I have an unpopular opinion amongst musicians: I actually really like Christmas carols and songs.
Most musicians get really sick of them, playing the same old boring arrangements over and over again, and the same songs year-in, year-out. One friend even told me that for her playing Christmas carols feels yucky, like something she shouldn’t have to do but needs to for money. Teachers especially have a hard time, kids take time to learn things and often you’ll play Christmas carols for all of Term 4, meaning you can get sick of them really fast.
But I’ve always really enjoyed them! There’s a reason that our most popular carols have stuck around for literally hundreds of years, and that reason is that they’re well written and popular tunes. Many are even on the Roud Folk Index, which means they’re defined as folk songs, and others were traditionally hymns. (A cursory glance at the RFI shows at least 7 well-known carols are on it, including The Twelve Days of Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Auld Lang Syne). And then there’s the newer carols that have become a part of our holiday experience, songs like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Let it Snow and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which have held their popularity for decades and will probably continue to do so.
But possibly the most well known tune of our modern era is White Christmas, a short song composed by Irving Berlin in the early 1940s. The recording made by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all-time, and it’s not just because of his warm, sonorous vocals. Irving Berlin is one of America’s musical giants, writing for 19 different Broadway Musicals (including Annie Get Your Gun), and having written over 1000 different (published) tunes in his lifetime, including Blue Skies, Puttin’ on the Ritz and There’s No Business Like Show Business. Irving Berlin was a machine of music, and one of the most prominent composers of the mid-20th century. It’s almost no wonder we still play his most iconic Christmas tunes – he wrote a melody for every holiday he could think of, so that none would be left out!
I can’t think of a better song to kick off the Holiday Season! (I know it’s early, I’m sorry but also not.) And to imitate Berlin’s prolific nature, I have not one, not two, or even three but four different arrangements for you! They are all for different string ensembles, so feel free to click through and check them out!