Old New England Christmas Carols
by Roger Lee Hall
Director, New England Music Archive [NEMA]
It is not generally known that the first popular American Christmas carols were composed in early New England times.
The composer who was most responsible for the first Christmas music was William Billings (1746-1800), who lived his entire life in Boston and taught singing schools in various places, including Stoughton, Massachusetts.
Billings wrote what are believed to be the first Christmas hymns and carols in America during the 1770s.
These are some of the titles, a few with Billings own texts:
"Bethlehem" ( While shepherds watched their flocks by night)
"Boston" (Methinks I see a heav'nly host of angels on the wing)
"Emanuel" (As shepherds in Jewry were guarding their sheep)
"Judea" (A Virgin unspotted by Prophets foretold)
"Shiloh" (Methinks I see a heav'nly host of angels on the wing)
New England composers of Christmas music include:
Supply Belcher (Farmington, Maine): "Carol"
(While shepherds watched their flocks by night, 1794)
Bartholomew Brown (East Bridgewater, Massachusetts):
"Hark the Herald Angels Sing"
Edward French (Sharon, Massachusetts): "New Bethlehem"
(While shepherds watched their flocks by night, 1799)
Some sources incorrectly credit this carol to his brother, Jacob French.
Daniel Read (Hartford, Connecticut): "Sherburne"
(While shepherds watched their flocks by night, 1785)
"The Prince of Peace" (Canterbury, New Hampshire) --
Shaker Christmas Song by Lucy Williams, 1830s
"Joy to the World" [tune name: ANTIOCH] --
music by Lowell Mason, "Arranged from HANDEL"
"It Came Upon The Midnight Clear" --
words: Edmund H. Sears/
music: Richard S. Willis, 1850
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" -- words: Rev. Phillips Brooks/
music: Lewis Redner, 1868
"Away in a Manger" -- words & music: James R. Murray, 1887
"A Christmas Carol" -- words & music: Charles Ives, 1894
"New Bethlehem" - Christmas Music in New England
This CD contains 24 carols, hymns and songs, composed or arranged by New England composers from the 18th to 20th centuries, including popular carols like "Joy to the World" and "Away in a Manger."
The Christmas carols, hymns and songs are performed by various artists, including church choirs from Attleboro and North Easton, Massachusetts , and singers from the Old Stoughton Musical Society, America's oldest singing society.
Included on the album are carols and hymns composed and
arranged by Roger Hall, who was also a guest on a local radio program on Christmas Eve and highlights from that program are on the CD.
I. Christmas Music From Colonial New England
1. Judea -- William Billings, Boston, Massachusetts, 1778
2. Sherburne -- Daniel Read, New Haven, Connecticut, 1785
3. Carol -- Supply Belcher, Farmington, Maine, 1794
4. New Bethelehm -- Edward French, Sharon, Massachusetts, 1799
5. Joy To The World -- Lowell Mason, Medfield and Boston, Massachusetts, 1848
II. Christmas Choir Music (recorded at a rehearsal, December, 1979)
6. Leaping and Dancing - Folk carol, arranged by Roger Hall
7. Rise Up, Shepherds and Follow (Afro-American spiritual) -- arr. Roger Hall
8. Natal Night (Shaker text) -- music by Roger Hall
9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Bartholomew Brown from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts -- arranged by Roger Hall
III. Christmas Concert (Stoughton, Massachusetts, December, 1982)
10. Away in a Manger (2 versions):
a. William J. Kirkpatrick,1895/
11. A Christmas Carol -- Charles Ives from Danbury, Connecticut, 1894
12. Silent Night -- English translation by John Freeman Young, ca. 1859
IV. Christmas Eve Church Services (recorded live in 1978 and 1979)
13. O Come, O Come Emmanuel -- arranged by Roger Hall (1979)
14. Prepare The Royal Highway (Swedish and English) --
arranged by Roger Hall (1979)
15. He Whom Shepherds Once Came Praising -- arranged by Roger Hall (1978)
V. Christmas Eve Radio Program (December 24, 1992)
16. Jingle Bells -- words & music: James Pierpont/ Regina music box
17. CONVERSATIONS (WBET-AM) - guest: Roger Hall
18. Jingle Bells -- Bing Crosby radio program
19. CONVERSATIONS (continued)
20. Hail To The Joyous Day -- words: Royall Tyler, 1793/ music: Roger Hall,1977
21. A Christmas Song -- words: John Greenleaf Whittier/ music:
Roger Hall, based on a Gregorian Chant tune, 1988
22. A Christmas Carol -- Charles Ives, 1894
23. CONVERSATIONS (concluded)
24. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day -- words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow/
music: Johnny Marks
"New Bethlehem" - Christmas Music in New England
(AMRC No. 11)
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Here are a few other recommended CDs with
New England Christmas music:
Joy of Angels:
Shaker Music for Christmas and the New Year
Christmas Music in America
(Two centuries of Christmas carols, hymns and songs)
Christmas in Early America: 18th Century Carols and Anthems
(The Columbus Consort)
Carols From the Old & New Worlds, Vol. 1
- Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier, director
Carols From the Old & New Worlds, Vol. 2 -
- The Pro Arte Singers, Indiana University Children's Chamber Choir,
Paul Hillier, director
Christmas Caroling Through The Ages -
with The Gregg Smith Singers & Friends
Popular Christmas CDs
A few CDs that include popular New England Christmas carols:
One of the most beautiful popular Christmas albums was recorded in the 1950s by the sublime voice of Harry Belafonte.
To order this soothing and serene CD, click this link:
To Wish You A Merry Christmas
RED, WHITE and BLUE:
Christmas Hit Songs by Gene, Bing, and Elvis
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