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)
"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 North Easton and Attleboro, 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 Early 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 Bethlehem -- Edward French, Sharon, Massachusetts, 1799
5. Joy to the World -- Lowell Mason, Medfield and Boston, 1848
II. Choir Rehearsal, North Easton, MA (December, 1979)
6. Leaping and Dancing - Folk carol, arranged by Roger Hall
7. Rise Up, Shepherds and Follow (Nego spiritual) --
arranged Roger Hall
8. Natal Night (Shaker poem) -- music by Roger Hall, 1979
9. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Bartholomew Brown,
arranged by Roger Hall
III. Christmas Concert, Stoughton, MA (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 Service, Attleboro, MA (recorded live
in 1978 and 1979)
13. O Come, O Come Emmanuel -- arranged by Roger Hall
14. Prepare The Royal Highway (Swedish and English) --
arranged by Roger Hall
15. He Whom Shepherds Once Came Praising - arranged by Roger Hall
V. Christmas Eve Radio Program, Brockton, MA (1992)
16.Jingle Bells -- James Pierpont/ Regina music box
17. CONVERSATIONS (radio program) - guest: Roger Hall
18. Jingle Bells -- Bing Crosby on old 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/
Roger Hall, 1988
22. A Christmas Carol -- Charles Ives, 1894
23. CONVERSATIONS (sign-off)
24. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day -- words: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow/
music: Johnny Marks
"NEW BETHLEHEM" - Christmas Music in New England
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Christmas Music in New England CD
"Auld Lang Syne" - American Holiday Songs and Carols
Here are a few other recommended CDs with
New England Christmas music:
An American Christmas
(The Boston Camerata)
An American Christmas
(The Tudor Choir)
Christmas Music in America
(Christmas carols, hymns, spirituals 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)
Joy of Angels:
Shaker Music for Christmas and the New Year
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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