Browsing Tag

Christmas music


Caroling, Caroling – The History of Caroling

December 4, 2012

How did it all start, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  It all began about a few thousand years ago when pagan songs were sung to celebrate the Winter Solstice, around December 22, while dancing around stone circles.  A carol, also called a “noel,” actually refers to a dance or song of praise and joy, and used to be written for all four of the seasons;  however, the Christmas season has been the only one where the tradition survives.

A new tradition was adopted by Saint Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he began doing his Nativity Plays in Italy.  Songs or “canticles” were sung which would tell the storyline of the play.  These choruses were often sung in Latin, but more typically they were sung in the native language of the audience so that they could join in the singing.  These new carols spread to Spain, Germany, France and other parts of Europe.  One of the early carols, “I Saw Three Ships,” was typically sung by minstrels in various home settings and where the words were changed according to the local setting in which it was sung.

In England, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in 1647.  The carols survived, however, as people continued to sing them, but in secret!  Carols remained sparsley sung until the Victorian times, when Davis Gilbert and William Sandys began to gather together old Christmas music from the English villages.

Many orchestras and choirs at this time were being organized in the cities, and people wanted Christmas songs to sing too, so carols once again became popular.  To meet the popular demand, many new carols, such as “Good King Wenceslas,” were written during the Victorian period.  New carol services then became popular along with singing carols out in public on the streets — “Here We Come A-Wassailing”!

The traditional carols we sing have a rich history.  For example, the music and words to “Adeste Fideles,” a.k.a. “O Come All Ye Faithful,” originated in the mid 18th century — with the words going back possibly as far as the 13th century!  Carols such as “The First Noel'” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “I Saw Three Ships” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” were in William B. Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern in 1833.  Composers like Arthur Sullivan helped to revitalize the Christmas carol, and it was during this time that my favorite, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” and “Good King Wenceslas” became popular.

Our heritage includes the oldest traditional tunes, such as another one of my favorites, “The Holly and the Ivy,” dating back to the Middle Ages, and our more modern Christmas carols, such as the carols written by Alfred Burt (1920-1954).  Just the same, all carols are always well received, cherished, and performed regularly in both sacred as well as secular settings.  Click here to see a complete collection of the Alfred Burt carols. For more Alfred Burt titles, click here.

Some Interesting Facts:

  • Did you know that in some countries, if Christmas carols are played before December, or after Christmas Day, it is considered to be extremely bad luck?
  • Did you know that carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns which gives them their uniquely characteristic sound?
  • Tunes such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” were written in the U.S.?
  • One of the most popular Christmas carols among all age groups and around the world, “Jingle Bells,” copyrighted under the name “One Horse Open Sleigh,” was not written as a Christmas tune initially?  It was actually written by James Lord Pierpoint in 1850 as a Thanksgiving song!
  • “Silent Night” is so popular that it has been translated into 140 or so languages around the world?  In fact, the song was sung simultaneously in French, English and German by troops during the Christmas truce of 1914, as it was one carol that soldiers on both sides of the front line knew!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of the staff here at J.W. Pepper!

Directors' Toolbox

Happy Holidays, Manic Musicians

December 4, 2012

Tips for Holiday Concert Season Survival

It’s that time of year again… the time when people love the sound of joyous holiday music to put them in the mood to celebrate with friends and family.  Whether the songs are nostalgic, fun, reflective, or worshipful, no one can deny that music is a big part of what makes the holidays so magical.

The folks who make music this time of year, whether in church, school, or the community, know that the holidays bring with them much behind-the-scenes craziness.  In order to help frazzled musicians develop some strategies to hang onto their sanity during all this busyness, here are a few tips:


If you’re a director, you’re used to having many balls in the air at the same time, but you don’t really have to juggle every ball thrown into the mix.  Need someone to shepherd young singers to and from the risers?  Make sure several parents have signed up for that job.  Will there be Christmas trees flanking the stage that need lights?  There is a dad out there waiting to take that on.  Need a program?  Get the information to a tech-savvy volunteer and see how wonderfully it comes out.

Rehearse early and build in extra rehearsal time

Everybody loves to hear, “You know what?  We don’t really need that rehearsal on Wednesday.  Let’s take that day off.”  Certainly more than they like to hear, “Wow, this isn’t even close to ready.  I need to call a couple extra rehearsals.”  Whenever possible, over-schedule your rehearsal time at the beginning of the process.  Better to prepare your ensemble for many rehearsals and then pleasantly surprise them with a reprieve than to suddenly have to scrape for enough rehearsal to present a polished performance.

An ounce of prevention…

Nothing strikes fear into an ensemble like a soloist who’s coming down with bronchitis the week before the performance.  Even though you might feel as though you don’t have time to baby your health, failing to do so can result in more time lost than if you’d made sure to get a full night’s sleep now and then.  It’s not really optional.

Maintain focus

For many, the end of the year is a time of spiritual refection, and keeping this deeper purpose at the center of what we do as musicians can be a big help in managing the frenzy.  In the words of David DiMarino, J.W. Pepper’s vice president of strategic business operations and church musician:  “I seek to find a handful of times throughout the season where I can sit down next to the fireplace with my favorite carols playing in the background and contemplate ‘the reason for the season.’  Taking a few unhurried moments throughout the Christmas season keeps me grounded and focused on why I do all that I do in my crazy life as a church musician.”

With just a little extra attention to managing the inevitable insanity that crops up when musicians are in demand, the music of the season will come out sounding fabulous. And when musicians can jingle those bells without becoming (too) jangled, everybody has a happier holiday!


