Yeah, it’s that time of year. The turkey has barely been cleared away, and the malls will be filled with Black Friday shoppers. The song EVERYONE will hear at some point is “Carol of the Bells.” In fact, most shoppers and just about any media consumer will have already heard it, since Christmas music is shoved down our throats starting at Halloween.
The song is on our repertoire for the upcoming Christmas Concert with the Greenville Chorale. So, obviously, we’ve been working on it since starting rehearsals in mid-November. Most of us have sung this so many times that we have it memorized.
Carol of the Bells is one of those earworms that people either love or hate. I tend to come down on the former side, but it can get old. The song was based on an ancient Ukrainian folk chant that was supposed to have mystical powers. It was typically sung for as a new year carol, which in the Ukraine was considered to be April. The chant consists of four notes repeated over and over with varying text.
In 1916 Mykola Leontovych took the four-note motif and arranged it into the song with which we are now familiar. Leontovych’s Ukrainian text kept the new year theme, and was entitled “Shchedryk,” which means “bountiful evening.” In 1936 Peter Wilhousky wrote the English “Carol of the Bells” text, and a hypnotic marketing tool was born.
Simplicity lends itself to variation, and of Carol of the Bells there have certainly been lots. There’s the straightforward Wilhousky arrangement, which we’re doing on our concert, but there are other interesting vocal and instrumental arrangements. Here’s the original “Shchedryk” version by Bell Canto Vilnius:
It’s a bit slower than the version with which we’re familiar, but the same harmonizations are there. For an over-the-top version, we can always count on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, complete with bells and orchestra (all the bells and whistles, so to speak.)
And, of course, there’s Trans-Siberian Orchestra…
… and Manheim Steamroller:
There are some innovative newcomers. Here’s the PianoGuys, although this is on cello and not piano. I like this version:
Another vocal version that I enjoy is be the vocal group Pentatonix. I enjoy listening to them, but find them a bit freaky to watch, especially the guy singing the very high parts.
Solo instrumental versions shouldn’t be neglected. For piano, here’s George Winston…
…and David Benoit, who only uses the melody at the beginning and end of a free-form jazz improvisation:
Here we have a hammered dulcimer version that’s pretty good:
Of course, there are also lots of parodies. I don’t think I should leave out Homer Simpson singing “Ding, Fries are Done.” This video version features the audio version only, I’m sure to avoid copyright problems:
I’ve included these and many more in a Google Doc that you can access here.
How many of these do you think you’ll here while out shopping this weekend? To keep track I’ve created this handy dandy Carol of the Bells Bingo card. You should be able to print out a copy from the link. You’ll find that it’s not quite complete. I welcome suggestions for filling out the rest of the squares.
And if this infinite variety weren’t enough…
Tommy Thompson, a fellow singer and Facebook friend, posted the title “Carol of the Bells” to one of his check-ins, to which I responded with “George of the Jungle” and “Nannook of the North”. That prompted a whole string of other responses as follows:
- Lord of the Rings
- Call of the Wild
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles
- Ring of the Nibelung
- Anne of the Thousand Days
- Marie of the Incarnation
- King of the Cowboys (Roy Rogers)
- Night of the Living Dead
- Day of the Doctor (for the Whovians.)
- House of the Rising Sun
- Dock of the Bay
- Phantom of the Opera
- Battle of the Bulge
And finally, I leave you with my own variation. This was recorded in GargeBand using an M-Audio keyboard attached to my iPhone with an iRig MIDI adapter. I found a sound sample online on my Mac and used another iRig adapter to transfer the sample to my iPhone.
So, for your listening pleasure is the “Carol of the Smells.” (Did I mention that the sound sample was a fart?)
Hark, How it smells!
From in me swells
A strong bouquet
From the cafe,
Where I drank beer
Enough, I fear,
To take a hold
And smell like mold.
I must say, though, that my version is much cleaner than the video version I found online. I won’t post a link here.
Happy Black Friday Shopping, Everyone!