Do You Hear What I Hear?

As I sit here in my modern day Christmas listening to a modern recording of Renaissance Christmas music, I wonder what my ancestors of Christmases past would have been listening to.

So I looked through my various Christmas carol books to find out when some of our favourites were written:

Silent Night was composed in 1818, three years after Great Great Grandpa Fenner was born in Germany, and two years before Great Great Grandma (Dietrich) Fenner was born. Though it was composed by an Austrian, Franz Gruber, it probably made its way to northern Germany by the time the GG Grandparents were aware enough to know what Christmas was. They would have sung Christmas carols, since they were Lutheran, and Martin Luther himself encouraged the singing of carols. Once the Fenners arrived in the New World, around 1850, they likely would have sung some of the German carols with their neighbours in The German Settlement (Ruscom).

In the little Ruscom Methodist Church (formerly known as The Rochester Church), the Fenners would have sung English carols, of which there were many. Charles Wesley (of the Wesley family who founded Methodism) wrote over 5500 hymns. It is said that in the Methodist church, singing was just as important a path to God as listening to the preacher. In the first few years, the music would have been unaccompanied. But pipe organs were coming into use in the urban churches, and melodians (pump organs) in rural churches. Some of the carols written in the early 1800s – O Come All Ye Faithful (1843); Once in Royal David’s City (1848); It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (1849); We Three Kings (1857); O Little Town of Bethlehem (1868)

And Jingle Bells was written in 1857. In Georgia. Funny — I didn’t think there was any snow to dash through down there.

Next time: Christmas Music and the Modern Age of Radio (my favourite subject)


Posted on December 20, 2011, in holidays and celebrations, schools and churches, towns and villages and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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