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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 05/23/16

Monday, May 23, 2016

SUPRISING SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS'S MOST POPULAR TUNES!!




    The holidays are filled with joyful emotions and honored traditions, including the playing of songs about snowmen, St. Nick, evergreen trees, and presents wrapped up with big bows. No matter how you celebrate the season, you'll hear these songs on the radio, T.V., at the mall, in the office, and just about anywhere music is played.
    If you think the same songs are played over and over, you're right, but if this bothers you, consider the alternative: Christmas carols were banned in England between 1649 and 1660. Oliver Cromwell, serving as Lord Protector of Britain, believed Christmas should be solemn and also banned parties, limiting celebration to sermons and prayer services.
    Lots of holiday songs are festive, many have spiritual overtones, and all are played so often that they are familiar no matter what your faith. But what do you know about how these songs were created and the people who wrote them?
    There are some fascinating facts behind this memorable music. So, toss a log on the fire, pour yourself some eggnog or hot cocoa, and sit back and relax, as we reveal the secrets behind many of the tunes you hear during the Christmas season.








"The Christmas Song", by Mel Torme and Bob Wells in 1944.

    On a sweltering July day in Los Angeles, 19 year old jazz singer, Torme, worked with 23 year old Wells to create this beautiful tune. Full of wintry images and a charming wistfulness for all the delights of the season, the song became an enormous hit by Nat King Cole the following year. In Torme's autobiography, he says Wells wasn't trying to write lyrics but was simply jotting down ideas that would help him forget about the heat wave.






 

"The First Noel", Traditional 16th or 17th century carol.
    Some say this is a song with a British background while others insist it has French origins. So far, no one has any definitive proof. Two things are for certain: first, it's very popular if two countries are claiming it, and second, counting the title, the word "Noel" appears in the song 30 times.








"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Wesley, and William Cummings, 1739.

    Wesley's opening line was "Hark how all the welkin rings" and he protested when a collegue changed it. Wesley wanted a slow and solemn anthem for his song, but William Cummings set the lyrics to rousing music by Felix Mendolssohn (from a cantata about movable type by inventor Johann Gutenberg). For his part, Mendolssohn specified that his composition only appear in a secular context, not spiritual. So both original authors' wishes were thwarted in the creation of this glorious song.








"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 1943.

    The songwriting team of Martin (music) and Blane (lyrics) worked together for 5 decades, producing Oscar and Tony nominated songs. This hauntingly lovely tune was made famous by Judy Garland in the 1944 film, "Meet Me in St. Louis". While the song is a bittersweet gem, the original lyrics were actually darker and not to Garland's liking. Since she was a huge star at the time, and was dating the film's director, Vincent Minnelli (she married him the following year), the changes were made.







"I'll Be Home For Christmas", Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, 1942.

    Gannon and Kent worked often together, but even with her three Academy Award nominations, nothing was as successful as this wartime song. By getting it to Bing Crosby, they were assured of big sales even though it competed with Crosby's recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas". The song is a perennial favorite, and appears often in films, including "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Polar Express".




"Jingle Bells", James Pierpont, 1850's.
   Starting out as a lively celebration of the Salem Street sleigh races, the song called "One-Horse Open Sleigh", made a fast transition to the more sober atmosphere of the church social and became known as "Jingle Bells". While there are 4 verses, only the first is usually sung, because of the lyrics in the remaining 3 verses. A woman named Fannie Bright appears in verse two, which also features a sleigh crash. The 3rd verse displays an anti-Samaritan laughing at a fallen sleigh driver and leaving him sprawled in a snow bank, while the final verse offers such lines as "Go it while you're young" and "Take the girls tonight". Ah yes, just good clean mid-nineteenth century fun.








"Joy to the World", Isaac Watts and Lowell Mason, 1719 and 1822.

    The words, inspired by the 98th Psalm, were written by Watts, a British pastor, preacher, and poet. More than a century later, banker and choral teacher Mason composed music for the piece but attributed it to Handel, presumably to make the hymn more popular. It took another century for the hoax to be uncovered.








"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", Johnny Marks, 1949.

    Beginning as a coloring book written by advertising copywriter Robert L. May in 1939, the story of an unloved caribou triumphing over adversity was a promotional item for Montgomery Wards department stores. May's fairy-tale was enormously popular, and became even more so when May's brother-in-law, songwriter Marks, composed music and lyrics and got the composition to singer Gene Autry. That version sold 2 million copies the first year alone. While most of the other reindeer names were invented by Clement Moore in his 1822 poem, "The Night Before Christmas", the hero of the May story was called Rollo. Wait, that name was nixed by store executives, so he became Reginald. Oops, that was also rejected, too. Finally, May's daughter suggested Rudolf.








"Santa Claus is Coming to Town", Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots, 1932.

    After countless versions by stars as varied as Bruce Springsteen and Perry Como, it's hard to believe that Gillespie and Coots' song was turned down all over town because it was "a kid's song". Even though Coots was a writer on the Eddie Cantor radio show. Cantor at first passed on the song, only agreeing to do it at the urging of his wife. Now it's so successful there's even a parody version by Bob Rivers (in the style of Springsteen) called "Santa Claus is Foolin' Around".








"Silent Night", Joseph Mohr and Franz X. Gruber, 1916-1818.

    There are numerous stories and fanciful speculations about the origin of this beautiful song. Tossing aside the more lurid stories, we are left with this: the poem, "Stille Nacht", was written by Mohr, who became assistant pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria. Mohr gave the poem to Gruber, the church organist, reportedly on Christmas Eve, in 1818, and was performed that same midnight. Oddly, the first version did not involve an organ, but was arranged for two voices, guitar and choir. Both Mohr and Gruber created manuscripts with different instrumentation at various times from 1820 to 1855. The tune first made its way around the world as a "Tyrolean Folk Song" before gaining enough fame to be instantly recognized with its first two words or first four notes. The Silent Night web page claims there are more than 300 translations of the song and features links to 180 versions in 121 languages.









White Christmas", Irving Berlin, 1942.

    Sometimes considered America's most popular holiday song, Berlin composed it for a movie soundtrack ("Holiday Inn", starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire). With its quiet power and elegant longing for the simple pleasures of the past, it was the perfect song for the gloomy months during the middle of World War II. Composer Berlin was not positive about the song when he first presented it to Crosby, but Bing's confidence was well founded. Spawning a movie of its own (1954's "White Christmas" with Crosby and Danny Kaye), the song hit the Top 30 nearly 20 times and has now sold more than 30 million copies. There are reportedly 500+ recorded versions of the tune in two dozen languages.

THE BANSHEES OF IRISH FOLKLORE!



