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Improvisations

#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

#34: God Bless Us, Everyone

Alan Menken, the acclaimed composer behind many of Disney’s films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Enchanted and most recently Tangled, wrote this song, “God Bless Us, Everyone” for his 1994 musical based on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Lyrics were done by Lynn Ahrens, and the book by Mike Ockrent. It debuted at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater. In 2004, it was adapted into a made-for-TV musical starring Kelsey Grammar as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Lyrics

Let the stars in the sky
Remind us of man’s compassion.
Let us love till we die and
God bless us everyone.

In your heart there’s a light
As bright as a star in heaven.
Let it shine through the night and
God bless us everyone.

Till each child is fed,
Till all men are free,
Till the world becomes a family.

Star by star in the sky and
Kindness by human kindness.
Let me love till I die and
God bless us everyone.

#33: Candlelight Carol

The music and lyrics to “Candlelight Carol” were written by the English choral composer and conductor John Rutter in 1984, and was first recorded by Rutter’s own group, the Cambridge Singers on their 1987 album Christmas Night. The song has since been recorded by many artists, including Neil Diamond, Joseph McManners, Aled Jones, and several important choirs including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It has also become a fairly popular carol for choirs at Christmas concerts in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries. The carol focuses on describing the Nativity of Jesus, focusing on the love of Mary for her son Jesus.

Lyrics

How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a mother,
Or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?

Candlelight, angel light,
Firelight and starglow,
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ Child is born.

Shepherds and wisemen will kneel and adore him,
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Savior,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.

Candlelight, angel light,
Firelight and starglow,
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ Child is born.

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger:
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay.
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation:
A child with his mother that first Christmas Day.

Candlelight, angel light,
Firelight and starglow,
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ Child is born.

#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!

#31: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Johnny Marks created an undeniable hit with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” when Gene Autry debuted it in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1949. The star of one of the best-selling and most-recorded Christmas songs of all time, Rudolph has found its way into the hearts and delight of children and adults all over the world, and inspired several television specials, numerous toys, clothing, and other merchandise bearing the famous reindeer and his glowing red nose.

Lyrics

You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer, and Vixen,
Comet, and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Play in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas eve
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Then all the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
You’ll go down in history!

#30: Pachelbel’s Canon

Pachelbel’s Canon,” also known as “Canon in D Major” is by Johann Pachelbel, a German composer from the Baroque era. Like most other works by Pachelbel and other pre-1700 composers, the Canon remained forgotten for centuries and was rediscovered only in the 20th century. Several decades after it was first published in 1919 by Gustav Beckmann, who included the score in his article on Pachelbel’s chamber music, the piece became extremely popular. The Canon was first recorded in 1940 by Arthur Fiedler. Today it is frequently played at weddings and included on classical music compilations, and while not originally a Christmas song, is quite popular around the holiday season.

#29: Frosty the Snowman

Frosty the SnowmanA young boy just out of high school, Gene Autry worked in a railway telegraph office in a Midwest Oklahoma town. Occasionally he’d pluck away at his guitar and sing during slow days. One night, a stranger appeared, listened while Autry performed, and said, “Young feller, you’re wasting your time here.” It was Will Rogers.

The rest is history. Gene Autry took Rogers’ advice and began singing professionally. He became well-known for his Christmas songs. When song writers Walter “Jack” Nelson and Steve Rollins saw what success Gene Autry was having in 1949, after his recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” they decided to write another for him. And thus, “Frosty the Snowman” was written, and first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass Country Boys in 1950. The song, which is a story about a snowman that magically comes to life and enjoys some adventures with children, was an instant hit. It has seen numerous recordings after Autry, as well as adaptations into TV shows, and has worked its way into the standard musical repertoire of Christmas favorites.

Lyrics

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul,
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal.
Frosty the snowman is a fairy tale, they say,
He was made of snow but the children
Know how he came to life one day.
There must have been some magic in that
Old silk hat they found.
For when they placed it on his head
He began to dance around.
O, Frosty the snowman
Was alive as he could be,
And the children say he could laugh
And play just the same as you and me.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

Frosty the snowman knew
The sun was hot that day,
So he said, “Let’s run and
We’ll have some fun
Now before I melt away.”
Down to the village,
With a broomstick in his hand,
Running here and there all
Around the square saying,
Catch me if you can.
He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop.
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler “Stop!”
For Frosty the snow man
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye saying,
“Don’t you cry,
I’ll be back again some day.”
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Look at Frosty go.
Thumpety thump thump,
Thumpety thump thump,
Over the hills of snow.

#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?

#27: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Everyone knows what happens if you pout or cry around Christmastime: Santa Claus passes you by, that’s what. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” was written by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1934. Coots had been writing material for Eddie Cantor, a comedian with a radio show. Coots shared this song with Cantor, who nearly turned it down. Cantor’s wife, Ida, convinced him to air the song, and it was an instant smash hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day, and more than 400,000 copies sold by Christmas. The song is a traditional standard at Christmas time, and has been covered by numerous recording artists. In 1970 Rankin-Bass produced an hour-long animated television special based on the song, with narrator Fred Astaire telling the original story of Santa Claus.

