12 Days of Christmas - listen and watch an excerpt of one of the songs each day until (and including) Christmas!
Day 12 – Twelve Days of Christmas
This is a traditional Carol with no known author, and the twelve days refer when Christmas stretched on for twelve days in the middle ages. The last day is Epiphany, the Feast of The Three Kings, which celebrates the wise men of the east who came to visit baby Jesus. In this arrangement, each day is played by a different instrument, featuring all the artists on the album – Chris Votek on cello, Sheela Bringi on bansuri flute, Paul Livingstone on sitar, Eddie Young on bass, Deepak Ramapriyan on violin, Dave Cipriani on Indian Slide Guitar, and Leonice Shinneman on tabla, and Dan Blanchard on santoor, mandolin, piano, and harmonium.
Day 11 – Good King Wenceslas
This carol is a song about generosity and caring for the less privileged. It tells a story of a Bohemian king braving harsh winter weather to feed a poor peasant the day after Christmas. During the journey, his assistant is about to give up due to the cold weather, but the king goes ahead so the assistant can walk in his footprints in the snow. This Carol was written in 1853 by John Mason Neale, a prominent English clergyman and author, and was not written about a king, but rather Saint Wenceslaus I, a Duke of Bohemia.
Day 10 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
This is a traditional Carol sung in Olde Merry England by the waits – municipal watchmen who would perform certain duties such as singing seasonal songs. It was published in 1827, and it also appeared in Charles Dickens’ masterpiece “A Christmas Carol”, when Ebenezer Scrooge, the wealthy penny-pincher, hears it in the street and threatens to hit the wait if he does not stop immediately…. Featuring violin by Deepak Ramapriyan, nylon stringed classical guitar by Dave Cipriani, bass by Eddie Young and tabla by Leonice Shinneman.
Day 9 – Joy to the World
Joy to the World is a translation of five verses from Psalm 98 in the Old Testament, by Isaac Watts, the English hymnist and cleric. Published as “Psalms of David” in 1719, it wasn’t until a century later in 1839 that the American composer and educator Lowell Mason set the lyrics to the melody that we all know and love. An interesting note is that Mason included the phrase “From George Frederick Handel”, an apparent nod to his idol, and so for nearly 100 years the music was incorrectly attributed to Handel, the famous Baroque composer. Features Dave Cipriani on Indian Slide Guitar, Leonice Shinneman on tabla, and Eddie Young on bass.
Day 8 – Silent Night
Silent Night was written on Christmas Eve in 1818 in a tiny village called Oberdorf high in the Austrian Alps. Joseph Mohr, the local Catholic priest wrote the lyrics, and Franz Gruber, the church organist wrote the music. Unbeknownst to both Mohr and Gruber, this spread as one of the most beloved Christmas songs, and unknown to the world, that they wrote it. Soaring Bansuri Flute by Sheela Bringi with Chris Votek on cello, Leonice Shinneman on tabla and Eddie Young on bass.
Day 7 – Carol of the Strings (Bells)
This song was possibly based on the legend that on the evening Jesus was born, all the bells on the earth suddenly rung out together of their own accord. The music of “Carol of the Bells” is written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914, and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant “Shchedryk”. The lyrics were written by Peter J. Wilhousky. I called this version “Carol of the Strings” because all of the instruments are stringed instruments – santoor, violin, cello, and tanpura. Features Deepak Ramapriyan on the violin and Chris Votek on cello.
Day 6 – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
The lyrics for this Carol was composed as a “Hymn For Christmas-Day” by Charles Wesley in 1739. The music was originally slow and solemn as per the writer’s request, and the melody known today was written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840, a hundred years after the original lyrics. The arrangement of this version pretty much follows a typical Indian Classical Music composition structure. Features Sheela Bringi on Bansuri (Bamboo) Flute, Chris Votek on cello, Leonice Shinneman on tabla and Eddie Young on bass.
Day 5 – We Three Kings
Both the music and lyrics for this Carol was written by John Henry Hopkins, a deacon and music teacher at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, for a Christmas pageant in 1857. This Carol describes the three kings from the east (orient), who travel afar to bring three gifts to baby Jesus: Gold – the metal of royalty, Frankincense – a aromatic herb known with medicinal qualities, and Myrrh – an anointing oil. The lyrics recounts stories and prophecies in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. With the connection to the kings of the east, it is quite fitting to be included on this album, it features the sitar, the most recognized Indian instrument, masterfully played by Paul Livingstone.
Day 4 – It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
The poem, written in 1949 by Edmund Sears, is one of the few Christmas Carols that does not focus on Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Instead it addressed the issues of war and peace in his time, with news of revolution in Europe and the Mexican-American war, and Sears portrayed the world as dark, full of “sin and strife”, and not hearing the Christmas message. This poem is known to be set to different melodies, but the most widely known melody (and the one on this album) was written by Richard Storrs Willis and called “Carol”. Features Sheela Bringi on Bansuri (Bamboo) Flute, Chris Votek on cello, Leonice Shinneman on tabla and Eddie Young on bass.
Day 2 – Ode to Joy (Beethoven’s 9th Symphony)
Although not a traditional Christmas Carol, “Ode to Joy” is commonly played during joyful occasions including the holidays. I have long wanted to play this in the style of classical Indian music – to play these beautiful melody lines along with melodic and rhythmic improvisations, and to expand upon the original melodies. I am very honored to be joined by Chris Votek, an accomplished western and Indian Classical cellist, he along with Deepak Ramapriyan on the violin bring out the orchestral feeling and hopefully an authentic fusion of Western and North Indian Classical Music. Also featuring Leonice Shinneman on tabla.
Day 1 – We Wish You A Merry Christmas
A traditional tale from the days of Merry Olde England, this was sung on the street regularly during the Holidays, by waits, who were municipal choruses of singers. I thought this was a fitting introduction to the album to bestow a Merry Christmas onto the listener! I also like how it segues into the next song, which you can hear along with the full version of this song on my “The Spirit of Christmas” album.
Features Leonice Shinneman on the tabla, Deepak Ramapriyan on violin, Chris Votek on cello, and Eddie Young on bass, with Dan Blanchard on santoor, harmonium, and keyboards.