    In Irish folklore, the Banshees are known as the ancestral spirits of the Fairy world. Their history extends way back into the dim and mysterious past.
    Banshees are among the oldest Fairy folk of Ireland, associated as strongly as shamrocks and potatoes. Banshees, also known as Bean-Sidhe, were appointed to forewarn members of Irish families of impending death. Her prescence alone brings no harm or evil, but to hear a Banshee in the act of keening is to have witnessed the announcement of the death of a loved one. The Banshee's wail pierces the night and its notes rise and fall like waves over the countryside.
    It is said that Banshees never appear to the one who is to die but to their loved ones. In times gone by she was seen washing human heads, limbs or bloody clothing until the water was dyed with blood. Over the centuries this image changed. The Banshee now paces the land, wringing her hands and crying. Sometimes she is known as the Lady of Death or the Woman of Peace, for despite her wails she is graced with serenity.
    A Banshee won't cry from just anyone. According to legend, each Banshee mourns for members of one family. Some say only the five oldest Irish families have their own Banshees: the O'Neills, O'Briens, O'Gradys, O'Connors and Kavanaghs.
The Banshee is a solitary Fairy creature who loves the mortal family she is connected to with a fierce, unearthly care and will pace the hills in sorrow when she knows a death is looming.
    She will follow her family's members right across the world-her keening can be heard wherever true Irish are settled, because just like them she never forgets her blood ties. Unseen, she will attend their funerals and her wails mingle with those of the mourners.
Famous tailes of Banshee sightlings are plentiful. One dating back to 114 AD tells of a Banshee attached to the kingly house of O'Brien who haunted the rock of Craglea above Killaloe. Legend has it that Aibhill the Banshee appeared to the aged King Brian Boru before the Battle of Clontard, Which was fought in the same year.
    A recounting from the 18th century concerns a group of children who on an evening walk saw a little old woman sit on a rock beside the road. She began to wail and clap her hands and the children ran away in fear, only to later discover that the old man who lived in the house behind the rock died at that very moment.
    A little girl in the mid-19th century, standing at the window in her house in Cork, saw a figure o the bridge ahead. She heard the Banshee's wails and the figure disappeared but the next morning her grandfather fell as he was walking and hit his head, never to wake up. The same little girl was an old lady by 1900 and one day when she was very ill her daughter heard wailing round and under her bed. The mother didn't see to hear, but sure enough it protended her death.
    A party on a yacht on a Italian lake told its owner they witness a woman with a shock or red hair and a hellish look in her eyes. The owner, Count Nelsini, formally known a O'Neill, became anxious that the Banshee was announcing the death of his wife or daughter, but within two hours he was seized with an angina attack and died.
Descriptions of the Banshee vary but she appears in one of three guises; young woman, stately matron or raddled old hag.
  • A Banshee as a beautiful young girl appears with red-gold hair and a green kirtle and scarlet mantle, traditional dress of Ireland.
  • As matron she is said to be tall and striking, contrasting sharply with the dark of night. She is pale and thin, her eyes red from centuries of crying, her silver-grey hair streaming all the way to the ground as her cobweb-like grey-white cloak clings to her body.
  • In the hag guise she usually wears grey, hooded cloaks or the grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may appear as a washer-woman or be shrouded in a dark, mist-like cloak.
  • The Banshee can also appear in other forms, such as a stoat, crow or weasel-animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.
    One of the most notorious tales of a Banshee comes from the memoirs of Lady Fanshaw. Along with her husband, in 1642 she visited a friend in an ancient baronial castle surrounded by a moat. At midnight she was woken suddenly by a ghastly, supernatural scream. Leaping upright in bed, there was a young, handsome woman hovering outside the window in the moonlight. The woman was pale with dishevelled, loose red hair and wearing a dress in the style of the ancient Irish. The apparition stayed for some time and then disappeared with two loud shrieks.
    When morning came, Lady Fanshaw, not without some trepidation, told her host what she had seen. Her friend looked at her gravely and explained that she had seen the family Banshee, the ghost of a woman of inferior rank who married one of his ancestors, but he drowned her in the moat to atone for the shame he had brought on his family. She had come that night, as she always did, to announce a death in the family-one of his relations passed away in her sleep.
    Always appearing as a woman, there is no shortage of legends of Banshee sightings. Stretching back for more than a millennium, the Banshee, continues ringing a death knell for the witness's loved ones.

CHEESE ROLLING FROM STILTON, ENGLAND!



    Cheese Rolling has become an annual event in Stilton and every May Day hundreds of villagers and visitors make their way to the main street to watch the teams battling for the honour of being called the "Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions".

Stilton History and The Cheese



The Bell Inn, where the rolling starts!



Ancient Stilton

    No one knows who lived here first - the earliest finds date from the time of the Roman occupation and are probably associated with the road that runs from London to the army fortress at Lincoln, which the Saxons later called Ermine Street.
    For centuries this road seems to have been little used, the important route was the east-west road, Fen Street and Church Street, which is why our oldest building, the Church of St Mary Magdalene, is found away from the main road that now exists.






    Stilton gets three mentions in the Doomesday Book of 1086 as three landowners, the King, the Bishop of Lincoln and Eustace held land here. The Great North Road had become a busy thoroughfare by the fifteenth century and Stilton was a well-known staging post; at one time there were 14 inns or ale houses for a permanent population of around 500 to 600 people. While most earned their living from farming, an analysis of the 1841 census, taken just before the long distance coach trade all but disappeared to be superseded by the railway, showed that occupations directly connected to the coaches were important too.







