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#48: The First Noel

It’s difficult to know just how old “The First Noel” is. The song (at least the words) is thought to be of Cornish origin, and may date back as early as the 13th or 14th century. During this time, miracle plays and mystery plays — dramatic productions of Catholic saints and biblical stories — were popular in Europe. “The First Noel” may have its origins in some form as early as this time, though it may also be a variation on “The First O Well,” a very old church gallery hymn. It was first published with words in 1823, as part of William Sandys’ Carols Ancient and Modern.

The arrangement here also incorporates a variation of “Prayer from the North,” a tin whistle melody by Solnamoo Song.

Lyrics

The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

They looked up and saw a star
Shining in the East beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
And so it continued both day and night.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

And by the light of that same star
Three Wise men came from country far
To seek for a King was their intent
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

This star drew nigh to the northwest
O’er Bethlehem it took its rest
And there it did both Pause and stay
Right o’er the place where Jesus lay.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then entered in those Wise men three
Full reverently upon their knee
And offered there in His presence
Their gold and myrrh and frankincense.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made Heaven and earth of nought
And with his blood mankind has bought.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

#46: Carol of the Bells

Legend says that at the stroke of midnight on the evening when Jesus was born every bell on the earth began ringing joyously together. It is said there was never a sound quite like it. The song “Carol of the Bells” probably comes from that legend.

Traditionally, the song starts out soft and gets progressively louder as each voice adds tintinnabulation and then the song softly fades away. The tune for the song was written by Mykola Dmytrovich and was based on an old Ukrainian melody. The words that are used today were written by American composer Peter J. Wihousky, who grew up singing in Russian-American choirs. It was first performed in the Ukraine on the night of January 13, 1916, which on the Julian calendar is considered New Year’s Eve. In the United States the song was first performed on October 5, 1921 at Carnegie Hall.

Lyrics

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

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev’rywhere
Filling the air

Oh how they pound,
Raising the sound,
O’er hill and dale,
Telling their tale,
Gaily they ring
While people sing
Songs of good cheer
Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev’ry home

Ding, dong, ding, dong.

#44: Joseph’s Lullaby

“Joseph’s Lullaby” is a song by the Christian rock band MercyMe that gives us a glimpse of how Joseph may have viewed the birth of his new son. The touching lyrics foreshadow the eventual ministry and atonement of the Savior, but gently reminds us that Joseph was also simply a father who loved his newborn child. The song was written in 2005, and reached #33 in the U.S. Billboard charts, and #1 in the Christian music charts.

My deepest thanks to Coulter Neale for providing the guitar and vocals for this arrangement.

Lyrics

Go to sleep, my Son.
This manger for your bed.
You have a long road before You.
Rest Your little head.

Can You feel the weight of Your glory?
Do You understand the price?
Does the Father guard Your heart for now
So You can sleep tonight?

Go to sleep, my Son.
Go and chase Your dreams.
This world can wait for one more moment.
Go and sleep in peace.

I believe the glory of Heaven
Is lying in my arms tonight.
Lord, I ask that He for just this moment
Simply be my child.

Go to sleep, my Son.
Baby, close Your eyes.
Soon enough You’ll save the day.
But for now, dear Child of mine,
Oh my Jesus, sleep tight.

#41: I Wonder As I Wander

John Jacob Niles was traveling through a raucous revivalist meeting in North Carolina on July 16, 1933. A group was about to begin street preaching, when a girl stepped out of the entourage. She was unkempt and ragged, but once she started singing she had a beautiful voice. She smiled as she sang a single line of a song: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky…” with the reasons for Christ’s death as the central question and message of the poignant, yet simple tune.

Niles asked the girl to sing the song fragment seven more times over again, paying her a quarter each time she did, while he jotted it down in his notebook. From this, he composed “I Wonder As I Wander,” with four phrases and three stanzas. The song was completed on October 4, 1933, and premiered at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina.

