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Some Christmas carols and their stories

Justin Whyte, Entertainment Editor

It is that time of year again when the word 'carol' is frequently uttered. Print and electronic media have begun their campaign in reminding everyone that Christmas is around the corner.

The churches have also been busy with rehearsals for their carol festivals and services, which comprise nine Bible readings interspersed with carols. However, in all of this preparation we seldom stop to think of the sources of the tunes we sing with gusto year after year.

Among the favourites is O Little Town Of Bethlehem , attributed to Phillips Brooks (1835-1893). This beautiful hymn was written on Christmas Eve 1865.

Brooks, a famous Episcopal Bishop, was asked by a group of children at a church school to write them a carol for Christmas and out of his recollection of a visit to the Holy Land he penned the song. To him the images of his trip were so vivid that he completed the hymn in one day. The words were set to music by the church organist, Lewis Redner. In fact, the children performed the work the evening of the day of completion.

Silent Night, was written by Joseph Mohr, vicar of the Church of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve, 1818, at Aberndorf, Austria and was set to music by organist Franz Gruber. The story is told that on the night of its first performance the organ broke down and the presentation was done by Mohr and Gruber, with guitar accompaniment.

While Shepherds Watch is a pictorial Christmas hymn written by Nahum Tate in the 17th century. It first appeared in a supplement to the new version of the Psalms in 1700s. It is based on the Nativity story found in Luke 2:8-14. This carol has become a permanent part of the celebration of the Holy Season.

O Holy Night, is a haunting French carol written and composed by Adolphe Adam, in 1803. It is said that on Christmas Eve, 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, French and German soldiers were facing each other in the trenches when a French soldier leaped from his trench and startled the German soldiers with his rendition of O Holy Night.

It has been reported that no shots were fired. Instead a German soldier responded with a rendition of From Heaven Above to Earth, I Come, by Luther.

Then there is James Montgomery's favourite composition Angels From The Realms Of Glory, written in 1816. Montgomery, one of the greatest Moravian hymn writers, wrote the tune with a working title of Regent Square.

Away in a Manger - author unknown. It is so quiet that its called Luther's Cradle Song and is considered as being written in the 16th century. It is thought of as one of the first encouragement for children to "love little Lord Jesus."

Charles Wesley, one of the world's most productive hymn writers wrote Hark the Herald Angels Sing in 1738. The original title was Hark How All the Welkin Rings but was retitled to its present title and strengthened by the powerful music of Mendelssohn. It has become one of the greatest Nativity songs ever composed.

Joy to the World - attributed to Issac Watts (1674-1748). He is considered as the master writer of English hymns. This carol boasts an existence of 250 years. The music was composed by the 'wonder of devine sound', George Frederick Handel (An adaptation from the Messiah).

Carols represent, perhaps, the most varied and enjoyable of all Western musical forms.

They deserve to be explored, and share the heritage of simple people who have expressed their devotions through history.

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