Village Pubs &  The Cheese

    All four of the present inns have very ancient origins, even though their buildings have been changed and modernised several times. We owe our famous cheese to the coach trade. Any Stiltonian can relate tales of visitors asking "where is the cheese made?...", only to be told "‘in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire".
    The most widely accepted explanation is that the cheese came down to be sold at one of the coach stops in Stilton, perhaps The Bell or The Angel. As early as 1722 Daniel Defoe (the author of "Robinson Crusoe") ate some here and mentioned that the village was already famous for its cheese. The recipe was passed down through the Beaumont family of Quenby in Leicestershire. By 1830 a former housekeeper at Quenby, Elizabeth Orton, made cheese in her farmhouse. Her daughter married Cooper Thornhill who kept The Bell Inn and he sold the cheese. He was famous (or infamous) as a larger-than-life character who long held the record for riding to London and back.








Modern Stilton

    Today, all Stilton cheese is factory made, but still only in the three counties with milk produced locally. It takes a gallon of milk to make one pound of cheese and a lot of skilled hard work is still needed. Each cheese matures for 3 months after which the blue veins appear naturally as oxygen is allowed to enter through holes pierced by stainless steel needles. A whole cheese weighs 15lb.



One of the officials watching a race



    Stilton’s dependence on the main road has been its undoing twice; in the middle of the nineteenth century when the railway line passed to the east through Holme and Yaxley, and in 1959 when the present A1 Stilton by-pass was opened. The village became a ghost village; The Bell actually closed and fell into disrepair and other businesses also disappeared. In 1962 Tom McDonald of The Talbot and Malcolm Moyer of The Bell, aided and abetted by telephone engineer Fred Linstead who provided a telegraph pole, cheered up their drinkers by organising the first ever Cheese Rolling along a course outside the present Post Office on Easter Monday.





A Little History On The Cheese Roll

How did it start?

    It would be nice to be able to say that the event is "as old as the village" or that it's origins have been lost in "the mists of time" but really no one knows how far back the tradition of rolling the cheeses goes. Midway through the Twentieth Century, when the village had turned into rather a quiet place having been by-passed by the A1 and the inns and businesses had seen a big drop in their trade, a landlord of one of the pubs decided to revive an ancient tradition. Or so he told everyone! He could be seen rolling a Stilton Cheese along the road outside his pub. People came to stand and watch and eventually joined in. And so the sport began - again.








The Rules

    It was originally run on Easter Monday and there was not a lot of uniformity to it to begin with. It seems a piece of wood in the shape of a Stilton Cheese was produced, a starting line drawn up somewhere between the The Stilton Cheese Inn and The Talbot and the finish line was outside The Bell Inn. Brave teams of Stilton men would then vie to roll the cheese to it's finish and, after the ensuing scramble, and many tussles and spills, the team that ended up steering the cheese to the finishing line would win! Nowadays, the starting point is always outside The Bell Inn and The Angel and the finish is a line drawn at the cross roads between the bottom of Fen Street and Church Street. The contestants are teams of 4, either all men or all women and each team member has to roll the cheese at least once during it's flight. It's a knockout competition with quarter's, semi's and a grand final.







Fancy Dress

    Some of the teams wear fancy dress for which there is a good prize and it all adds to the colourful scene. We would like to say that the sport has become more genteel over the years but we still get the tumbles and spills as in former days. The friendly rivalry grows during the competition as each team passes through to the next round so we end up with some very competitive finals!








    The prizes are always the same, a Whole Stilton Cheese and beer for the men and a Whole Stilton Cheese and wine for the ladies. But, of course, the main prizes are to be the winners of the coveted Bell Cup for men or the WI Cup for the ladies and to go down in history as 'Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions'. For more information about next years Cheese Rolling or to obtain an entry form contact the organisers