Lyrics

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God’s Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

#39: In the Bleak Midwinter

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is based on a poem by Christina Rossetti, written around 1872. The evocative lyrics paint a picture of the Nativity in a snowy Northern landscape. The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times, the most famous settings being composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Edwin Darke in the early 20th century. The carol is beloved by millions, and in 2008, Darke’s version of the song was voted the “Best Christmas Carol” by the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts.

Lyrics

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him,
Give my heart.

#37: Walking in the Air

“Walking in the Air” is the only vocalization of the wordless 1982 animated film The Snowman, which is based on Raymond Briggs’ children’s book of the same name.

The film is about the adventures of a young boy, who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve. The snowman comes to life, and the two fly to the North Pole. “Walking in the Air” is the theme for their journey as they soar through the clouds. They attend a party of snowmen, meet Father Christmas and his reindeer, and the boy is given a scarf with a snowman pattern. In the film the song was performed by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty. A subsequent single release was sung by Aled Jones, and reached number five in the UK pop charts in 1985.

Lyrics

We’re walking in the air,
We’re floating in the moonlit sky,
The people far below are sleeping as we fly.

We’re holding very tight.
I’m riding in the midnight blue.
I’m finding I can fly so high above with you.

Far across the world,
The villages go by like dreams,
The rivers and the hills,
The forest and the streams.

Children gaze open mouthed,
Taken by surprise.
Nobody down below believes their eyes.

We’re surfing in the air.
We’re swimming in the frozen sky.
We’re drifting over icy mountains floating by.

Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep,
Arousing of a mighty monster from its sleep.

We’re walking in the air,
We’re dancing in the midnight sky.
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly.

#35: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is an old carol sung by the waits, the municipal watchmen of old England. The waits were licensed to perform the duty of singing seasonal songs to the gentry, or the upper-class citizens. The author of the carol is unknown. The song was first published in 1827 as an “ancient version, sung in the streets of London.” However, in the earliest known publication of the carol on a circa 1760 broadsheet, it is described as a “new Christmas carol,” suggesting its origin to actually be mid-18th century, though some other accounts place the lyrics as far back as the 15th century. Charles Dickens used it in A Christmas Carol; when Scrooge hears the song, he threatens to hit the singer with a ruler if he doesn’t cease immediately.

Lyrics

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

#32: O Holy Night

Adolphe Charles Adam was an accomplished composer for opera, theatre, and ballet, and a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. At the age of 27, in 1830, he had completed nearly 30 theatre productions. “Cantique de Noël,” translated to English as “O Holy Night” is one of his most famous works, done in collaboration with Adam’s friend Cappeau de Roquemaure, who supplied the lyrics to Adam’s melody.

Strangely enough, the song was originally frowned upon by the 19th-century church authorities. One French bishop even denounced it as “unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and total absence of the spirit of religion.” Fortunately, people didn’t take this criticism to heart, and this carol went on to become a beloved Christmas classic. The English words to the carol were written by John Sullivan Dwight in 1855.

Lyrics

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

#28: Little Drummer Boy

“Little Drummer Boy,” originally titled “Carol of the Drum,” is based on a traditional Czech carol. In 1957, Henry Onorati arranged the song for a recording by the Jack Halloran Singers, but it was not released in time for Christmas. The next year, Harry Simeone was looking for material to create a Christmas album, and Onorati introduced him to the “Carol of the Drum.” Simeone re-arranged the song, retitled it “The Little Drummer Boy,” and recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. The song is the story of a young shepherd boy who joins the procession of the wise men and other humble admirers to the Savior’s manger. When the boy reaches the gathering, others present gifts, but all the boy can afford is his gift of making music on his drum. Over 200 versions of this song in at least seven languages have been written.

In September 1977, an additional track was recorded for Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas television special, performed by Crosby and David Bowie. According to co-writer Ian Fraser, Bowie balked at singing “Little Drummer Boy.” “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Fraser recalls Bowie telling him. Fraser, along with songwriter Larry Grossman and the special’s scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, then wrote the “Peace on Earth” lyrics as a counterpoint to “Little Drummer Boy.” Crosby performed “Little Drummer Boy,” while Bowie sang the new tune “Peace on Earth,” which they reportedly performed after less than an hour of rehearsal. Crosby never lived to see his performance on television, as he died a month after recording. The show aired in November 1977 on CBS.