Lyrics

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Oh! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

#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.

#25: Silent Night

Silent NightOn December 24, 1818, the carol “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht” was heard for the first time in a village church in Oberndorf, Austria. The congregation at that Midnight Mass in St. Nicholas Church listened as the voices of the assistant pastor, Fr. Joseph Mohr, and the choir director, Franz Xaver Gruber, rang through the church to the accompaniment of Fr. Mohr’s guitar. On each of the six verses, the choir repeated the last two lines in four-part harmony.

On that Christmas Eve, a song was born that would wing its way into the hearts of people throughout the world. Now translated into hundreds of languages, it is sung by untold millions every December from small chapels in the Andes to great cathedrals in Antwerp and Rome.

This song wouldn’t be what it is without Norm Bagley, a local resident of Ogden, Utah. In fact, it’s more his song than it is mine. He originally created this rendition in December 2004. For the 2009 25 Days of Christmas Music project, he made new recordings of the vocals and guitar, and sent it to me to add some piano to it. The purpose of the new rendition was meant to help create a unique sound and feel, while re-emphasizing the important role of our King and Savior. He came into the world as humbly and meekly as they come, yet His 33 short years on this earth were spent serving others, healing the sick, lifting the wounded souls, teaching people how to be better, to love and serve others (John 13:34; 15:13).

Vocals and Guitar: Norm Bagley
Piano: Justin K. Reeve

Lyrics (Revised)

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

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

A tiny baby, the Son of God.
He came into the world,
that He might save us all.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

A tiny baby, the Son of God.
What can I give to Him?
As I look into His eyes,
they tell me to believe in Him,
Go forth and share his light.

A King is born, upon the earth
He’s come to save us, and lead us home.

#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.

#23: Happy Xmas

Happy Xmas“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was recorded by John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band in late October 1971, with the help of producer Phil Spector. It features soaring, heavily echoed vocals, and a sing-along chorus. The children singing in the background were from the Harlem Community Choir and are credited on the song’s single. The song is a protest song about the Vietnam War, based on a campaign in late 1969 by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who rented billboards and posters in eleven cities around the world that read: “WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”. The cities included New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Rome, Athens, Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. At the time the US was deeply entrenched in the unpopular Vietnam War. The line “War is over, if you want it, war is over, now!”, as sung by the background vocals, was taken directly from the billboards.

The record starts with a barely-audible whisper of Christmas greetings to their children: Yoko whispers “Happy Christmas, Kyoko”, then John whispers “Happy Christmas, Julian”. The lyric sheet from the 1982 release The John Lennon Collection erroneously gives this introduction as “Happy Christmas, Yoko. Happy Christmas, John”.

The single was released in the US on 6 December 1971, but never charted on the Billboard Hot 100 charts; the UK release was delayed until the following November due to a publishing dispute. Upon release, it reached #4 in the UK Singles Chart. The song was re-released in the UK on 20 December 1980 shortly after John Lennon’s death on 8 December 1980, peaking at Number 3.

 

This song is my wife’s very favorite Christmas song. It was performed with Coulter Neale, who graciously volunteered to lend his guitar talents to the song.

Lyrics

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong

And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight

War is over,
If you want it.
War is over now.

#22: Were You There?

Were You ThereThe melodically captivating song “Were You There on That Christmas Night?” was written by Natalie Sleeth in 1976. Sleeth was an accomplished composer who received an Academic major in music and a BA in music theory at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She married a Professor of Homiletics, Reverend Ronald E. Sleeth, and was a member of the Highland Park United Methodist Church, and even wrote some hymns which appear today in the United Methodist hymnal.

Lyrics

Were you there? Were you there
On that Christmas night?
When the world was filled with a holy light?
Were you there to behold as the wonder foretold
Came to Earth?

Did you see? Did you see?
How they hailed him king?
With their gifts so rare that they chose to bring?
Did you see how they bowed as they praised him aloud
At his birth?

Did you hear how the choirs of angels sang
At the glory of the sight?
Did you hear how the bells of Heaven rang
All through the night?

Did you know, did you know
It was God’s own son?
The salvation of the world begun?
Did you know it was love that was sent from above
To the Earth?

Did you know it was love that was sent from above
To the Earth?

#21: O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye FaithfulThe text to “O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin (“Adeste Fideles”) and is attributed to John Francis Wade, an 18th-century hymnist. It was first published in a collection known as “Cantus Diversi” in 1751.

The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages many times, though the English “O Come All Ye Faithful” translation by Frederick Oakeley in 1841 is particularly widespread. In 1841 Rev. Frederick Oakley worked on the familiar English translation which replaced the older Latin lyrics.

Lyrics

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God’s holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

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