Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away. Christmas is here, bringing good cheer, to young and old, meek and the bold. Ding-dong, ding-dong, that is their song with joyful ring all caroling. Oh how they pound, raising the sound, o’er hill and dale, telling their tale. Gaily they ring while people sing songs of good cheer, Christmas is here.
One of my personal favorites, this carol was originally written by Ukranian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 and was based upon folk chants from the region, particularly those used around the Ukranian New Year (which, before Christianity arrived, was celebrated in April). After the rise of Communism, the song slowly made the journey to Western Europe and the Americas, where Peter J. Wilhousky, arranger for the NBC Symphony Orchestra gave it lyrics for Christmastide in the early 1930s. Over the years it has been recorded countless times across a wide variety of genres.
This song is beloved by many partially because of its versatility. The simplicity of the central four-note melody also draws listeners in to the tale the song shares.
The power of it, ultimately, is in the music itself. Though the English lyrics are wonderful and fun to sing (especially quickly), it is the melody layered over itself throughout the instruments or voices used that has led to this song becoming a centerpiece of the season.
So today is about the music. Which means that I have included a few different versions.
For those who want a more classical rendering, this is BarlowGirl’s recording that mixes the Carol of the Bells with Sing We Now of Christmas for an incredibly powerful arrangement:
For those who enjoy rock music a bit more, here is Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s arrangement:
And then here is my favorite handbell arrangement of the song, one that is so much fun to play:
Traditional Hymns & Carols – Keep Your Lamps
Lessons & Carols – Riu, Riu, Chiu