Best Beat

Setting the Rhythm for Your Music

Carol of the Bells

Carol of the Bells

The song was created by the Ukraine’s most popular composer, Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovych (1877-1921). Despite being born in Ukraine, living in Ukraine, and largely working with Ukrainian music, Leontovych and his works are most than occasionally called “Russian.” The composition from which “Carol of the Bells” was derived, the choral work Shchedryk, which was first performed by students at Kiev University in December 1916, has not been exempted from the mislabeling. But the Ukrainians, from one perspective, have had the last laugh in this cultural comedy of errors, for by far the best-known carol music to originate in any portion of the former Soviet Union was Leontovych’s brilliant musical portrayal of the sounds of Christmas bells.

Only 20 years after its composition, the music from Shchedryk was converted into a carol halfway around the world. Peter J. Wilhousky (1902-1978), a composer, lyricist, and conductor who worked with Arturo Toscanini on NBC radio, adapted Leontovych’s music and added some lyrics. The title chosen by New Jerseyite Wilhousky was ideal, for “Carol of the Bells” is not only extremely suitable as a characterization of the melody, but also is completely harmonious with the old Slavic legend on which Shchedryk is based. At midnight on the night Jesus was born, the legend claims, every bell in the world rang out in his honor.

Since the synthesis of “Carol of the Bells” in 1936, the song, also known as “Ukrainian Carol,” has increasingly become a part of the celebration of Christmas in the United States. Its public acceptance was surely boosted by the employment of the melody in a series of television advertisements for champagne. The idea, apparently, was that the champagne was as tasteful and sparkling as the music. In addition, the melody has been utilized in three other American carols. In 1947, M. L. Holman wrote “Ring, Christmas Bells.” In 1957, the anonymous lyrics “Come, Dance and Sing” were published, and by 1972 another “Carol of the Bells” (this time anonymous) was published. Wilhousky’s original “Carol of the Bells” can be easily distinguished from the later one by his first line, “Hark! How the bells, sweet silver bells.” The second “Carol of the Bells” starts with “Hark to the bells, Hark to the bells.” This multiple usage of Leontovich’s music for four carols as well as for a variety of other purposes is sound testimony to its quality and popular appeal.

Play the chord changes em to C with a walking bass line. Then the right hand plays pretty much a B7 5 finger pattern several times. You’ll find many beautiful arrangements on the internet for piano and flute.