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I heard the bells on Christmas Day


R. Mather

SATB and Accompaniment

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Composer's Note

This idea of this work is to be similar to a "Waits Carol" with its lyrical jaunty melody, and the musical extension of the last line of verses 1,2 and 5. While verses 2 and 3 are more subdued, one could imagine "waits" adopting a more serious stance perhaps with slightly exaggerated facial expression before resuming the airy last verse. Of course this work does not need to have "Waits" in mind for performance.


I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
      And wild and sweet
      The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
      “For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
      The Wrong shall fail,
      The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
      A voice, a chime
      A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


I heard the bells - Mather

I heard the bells - Mather

Created 10-Dec-08

Longfellow wrote "Christmas Bells" on Christmas day 1864 in the midst of the American Civil War and the news of his son Charles Appleton Longfellow having suffered wounds as a soldier in battle. He had suffered the great loss of his wife two years prior to an accident with fire. His despair in the following years after was recorded in his journal.

The poem has been set to several tunes. The first tune was set in the 1870s by an English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, to his composition "Waltham". Less commonly, the poem has also been set to the 1845 composition "Mainzer" by Joseph Mainzer. Johnny Marks, set Longfellow’s poem to music in the 1950s. Marks' version has been recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Sarah McLachlan, Pedro the Lion, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, The Carpenters and Bing Crosby . Marks' composition is now generally accepted as the de facto version and is generally what is used for modern recordings of the song, though Calkin's version is still heard as well. In 1990, John Gorka recorded his arrangement entitled "Christmas Bells", which uses stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the poem. In 2008, Mark Hall, lead vocalist of Casting Crowns, recorded his own arrangement, on their Christmas album, Peace On Earth.

Waits or Waites

Waits or Waites were British town pipers. From medieval times up to the beginning of the 19th century, every British town and city of any note had a band of Waites. Their duties varied from time to time and place to place, but included playing their instruments through the town at night, waking the townsfolk on dark winter mornings by playing under their windows, welcoming Royal visitors by playing at the town gates, and leading the Mayor's procession on civic occasions.

Their instruments also varied, but were for the main part loud and penetrating wind instruments such as the shawm, which was so closely associated with them that it was also known as the Wait-pipe. Waits were provided with salaries, liveries and silver chains of office, bearing the town's arms.

As a result of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, Waits were abolished, though their name lingered on as Christmas Waits, who could be any group of singers or musicians who formed a band in order to sing and play carols for money around their town or village at night over the Christmas period. It is these largely amateur musicians who have today become associated with the name 'Waits', rather than the historical civic officers and accomplished musicians who represented the original Waits.

Most European countries had their equivalents of Waits. In Holland they were called Stadspijpers, in Germany Stadtpfeifer and in Italy Pifferi.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

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He smiles within his cradle - R. Mather I saw three ships come sailing in - Sir. John Stainer