"Dashing through the Snow"
"Jingle Bells" as you've never heard it before!
You may have noticed that at Word & Song we have been creating our weekly content around a controlling Word of the Week. So the hymn, the poem, the film, the song, and to a greater or lesser extent the Friday podcast are directly or indirectly suggested each week by Monday’s word. This week’s word, Winter, set me thinking of snow songs, and so did our poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” In that poem, Robert Frost is in fact driving a horse wearing sleigh bells through the snow. And what song immediately came to mind? The ever-jolly and best-known American song of all time around the world, “Dashing through the Snow” — or as it soon came to be called, “Jingle Bells.”
Stifle that yawn! What’s the big deal with “Jingle Bells,” you ask? It’s largely been relegated to the arena of children’s songs in our time, right? It is routinely thrown in to fill out the repertoire for Christmas concerts everywhere. Ho, hum. But still, the appeal of “Jingle Bells” persists, nearly 175 years after John Pierpont wrote it. And for all that has been lost of our cultural heritage, this unpretentious little song still grabs us by the hand, jollies us up despite ourselves, and puts us in the mood to sing about something almost no one ever does anymore — bundling up on a cold clear evening to go for an invigorating sleigh ride. In a time when, sadly, most Americans can’t sing a single hymn from memory, everyone still can and does sing “Jingle Bells.”
Like Leroy Anderson’s light orchestral composition, “Sleigh Ride,” which I wrote about in December, “Jingle Bells” was not written for Christmas at all. John Pierpont, a church organist and choir director, wrote the song to be sung at a Thanksgiving concert in 1857. The congregation loved the song so much that they asked for the choir to repeat it at Christmas, and since then it’s ever been so linked. No doubt Pierpont over his lifetime played (and likely he composed and never published) many lovely pieces for his congregation. Yet long after his death, this little song, and it alone, has earned him a place in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, so beloved a part of American culture it had become, and so loved around the world.
But I did promise you that I’d give you “Jingle Bells” as you’ve never heard it before, true? And so I will. Listen below to hear the original song, as Pierpont composed and arranged it for his church choir. I think you will find his tune and arrangement surprising and delightful. For myself, I’d love to sing it as he wrote it, henceforward. (See if you catch a reference to Stephen Foster’s“Camptown Races” (1850) in the final verse!)
For a bit more fun to get the blood pumping in the cold of winter, here’s a swing version of Pierpont’s tune, orchestrated by that great innovator, Glenn Miller, who performed his adaptation of the song on Christmas Eve of 1941, two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The vocals are by Tex Beneke, Ernie Caceres, and the Modernaires. Listen for Beneke’s allusion to “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and to the unique alternative to jingling “bells” in Caceres’ “Mexican version” of the song.
I'm a little behind, but so glad I got to this...the choral version is, as you promised, such a delight!
That "...all the way" at the end of each chorus certainly gives the song a sort of unexpected Wagnerian haunt (though perhaps only to modern ears who are so inundated with the "simplified" version that any change would seem unexpected, not sure).
And, frankly, I'm not even sure what I mean by "Wagnerian" there -- not musical in terms of style or harmony I suppose, but sort of like making yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and suddenly discovering that the taste of caviar is popping up in every third bite -- or something like that...
Anyway delightful. And I just shared that Mongolian version to facebook with the comment, "Mongolian Stir-Fry, anyone?" :-)