4 months before my mother died. This was my favorite song in the set. It was the last one. Toward the end of the song we all turned around and put a pair of sunglasses on and sung, oh yeah....
    I could never find this song anywhere and led myself to believe the choir teacher may have written it. Guess not. Lol!!! Anyway, I still have the recording from that concert in December, 1986. Churchville Elementary Winter Concert!

    1. Hi Brett~
      I'm guessing you are specifically talking about the Rock'N'Roll Christmas song. If so, I did find a link to a Hawaiian band that recorded a version of the song in 2000. You can even hear a sample on the following web page:

      The version I remember in my head is a little more upbeat, but melody and lyrics the same.

      Thanks for posting. It's fun to know that others have fond memories of the song also.



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