Old Christmas Carols, Traditional Melodies. First Set newly arranged, harmonized and edited by S. Archer Gibson (G. Schirmer, New York 1904).



These Carols all belong to the Folk-song class. The fact that they have lived so long is of itself proof of their intrinsic worth. Their beauty and unequalled appropriateness for the Christmas season warrant their appearance in this new form, harmonized, arranged and edited with a direct view to practical use.

Owing to the limited range of children's voices, a special point has been made of keeping them within the compass of the one octave D to D, so far as possible. Very few notes will be found exceeding this narrow limit, and then only such as will be found easy in practice. While the melodies have been preserved scrupulously intact, the harmonies have been freely reconstructed. Several slight changes in the words have been made for obvious reasons.

Most of the Carols have been planned for unison singing, with pianoforte accompaniment, this being not only the simplest and most practical, but also the most effective and artistic. All the words are directly under the music; and as the accompaniments have nearly all been written in the four-part vocal style, the harmony may be sung if desired.

Many of these Carols that usually appear labelled as «Old English», by courtesy, bear internal evidence of other origin. For example, What Child is This? (see page 13) is obviously Irish, and in Shakespeare’s time was known by the name Green Sleeves (see «The Merry Wives of Windsor», Act v, Sc. 5, Act ii, Sc. 1). Other Carols suggest Scotland, Wales, France and Germany, and were doubtless produced by representatives of those lands. An attempt to honestly label these Carols would involve one in all sorts of useless difficulties and controversies, which it has been thought well to avoid under the simple title «Traditional Melodies».


In such Sunday-schools as have both piano and pipe-organ available, splendid results will be obtained by using the organ only for climaxes and special effects, the piano taking the burden of the accompaniment.

Do not let the children sing too loud; it strains their voices and does not add to the music. Enthusiasm is not necessarily noise.

Teach the children to rely on themselves in their singing. They sing all the better for it if attention is given to the expression, so as to make the work of learning new tunes interesting as well as instructive. It will be found practical to form a small Musical Circle among the children, meeting once a week for a musical social evening, teaching them all new music in advance of the regular school. Seated among the other scholars they will be the «leaven in the lump» that will work wonders; their enthusiasm will be infectious, and the whole school will soon be singing heartily and tunefully, without a strident precentor, a cornet, or other atrocity in evidence. If a leader is found necessary it is better that he should use his voice as little as possible to keep the children to the melody; if the music is good they will learn it more thoroughly by being taught to rely on themselves. Once these traditional melodies have been learned, they have such individuality as to be unforgettable, and will be a constant source of pleasure with every recurring Christmastide.

See that the children enunciate clearly; poor enunciation is inexcusable in any one, singing or speaking, except in cases of malformation.

Give more attention to the general expression and style of rendering than to the detail; it is worth more, and this is the natural method. Never lose grasp on the effect of the Carol as a whole, in attending to minutiae. This is the rock that has wrecked so many musical craft attempting to sail the seas of «Music for the Masses».

Of course, suitable short selections from Scripture and literature are to be inserted between the musical numbers. As conditions are never the same in any two schools, the selections can be better prepared by some member of each school than by any outsider. These Carols will be seen to be arranged in a sequence of thought (see Table of Contents); their mere titles will suggest the sort of material needed for the readings, recitations, etc.

New York, 1904
1. Holy Night! Peaceful Night
scoring: SATB
2. Draw Nigh, Immanuel
scoring: SATB
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem
scoring: SATB or ATTB
4. God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen
scoring: SATB
5. A Virgin Unspotted
scoring: SATB
6. The First Noël
scoring: SATB
7. What Child is This? [Greensleeves]
scoring: SATB