Our Musical Plans for the Holidays

December 19, 2011

What have J.W. Pepper employees been doing when not talking to our customers, ordering stock and filling orders?  Rehearsing and performing holiday music, of course!  Here’s a sampling of what some of us are up to this season:

As the director of music at Paoli Presbyterian Church, I am performing Joel Raney’s A Thrill of Hope with the 60-voice Festival Choir and a 30-piece full orchestra, as well as services with the choir, bell choir, and brass ensemble.  We will be presenting The Case of the Reluctant Innkeeper for our children’s service.  I am also singing a cappella carols with The Brandywine Singers.
Amy McLoughlin, Church Choral Editor, Corporate Headquarters

My church, the First United Methodist Church of Noblesville, Indiana, does a big concert the Sunday before Christmas and on Christmas Eve with our 90-voice choir, orchestra, handbells, harp, and gospel quartet.  I’ll be playing handbells and singing with the choir, including a solo part in one anthem.  Russ will also be singing with the choir.
Betsy Bullis, Marketing and Russ Bullis, V.P./Regional Marketing Manager, Pepper Indiana

My community theater group is singing at a community tree lighting, and I’m conducting a community orchestra concert.  At First Presbyterian Church of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, I have music happening with a handbell choir, a children’s choir, and an adult choir, as well as playing all of the organ music for services this month.
Ken Brown, Inventory Management, Corporate Headquarters

I sing with my church choir and we will be leading worship the Sunday before Christmas with Tom Fettke’s Majesty of Heaven. We will also sing at two area malls, using some of the selections from Majesty plus some other lighthearted selections.  I’ll also be singing at a nursing home with a local ladies’ chorus, the Marion County Melody Makers.
Debbie Gallagher, Marketing, Pepper Indiana

I will be singing with the VocalEssence Chorus in the Welcome Christmas concert series and with the St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in our Lessons and Carols services.  I’m also rehearsing the St. Mark’s Small Singers (ages 4-7) for their solo performance of Silent Night at our Christmas Eve service, as well as planning, rehearsing and performing with my mother and brother for the Christmas service at my family’s church, and teaching traditional carols to my piano and voice students
Rebecca Poppke, Marketing, Pepper Minnesota

I played the French horn at Carnegie Hall for Tim Janis:  The American Christmas Carol with a tribute to Darlene Love (2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee).  I’m also playing at a New Year’s Eve concert with the New Holland Band.  My wife Jodi is playing the flute in both concerts — it’s a family affair!
Mickey Jianniney, Marketing, Corporate Headquarters

I direct the Indy Adult Show Choir, which is having a Christmas show.  I also sing with my church choir, and we will be providing music for our Christmas Day service.
Heather Pechin, Marketing, Pepper Indiana

I’ll be singing in a winter choral gala with The East Bay Oratorio Singers at California State University, East Bay (my alma mater) as well as singing a “Glorious Christmas” concert with The New Choir.
David Song, Marketing, Pepper Northern California

As organist at Grove United Methodist Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania, I’m involved with a Hanging of the Greens service. The next day, we do our cantata, There is a Rose, at three worship services. We also have four Christmas Eve Services and one service on Christmas Day.
Bob Johns, Inventory Management, Corporate Headquarters

My group is the Note-Able Singers located in Bloomington, Minnesota.  We are an all-women show choir with 16 members.  This year for Christmas we are singing 17 Christmas songs of the season, taking you through themes of snow, Santa, bells, and carols.
Chrystal Marty, Marketing, Pepper Minnesota

My son and I will be playing a piano/organ duet for the Christmas Eve service at Faith Reformed Church in Levittown, Pennsylvania.  My son and daughter will be singing with the choir for Sing Noel, Noel!, which I’m playing and conducting.
Jen Tolnay, Social Media Supervisor, Corporate Headquarters

I’m Principal Euphonium and Associate Conductor with the Piedmont Wind Symphony based here in Winston-Salem.  In our holiday concert, the opening portion is the wind symphony alone and then the remainder of the program will be the wind symphony backing up Paul Anka in one of his first concerts of his holiday tour since the release of his new Christmas CD last month.
Jeff Whitsett, V.P./Regional Marketing Manager, Pepper North Carolina

We all play in the percussion section of the Warminster Symphony Orchestra.  Our December concert features music by Beethoven and Berlioz, as well as holiday selections.
Amy Stahl, Product Evaluation, Corporate Headquarters; Mike Tatman, Marketing; and George Class, Marketing, Pepper Pennsylvania

I participated as a flutist in the Bismarck Mandan Symphony Orchestra Holiday.
Linda Schmidt, V.P./Regional Marketing Manager, Pepper North Dakota

I am singing in the Bel Canto Lyric Opera of Philadelphia’s Christmas concert at Notre Dame de la Mer in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.  We’ll be performing holiday selections with a full orchestra.
Cecelia Chaisson, Customer Service, Corporate Headquarters

I am the music director at my church, Zion Hill Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Georgia, and will be directing our Christmas cantata, On Christmas Day, which is filled with beautiful carols from around the world.  I will also be doing our Christmas Day carol service.  We will put our piano in the middle of the sanctuary and have folks sit in a circle around it and sing carols together.  It is a very casual service, modeled after the “Homecoming” videos that are shown on television all of the time.
Doug McComas, Marketing, Pepper Georgia

Sue and I were involved in our church’s live nativity drive-through, as angels singing carols in the choir.  We had 560 cars drive through!  We are also involved in our church’s Christmas production of The First Noel by Randy Vader & Jay Rouse.  Sue sings in the choir, and I am the drumset player for this Christmas production at Church of the Open Door, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.
George Class, Marketing, Pepper Pennsylvania & Sue Class, Customer Service, Corporate Headquarters

All of us at J.W. Pepper wish all of you a very happy and musical holiday season!