Lyrics

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Additional Lyrics

Peace on Earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we’ll see.
See the day of glory.
See the day, when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again

Peace on Earth, can it be?
Every child must be made aware.
Every child must be made to care.
Care enough for his fellow man,
To give all the love that he can

I pray my wish will come true,
For my child and your child, too.
He’ll see the day of glory,
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again.

Peace on Earth, can it be?
Can it be?

#26: Away in a Manger

Away in a Manger

“Away in a Manger” (Piano + Flute)
Download Sheet Music

In 1887, James R. Murray published this verse and called it “Luther’s Cradle Hymn, composed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.” Incidentally, Martin Luther, the famous father of the Reformation, was not the author, nor was Murray. The origin is a children’s Sunday school book published a few years before Murray’s attribution. The verses have been set to a number of tunes, but this arrangement is set to Murray’s own tune, called “Mueller.”

Lyrics

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes;
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.

#24: Where Are You Christmas?

Where Are You Christmas?This song, originally called “Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You,” was written by James Horner for the 2000 movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was first performed by Taylor Momsen, who played Cindy Lou Who in the movie. A different version was later co-written by James Horner, Will Jennings and Mariah Carey, where it was given its more popularly-known title, “Where Are You Christmas?”

Lyrics

Where are you, Christmas?
Why can’t I find you?
Why have you gone away?
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me?
Why can’t I hear music play?

My world is changing;
I’m rearranging.
Does that mean Christmas changes, too?

Where are you, Christmas?
Do you remember
The one you used to know?
I’m not the same one,
See what the time’s done.
Is that why you have let me go?

Christmas is here,
Everywhere, oh
Christmas is here,
If you care, oh

If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time.

I feel you Christmas,
I know I’ve found you.
You never fade away.
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us,
Fills each and every heart with love.

Where are you, Christmas?
Fill your heart with love.

#17: What Child Is This?

What Child Is This?“What Child Is This?” was written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865. At the age of 29, William was struck with a sudden near-fatal illness and confined to bedrest for several months, during which he went into a deep depression. Yet out of his near-death experience, Dix wrote many hymns, including “What Child Is This?” It was later set to the traditional English tune “Greensleeves.”

Lyrics

What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh
Come peasant king to own Him
The King of kings, salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

#16: Mary’s Lullaby

There are many songs by the name “Mary’s Lullaby,” but this particular one comes from the Children’s Primary songbook, used by the LDS Church. It  is based on an old German folk tune, and is a simple sweet lullaby to the Christ child. The words were written by Jan Underwood Pinborough in 1989, with the music arranged by Darwin Wolford.

Lyrics

Lullaby, lullaby, my little one.
Lullaby, my child so dear.
Thy precious life has just begun;
Thy mother holds thee near.
While Joseph watches through the night,
A star reflects thy radiant light.

Thy gentle head shall wear a crown,
For thy Father is the King.
Thy tender hands, so tiny now,
Have blessings great to bring.
Let all creation join my song,
For peace and love this night are born.

Lullaby, lullaby, my little one.
Lullaby, my child so dear.

Descant
While Joseph watches through the night,
A star reflects thy light.

Let all creation join my song,
For peace and love are born.

#3: Mary, Did You Know?

MaryThe lyrics to “Mary, Did You Know?” were written by Mark Lowry in 1984, and the music was written by Buddy Greene six years later.

The song has been recorded by many diverse artists, but Mark Lowry recorded his own version of the song on three of his albums. The first recording was on his album “Remotely Controlled” and the second recording was on his album “Mark Lowry on Broadway.” Before writing the song, Lowry had many questions about what Mary was thinking and his thoughts are explained right before he sings the song on “Mark Lowry on Broadway.” His most recent album containing the song is his Christmas album titled “Mary, Did You Know?” released in 2004.

Lyrics

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

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Feel free to email me at christmas@justinreeve.com.