…Jeffrey gives to you… “Carol of the Bells”!
One of my fondest memories of High School was our annual winter concert. As the lead tenor in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School Chorus, in Brooklyn NY, the most exciting night of my winter was our annual seasonal concert. Led by the glorious Dr. Andrea Morris, the head of the music department and our fearless choral leader, we were quite…well, mediocre. There was little interest in performing live for most of the miscreants of the class, but the few of us who thrived live bandied together and made sure that it felt like it was the night of all of our lives. And it was.
One of the songs we sang was Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych’s “Shchedryk”, which was later adapted to English as “Carol Of The Bells”. Or as some people know it, “Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells…”
It’s an exhilarating emotion to sing a cappella, but due to the limits of the actual vocal finesse of the majority of our choral members, who couldn’t differentiate harmony from melody, Dr. Morris wisely decided to accompany us on piano for most of the numbers, including the wondrous “Carol…”, to masquerade any musical infidelity we (they) might have proposed.
Just to remind you, this was 1985 and school shows were rarely, if ever, videotaped for prosperity. Part of me would be awestruck to be able to relive such momentous heartprints of our youths, to watch part of the very thing that helped mold us into the grown-ups so many of us still strive to be. So, sadly, there is no 1984-1985 F.D.R. Chorus recording.
There have been popular readings of this (most notably by the overblown, pretentious Manheim Steamroller, not to be confused with the equally atrophying Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or the soul-free, droning Celtic Women) but my favorite by far is by the successful, enchanting a cappella group called Straight No Chaser. Weaving in and out of the intricate melody are their voices in majestic harmony, simultaneously lilting and haunting, powerful and prodigious. No other interpretation is more sweepingly simplistic.
Here’s a live performance, recorded by an audience member, from a concert from a few weeks ago:
Or you can listen to the track here, from their wonderful holiday collection HOLIDAY SPIRITS: