William Emmett Studwell

August 3, 2010

Every year since 1986, devotees of Christmas carols could look forward to Professor William Studwell's “Carol of the Year.” In that year, it was “Carol of the Bells.” In 2009, it was “Winter Wonderland.” The release for 2010, the 25th year, is not yet known, but sadly it will be the last.

William Emmett Studwell, Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University, passed away on August 2, 2010 at Bloomington Hospital. An academic librarian, he retired from NIU in 2001. A prolific author of over 400 professional articles and dozens of books, he was an internationally respected scholar. His expertise in the area of Christmas carols was such that he was regarded by many as the most knowledgeable person in America on Christmas carols. In 2007, he estimated that he'd spent more than 6,000 hours in studying and writing about Christmas carols.

I've got several of his Christmas books – just a small part of his great output – including

  • Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide (1985)

  • The Christmas Carol Reader (1995)

  • Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music, with Dorothy E. Jones (1998)

  • An Easy Guide to Christmas Carols: Their Past, Present and Future (2006), which contains his list of the top 25 Christmas carols (“Silent Night” was “indisputably” number one, by the way).

Each of these books is well-thumbed, and have been frequently quoted on my website The Hymns and Carols of Christmas. Very often, his were the first books that I reached for when I was beginning my research on a particular carol. Each of his books has a “Recommended” rating in my on-line bibliography.

I've also got a copy of the Christmas Carols that he authored, The End Of The Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs (1999), which I enjoyed very much.

His distinction between Christmas as holy day and Christmas as holiday has been a theme that I've often considered in my research and writings about Christmas hymns and carols. His style of writing was easy and comfortable; his essays on the songs, composers and lyricists of carols are gems of research and composition. And unlike so many, I never found him to have written an unkind word. Even when describing some lyrics as “doggeral”, Prof. Studwell added additional words of kindness that softened the description.

I never had the opportunity to speak to him, or even to exchange emails. But I was deeply saddened at hearing of his death, and I will miss his annual contributions to the kettle of knowledge about this genre. No one can be replaced – we are each unique beings – and the best tribute that I can think of is to continue his tradition of careful research and precise writing about the hymns and carols of Christmas.

His memorial service was conducted on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. His obituary can be read at

http://www.pdcfuneralchapel.com/obituaries/obituary.php?id=137&name=William_Emmett_Studwell

 


Former Biographical Notes

Professor Emeritus William Emmett Studwell (1936 - 2010 ) retired in 2001 from Northern Illinois University where he worked as the Principal Cataloguer at Founders Memorial Library.

He is a prolific author who has written on topics as diverse as library science, popular music, opera, and ballet. He has also championed what he considers to be "under appreciated" musical genres, writing on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music, and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields in the process. He was also the editor of the Music Reference Services Quarterly. In September, 1990 he was honored as the most published library journal article author among academic librarians during the years 1983 to 1987. In 1992, he was given a lifetime achievement plaque for extensive publication and outstanding service by the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries.

His greatest expertise is in Christmas carols, which he began researching in 1972 when he created a pamphlet on "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member. That pamphlet set in motion a process that to date has resulted in four books on the subject, and more than 50 journal articles, including this fanciful article on the Naming of the Reindeer. Journals which have published articles by Professor Studwell include The Journal of Church Music, Dance Scope, The American Organist, and The Choral Journal. He also contributed the text to the Hal Leonard book The Christmas Card Songbook (1991).

His Christmas books include:

  • Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), described as "the most complete bibliography of Christmas carols available."

  • The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press/The Haworth Press, 1995). A good source for the story of assorted Christmas carols

  • Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music, with Dorothy E. Jones (New York: Haworth Press, 1998). Virtually the only single source for the stories behind the collectors and publishers of Christmas carols.

  • The End of the Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs (Kingville, Texas: Lyre of Orpheus Press, 1999). A collection of 12 holidays songs written by Professor Studwell.

Studwell is also given credit for fine tuning and re-editing the text of the nine-volume Millennium Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs, and Carols by Ronald M. Clancy, who describes Studwell as "one of the foremost authorities on Christmas carols in the United States." Volume 1 is titled Best-Loved Christmas Carols (North Cape May, NJ: Christmas Classics Ltd., 2000). Volume 2 is titled American Christmas Classics (North Cape May, NJ: Christmas Classics Ltd., 2001). The series will ultimately consist of nine volumes:

  • Volume #1. Best Loved Christmas Carols: twenty-five (25) of the most famous and often played carols from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries (illustrated book and one CD). Released for the year 2000.    

  • Volume #2. American Christmas Classics: forty-seven (47) titles, including traditional carols and from the 18th to 20th century, and popular holiday songs from the 20th century, including some of the greatest selling songs of recording history (illustrated book and three CDs).  Released for the year 2001. 

  • Volume #3. Children's Christmas Classics: twenty-six (26) titles, including fifteen (15) carols and one suite of six (6) carols, plus classical works by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Humperdinck, all assembled for the listening pleasure of children (illustrated book and one CD).   

  • Volume #4. Sacred Christmas Music: twenty-eight (28) titles covering a span of fifteen hundred years, including beautiful hymns and carols, Gregorian chant, baroque concerti, oratorios, and performed on a variety of instruments, including harpsichord, organ, carillon bells, and brass, and music program scheduled on the organization of the ancient Mass (illustrated book and two CDs).   

  • Volume #5. Christmas Carols from the British Isles: fifty-five (55) wonderful titles, including the best known carols from England, Scotland, and Wales, that date from the 13th to 20th century. Special carol suites by Benjamin Britten, Geoffrey Bush, and Ralph Vaughan Williams (illustrated book and two CDs).   

  • Volume #6. German Christmas Music: eighteen (18) titles from Germany and Austria, including classical works by Bach, Schutz, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Humperdinck, and carols from the 14th to 19th century (illustrated book and one CD).   

  • Volume #7. Worldwide Christmas Classics: twenty-seven (27) carols and hymns, waltz, and a Mozart piece, mostly from European countries and covering the period from the 15th to 20th century (illustrated book and one CD).   

  • Volume #8. French Noels & Music: nineteen (19) titles composed for Christmas from the 9th to 20th century, including some of the finest Latin hymns and carols for organ, and classical works by Saint-Saens, Berlioz, and Franck (illustrated book and one CD).   

  • Volume #9. Golden Musical Ornaments: twenty-four (24) of the finest carols and songs composed for Christmas or its holidays from the 15th to 20th century, including jewels from the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Spain, and the Czech Republic (illustrated book and one CD).

Studwell's interest in collecting Christmas carols, telling people about them, and expanding the repertoire of popular carols beyond a few old favorites, has led him to participate in nearly 300 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television, including this article by Cynthia Crossen. To assist him in keeping carols in the spotlight, in 1986, he created The Carol of the Year. Each year he selects a popular carol (usually timed to an anniversary of the song) and publishes an in-depth look at the history of the carol and its author(s).

 

 

Carol of the Year Series

Year

Carol

2010

We Wish You A Merry Christmas (425th Anniversary)

2009

Winter Wonderland (75th) (with an honorable mention to Santa Claus is Coming to Town)

2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas (ca. 300th)

2007

Jingle Bells and We Three Kings of Orient Are (both 150th)

2006

The First Nowell (ca. 450th)

2005

Angels We Have Heard on High (ca. 250th)

2004

Go Tell It on the Mountain (ca. 100th)

2003

Good King Wenceslas (150th)

2002

The Holly and the Ivy and Patapan, an early predecessor to the 20th century Christmas hit The Little Drummer Boy (both ca. 300th)

2001

O Come, O Come Emmanuel (150th)
and
Silver Bells (50th)

2000

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (150th)
and
Frosty the Snowman (50th)

1999

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (50th)

1998

Sleigh Ride (50th)

1997

O Holy Night (150th)

1996

The Christmas Song (50th)

1995

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly (ca 400th)

1994

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (ca 400th)

1993

O Little Town of Bethlehem (125th
and 
Silent Night (175th)

1992

White Christmas (50th)

1991

O Come All Ye Faithful (ca. 250th)

1990

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (150th)

1989

Joy to the World! (150th)

1988

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (125th)

1987

Away in a Manger (100th)

1986

Carol of the Bells (50th)

 

Biography of William Studwell and "Carol of the Year Series,"  Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001], together with text from the Millennium Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs, and Carols by Ronald M. Clancy, and an article by Dorothy E. Jones in Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music. 

The news releases concerning other Carol of the Year series carols were not available on the NIU web site. However, the history of these and many other carols are recounted in Studwell's book The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995. The books contains a total of 140 essays on the music of Christmas. I highly recommend it, subject to the caveat that it contains neither notes nor a bibliography. However his Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985) contains an extensive bibliography of Christmas carols, including his sources.

 

November 23, 2010

Carol of the Year series concludes
with ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’

Series ends on a downbeat with creator’s death

DeKalb, Ill. — The announcement of the 2010 Carol of the Year is tinged with sadness.

The planned end of the 25-year series arrives with the news that the creator of the series, William Studwell, did not live to see the project through to its final coda.

Studwell, who worked for 30 years as a library cataloger at Northern Illinois University, died Aug. 2, succumbing to lymphoma. The day before his death, at age 74, he dictated a letter to his daughter, Laura, of Aurora, providing the noteworthy details pertaining to his 2010 Carol of the Year, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

“It was very important to Dad to see this project through to completion,” says Laura Studwell, noting that her father was rightfully proud of his research and writing pertaining to carols.

His fascination with carols began with a pamphlet about “Silent Night,” created for a family member in 1972 as part of a “homemade Christmas.” That simple piece set him on a quest, one that consumed more than 6,000 hours of his life, Studwell once estimated. It took him deep into the stacks of libraries across the country. At one point, he had compiled a collection of more than 400 volumes to help him in his research.

His painstaking research provided insight into the stories behind the carols – legends that they were based upon, local flavors that crept into songs and insightful biographical tidbits about the authors. His essays illuminated the works.

The job was not always easy – especially since it was done almost completely pre-Internet.

“For 19th and 20th century works, you can usually find some documentation for a carol, but for 16th century stuff you are happy for any shred of information you find,” Studwell once said. He noted proudly that he was credited with documenting dozens of new facts about carols.

His researching skills earned him the admiration of his peers.

“He’s at the top of the list, in my estimation, of carol experts in the U.S. and perhaps even the world. When it came to learning the background of a carol, Bill was the go-to-guy,” says Ronald Clancy, another esteemed expert in the field of Christmas music. He admired Studwell’s work so much that he recruited him to fine-tune and re-edit the text for his nine-volume Millennium Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs and Carols.

Studwell’s contribution to the body of knowledge on carols, Clancy believes, will help ensure that they endure. “Carols have an interesting history, and he kept that alive. So much of the background of many songs was lost, but he shone a light on it. He helped keep these songs alive and vibrant.”

Doug Anderson, another leading expert in the field, and keeper of the website HymnsandcarolsofChristmas.com, shares Clancy’s admiration of Studwell. “His essays on the songs, composers and lyricists of carols are gems of research and composition,” he said in a tribute to Studwell posted on the website.

Ultimately, Studwell wrote four books about carols, edited 29 others and generated more than 50 journal articles on the topic.

Admiration of Studwell’s work likely would have been limited to a small circle of carol devotees had he not invented the Carol of the Year series. Starting in 1986, with “Carol of the Bells,” Studwell honored one carol each year, selecting a well-known Christmas song that was celebrating a significant anniversary of its publication.

The media ate it up. He was interviewed by radio stations across the country and his expertise was featured in publications ranging from small weeklies to the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. By the time of his death, he had been interviewed more than 600 times. He became a popular consultant on projects related to Christmas music, including advising on a recent version of “Scrooge” to ensure that the music was historically correct.

While he was most famous for his work on Christmas carols, Studwell was a prolific writer on other topics as well. He was considered a leading expert on college fight songs and state songs. He also wrote extensively on other musical genres he considered “underappreciated” including circus music, early rock ‘n’ roll and patriotic music. He also wrote several books devoted to classical music, as well as many, many academic papers relating to his field of library science.

Carols, however, were a passion for Studwell, who loved the Christmas season, says his daughter. The first few notes of any carol were an invitation to share information about the song from his encyclopedic memory.

His 2010 honoree, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” was selected, he said in the letter dictated shortly before his death, because it provided a fitting cap to the series.

“It is a natural last piece for focus, since it is frequently the final piece in carol performances sessions,” he said of the song, which was created 400 to 425 years ago, most likely in the West Country of England.

Even Studwell’s prodigious researching skills could unearth little more information on the song. Consequently, in his book “The Christmas Carol Reader,” he used his rumination on the piece as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of carols and why he loved them.

“Collectively, no other group of songs appears to have as much influence on Western civilization as do Christmas carols, especially in light of the relatively small number of significant carols that exist. Carols are not limited by age, education, life-style, beliefs, nationality or taste,” he wrote.

“For about one month of each year they strongly envelop all sectors of predominantly Christian nations, and even non-Christian areas are not exempt from their presence. A little song like ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’ therefore, can have an effect surpassing its intrinsic merits because of its continuing membership in the highly influential club of carols.”

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Media Contact: Joe King, NIU Media Relations & Internal Communications
Phone: 815-753-4299
Email: joking@niu.edu

http://www.niu.edu/mediarelations/news/2010/11/carol-year.shtml

 

 

November 23, 2009

 

Winter Wonderland’ named Carol of the Year


Song kicked off an era of modern classics

 

by Joe King

America might have been in the depths of The Great Depression in 1934, but it was the start of a golden age for Christmas music, says noted Christmas carol expert Bill Studwell.

As a tip of the stocking cap to that era, Studwell has named “Winter Wonderland,” which was released in 1934, his 2009 Carol of the Year, with an honorable mention to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which burst on to the scene that same year.

Those songs opened the flood gates to two decades of classics such as “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Silver Bells,” “Blue Christmas,” “The Christmas Song” and nearly 20 others. All were released between 1932 and 1951, and all remain popular today. It was an unprecedented period of growth for the genre,” says the professor emeritus from NIU.

Studwell has written about all of these songs, and hundreds of others, researching their history and origins, become the nation’s recognized expert on Christmas music in the process. That status was reaffirmed this year when the 73-year-old Studwell earned his first movie credit for serving as a technical consultant to the producers of Disney’s latest version of “A Christmas Carol.” He reviewed songs used in the movie to ensure that they were appropriate to the Victorian era depicted in the Dickens story.

The songs he chose to recognize in this, the 24th edition of his Carol of the Year series, are of much more recent vintage, but no less classic and beloved.

 

Winter Wonderland

Studwell is particularly fond of “Winter Wonderland,” ranking it 18th on his list of personal favorites. “The image of a couple strolling through the romantic setting of a snowy winter day is an experience which many of us, including the authors, have enjoyed at one time or another,” says Studwell, who grew up in Connecticut.

It’s a beautiful tune, very lyrical in that compelling big band style, and the lyrics are even better.”

The piece was by far the most popular effort of lyricist Richard Smith (who wrote the song while in a sanitarium, recovering from tuberculosis) and composer Felix Bernard. It was an immediate hit and has been popular since its 1934 debut. A 1946 version of the song by Johnny Mercer rose to No. 4 on the Billboard airplay charts, and Perry Como’s rendition of the song on his 1959 Christmas album made it into the top 10. Dozens of other artists have recorded the song over the years including the Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Elvis Presley and the Eurythmics.

Sadly, neither Smith nor Bernard lived long enough to enjoy much of that success. Smith died just one year after the song was released, while Bernard died 10 years later.

 

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Without Ida Cantor, “Santa Claus is Coming Town” might never have made the big time. Never heard of her? That’s not surprising. She wasn’t famous, but her husband, Eddie was one of the most popular entertainers of the early 20th century. He didn’t want to sing the song, noting that other artists had passed on the song as being too silly and childish. Undeterred, Ida convinced him to sing it on his radio show anyway.

Cantor performed the song just before Thanksgiving in November of 1934 and the next day 100,000 orders for the sheet music came pouring in. By Christmas, 400,000 copies of the music had been sold and an instant classic had been born. George Happle and the Hotel Taft Orchestra recorded the song that same year, becoming the first in a long list of performers that today includes Bing Crosby, Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald, Aerosmith, Randy Travis, Merle Haggard and dozens of others. The piece also spawned a Rankin and Bass Christmas special based on the song.

The tune was a collaborative effort by Haven Gillespie, a fourth-grade dropout who was a veteran of the original Tin Pan Alley, and J. Fred Coots, who eventually went on to great success writing revues for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Cotton Club before starting his own career as a night club singer.

When Gillespie brought him the lyric for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Coots dashed off the tune in 10 minutes. It took two years before Cantor (whom Coots was working for at the time) launched it on its path to becoming one of the most popular Christmas songs ever.

The song is mostly for children, but the lyrics include so many iconic lines like ‘You better watch out, you better not cry…’ and ‘making a list and checking it twice.’ Those have become ingrained in society,” Studwell says.

 

Two decades of hits

Over the next two decades there seemed to be a new hit Christmas song every year. It is difficult to say why that era spawned so many great Christmas songs, but Studwell has a theory.

That period, from the 1930s until the 1950s, was a difficult period. In that span you have the Great Depression and World War II. They were hard times, and there is something about hard times that seems to spur creativity,” he says.

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then, he has researched and written handbooks, dictionaries, essays and booklets on the topic, delving into the background of hundreds of carols. He has conducted more than 500 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, magazines, radio and television and has served as an adviser to several projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols.

He estimates that he has devoted more than 6,000 hours of his life to studying and writing about Christmas carols. At the height of his research, he immersed himself in collections at libraries across the country and had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400 reference volumes from around the globe.

He also champions several other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each. He recently began writing fiction. In all, he has authored more than 45 books, with several set for publication in the months and years ahead.

Studwell now resides in Bloomington, Ind.

http://www.niu.edu/northerntoday/2009/nov23/carol.shtml

 

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November 26, 2008

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas’
named 2008 Carol of the Year

 

DeKalb, Ill. — A song that has struck fear into the heart of every caroler who ever forgot his or her song book, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has been selected as the Carol of the Year for 2008.

Even William Studwell, acknowledged by many as the nation’s foremost authority on Christmas carols, freely admits that he cannot remember the dozen gifts that are at the heart of the song.

“There are two reasons,” says Studwell, a professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, where he worked as a librarian. “First, there are many different versions, so it’s hard to say which is definitive. Second, it’s just not one of my favorite songs.”

Despite his personal feelings, Studwell chose the song as Carol of the Year (now in its 23rd year) due to its tremendous popularity and longevity.

Like many older carols, the origins of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are vague. Some say it was written in France, but Studwell is firmly in the camp of those who trace its roots to England. It was most likely written, he believes, during the period of history known as the Restoration, a brief interlude from about 1660 to 1730, between the Puritan Revolution and the rise of Methodism. It was a period of lightheartedness (relative to the eras it separated, anyway) which would have allowed for the rise of such a frivolous song, Studwell says.

The acclaimed researcher puts little stock in the theory that the carol originated as a code developed by English Catholics to secretly teach their children catechism. The idea was first set forth by the Rev. Harold Stockert in 1969 and has been revived on the Internet in recent years. 

Studwell rejects that notion for several reasons. First, Catholics of that era were not terribly persecuted, he says, so there would have been little need for their teachings to have been secretive. Also, the breezy, bouncy nature of the tune hardly fits with the character of the church at that time. Finally, neither Studwell , nor any other reputable researcher, has never found a definitive explanation of what each of the 12 gifts in the song would have correlated to in the Catholic catechism.

The folk song made its first official appearance in a songbook around 1780 and has been a staple of just about every caroling party ever since. It also has been a popular target for parody artists, with dozens of versions created. They range from at least one by Disney (which substitutes onion rings for golden rings, a popular twist) to another by a pair of Canadian comedians masquerading as Bob and Doug MacKenzie (they substitute a beer for the partridge and end up shortening the song so they can drink).

While something of a purist about Christmas music, Studwell is not put off by the parodies. He considers “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to be the holiday equivalent of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” pointing out that both have a repetitive tune and lyrics that rely heavily on barnyard fowl. How could such a song become a perennial favorite? Studwell sums it up in a single word: Christmas.

“Christmas has preserved lots of mediocre music,” he says. “Just look at ‘All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,’ which is silly; or ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,’ which is an abomination. If they weren’t linked to Christmas we never would have heard of them, but every holiday season you hear them on the radio.”

Studwell, 72, began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then, he has researched and written handbooks, dictionaries, essays and booklets on the topic, delving into the background of hundreds of carols. He has conducted more than 500 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, magazines, radio and television and has served as an adviser to several projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols.

He estimates that he has devoted more than 6,000 hours of his life to studying and writing about Christmas carols. At the height of his research, he immersed himself in collections at libraries across the country and had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400 reference volumes from around the globe.

He also champions several other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively n college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each. He recently began writing fiction. In all, he has authored more than 50 books, with several set for publication in the months and years ahead.

Studwell now resides in Bloomington, Ind.

 

http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2008/nov/Carol2008.shtml

 

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November 16, 2007

 

Jingle Bells,’ ‘We Three Kings’ named Carols of the Year for 2007

 

DeKalb, Ill. — As far as Christmas carols go, 1857 was a banner year in American history.

That fall, one composer in New York and another from Boston penned two of the most beloved American Christmas carols ever – “Jingle Bells” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” In honor of the 150th anniversary of those songs, noted Christmas carol expert William Studwell has named them the Co-Christmas Carols of the Year.

Aside from sharing the same year of birth, however, the two songs couldn’t be much more different, says Studwell, the nation’s recognized expert in Christmas carols, who has written numerous books on the topic. This is the 22nd year of his Carol of the Year series.

Artistically, the two songs have nothing in common except the use of the English language and the Christmas holiday,” says Studwell, who served as chief cataloguer for the campus library at Northern Illinois University until his retirement in 2000.

Jingle Bells,” Studwell says, was probably the first secular carol of consequence produced in the United States. A couple of other popular carols (“Up on the House Top” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”) are of the same vintage, but cannot be definitively proven older.

The song, both words and music, was penned by James S. Pierpont, who was, by trade, an expert in reading and recitation. He wrote the song around Thanksgiving Day 1857 for use in a Sunday School program. Originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” the piece quickly caught the public’s fancy and grew into arguably the most performed and most influential secular American Christmas song. In fact “Jingle Bells” might be the most popular of all non-sacred Christmas songs in the world, says Studwell.

Anyone singing it, or listening to it, can be swept up in the sensation of riding in a one-horse open sleigh,” he says.

As an aside, Studwell notes that while Pierpont grew up in Boston and came from a family of abolitionists, he wrote several songs that were supportive of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Also, while his greatest fame came from a song that painted an iconic winter scene, the author retired to Sarasota, Fla., decades before that became a common destination for retirees.

Studwell places “Jingle Bells” at No. 9 on his personal list of the top 25 Christmas carols ever.

This year’s second honoree, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” stands in marked contrast to its counterpart in almost every way.

“ ‘We Three Kings’ is smooth in style, oriental in atmosphere, biblical in content and religious in purpose,” asserts Studwell.

The religious nature of the song is hardly an accident. The author was John Henry Hopkins Jr., the son of a long-time Episcopal bishop of Vermont. He himself was a clergyman, as well as an author, journalist, book illustrator and designer of stained glass windows and other ecclesiastical objects. When he wrote the song in 1857 as a Christmas gift to his nieces and nephews Hopkins was working as editor of the Church Journal in New York City.

With such a background, Hopkins probably should have known better than to refer to the visitors from the East as kings rather than wise men or astronomers. His portrayal of the Magi so angered purists (who were upset that the lyric reinforced the misperception of the visitors as royalty) that the song was excluded from many hymnals for years.

That slight did nothing to harm the popularity of the piece, however. Evidence exists that the carol might have been published as early as 1859, and by 1865 it had worked its way into two carol collections, including one published in 1863 by Hopkins himself.

That rapid sequence of publication no doubt reflected the quickly spreading fame of Hopkins’ carol, which ultimately became one of the most famous of all Christmas pieces,” says Studwell, who is a bit bemused by its popularity because he considers the lyrics grammatically questionable and clumsy in poetic flow. Taken as a whole, however, he considers the song “a very effective piece.”

Although it’s not a truly outstanding tune, it is attractive and accessible, smooth and rhythmic,” he says. “It has an appropriate coating of mysticism and oriental flavoring. Despite its artistic and theological deficiencies, it has fulfilled its mission to relate the story of the visitors to the manger, from the Book of Matthew, better than any other work of music ever has.”

He places it 15th on his list of the top 25 Christmas Carols.

Studwell, 71, began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh, Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then, he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted nearly 500 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He also has served as an adviser to several projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols.

He estimates that he has devoted more than 6,000 hours of his life to studying and writing about Christmas carols. At the height of his research, he had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400 reference volumes from around the globe and immersed himself in collections at libraries across the country.

He also is a champion of several other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields. He has written 40 books in all.

Studwell now resides in Bloomington, Ind.

http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2007/nov/carol2007.shtml

 

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November 27, 2006

'First Nowell' named 2006 Carol of the Year (That’s right, 'Nowell')

DeKalb, Ill. — Everyone knows that the venerable Christmas Carol, “The First Noel,” has its origins in France. The trouble is everyone is wrong.

Northern Illinois University Professor Emeritus (and world renowned expert on Christmas carols) William Studwell has chosen the 450-year-old song as his Carol of the Year for 2006. He purposefully refers to it by its original title “The First Nowell,” and is using the occasion of the honor to set the record straight on the song’s history.

“Whenever the misguided and mistaken form “The First Noel” appears in the literature of carols, the usual and typical impression derived is that the carol is of French origin,” says Studwell, who has been selecting a Carol of the Year for 21 years. “But such an inference is thoroughly and unequivocally incorrect.”

The word “Nowell” is indeed an Anglicized version of the French word for Christmas, “Noel,” he says. However, all historical evidence indicates that the song emerged from the remote Cornwall region of southwest England in the mid 16th century. Whether the name was changed by a Francophile publisher or just a lazy typesetter seeking a shorter word is unclear, but sometime between 1870 and the early 20th century, the switch was made. Regardless of how or why it happened, the new title stuck and confusion over the birthplace of this much beloved carol has reigned ever since.

The song endured another alteration sometime around 1860, when someone took the liberty of modifying that portion of the tune accompanying the line “Born is the King…” Most musicians and musical historians, says Studwell, believe that change was for the better.

It may seem odd that such tinkering with a classic is tolerated, but the so-called experts have always had a love-hate relationship with the song. The lyrics have been belittled as “a sincere, devout attempt of a peasant to put the Christmas story into rhyme,” or worse, “crude poetry.” Nitpickers also like to point out that the song contains some historical inaccuracies: It mentions the shepherds, instead of the wise men, seeing the star, and it places the star in the east (from whence the wise men came) rather than the west (the direction they would have been traveling).

However, once they are through disparaging the piece, most experts place the carol alongside the classics of the genre. Even its harshest critics, says Studwell, soften their final analysis and deem the carol tuneful, full of joy and vigor and one that will “ever be a favorite because of its sincerity and simplicity.”

That is the dilemma of this song, Studwell says.

“It is homely, unspectacular and not highly aesthetic. At the same time, it is comfortable, lovable and enduring.” In his new book, “An Easy Guide to Christmas Carols: Their Past, Present and Future,” (The Lyre of Orpheus Press), Studwell ranks the “The First Nowell” number 13 in his Top 20.

Studwell, 70, began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted more than 700 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He also has served as an advisor to several projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols.

He estimates that he has devoted more than 6,000 hours of his life to studying and writing about Christmas carols. At the height of his research he had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400 reference volumes from around the globe and immersed himself in collections at libraries across the country.

Studwell also is a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields. He has written 40 books in all.

Studwell, who is retired from Northern Illinois University, now resides in Bloomington, Indiana.

 

http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2006/nov/Nowell.shtml

 

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November 22, 2005

 

'Angels We Have Heard on High' named 2005 Carol of the Year

 

DeKalb, Ill. — By his own estimate, William Studwell has devoted nearly 6,000 hours of his life to researching, writing about and talking about Christmas carols. In all that time, few carols he encountered have been shrouded in more misinformation than his selection for the 2005 Carol of the Year, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Sometimes, you have to be a bit of a detective,” says Studwell, 69, a professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University who began researching carols in 1972 and initiated his Carol of the Year series in 1986 to draw attention to what he believes is an important, but underappreciated, musical genre.

In the case of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” his snooping turned up tales tracing the origins of the song to the year A.D. 129, when Bishop Telesphorus of Rome ordered the singing of a nativity hymn. That song, legend holds, ultimately evolved into the refrain of a famous French carol which was translated into its English form in the 19 th century.

It’s a great story, but there are three enormous problems with it,” says Studwell, a retired university librarian and musical gumshoe who is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on Christmas carols. “One is the infinitesimally tiny odds that any piece of music could survive for nearly two millenniums. Another is the total lack of any historical documentation for the incident. And the other is the style of music in question, which clearly indicates composition in the modern era.”

Studwell is able to make such bold declarations thanks to years of exhaustive research. At the peak of his research he had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400 reference volumes. He also immersed himself in collections at the Library of Congress, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern University, Indiana University and his home base at NIU. He also sought out information from around the globe.

From an academic standpoint, Studwell’s undertaking was relatively new. Little formal attention was paid to Christmas carols prior to 1822, when the first known compilation of English language carols was produced. Prior to that, the songs existed as, at best, scattered bits of sheet music; more often, the tunes and lyrics were passed down from generation to generation as folk songs. Very often, as in the case of this year’s carol, even the name of the author was lost to the mists of time.

You can usually find some documentation for a carol written in the 19 th or 20 th century, but, for 16 th century songs, you are happy for any shred of information you can find,” says Studwell who is credited with being able to document dozens of new facts about carols. He has even successfully challenged the conventional wisdom regarding a handful of carols.

I’ve had many other researchers tell me that my work is consistently the most reliable,” says the author of four books and more than 50 journal articles on the topic of carols. He has also conducted more than 400 media interviews as part of his Carol of the Year series, now in the 20th year of a planned 25-year run.

As for “Angels We Have Heard on High,” Studwell’s investigation led him to conclude that the piece likely was not a folk carol (as legend holds). Instead, it was a product of 18 th century France that was known in England by 1816, when it served as the inspiration for the carol “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”

Angels We Have Heard on High” was first formally published in France in 1855 and a translation appeared in England under the current title in 1862. He found the earliest known occurrence of the modern version in a rare (only three or four copies are known to exist) 1916 collection of carols, which seems to have been almost universally adopted after that date.

The song’s checkered past makes “Angels We Have Heard on High” perhaps the most historically fragile of all the international-class Christmas carols, Studwell says, but the modern version of the song is truly one of the best of all carols.

It is a remarkable melodic blend of grace and subtle dynamism. In all, ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ is one of the most tasteful, enduring and appreciated of our carols.”

Studwell, who retired from Northern Illinois University in 2001, now resides in Bloomington, Ind.

http://www.niu.edu/pubAffairs/RELEASES/2005/nov/Carol05.shtml

 

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Nov. 29, 2004

 

"Go Tell It on the Mountain" Named Carol of the Year for 2004

 

DeKALB—As lively and exciting as the day it made its debut, the spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” has been named Christmas Carol of the Year for 2004.

The selection was made by William Studwell, a professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University, who is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on Christmas carols. He has named a Carol of the Year for 19 years.

It is an energetic, inspired carol,” says Studwell of the century-old tune that tells the story of the birth of Christ and urges listeners to spread the word. “It is the greatest of all American folk carols.”

Like many carols, the precise history of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a bit fuzzy. Although generally considered an anonymous work, Studwell believes the piece was written by Frederick Jerome Work (1880-1942), a black composer, teacher and scholar. Work was deeply involved in the collection, arrangement and dissemination of black spirituals, so it is possible, says Studwell, that Work only discovered and preserved the song. However, Studwell’s research has led him to believe that Work actually penned the piece, which was then arranged and disseminated by his nephew John Wesley Work.

Studwell places its first publication in the early 1900s, but the piece gained little notice until the 1920s when the Fisk University Singers began performing the song. Even then, it did not make much of a splash.

I looked through hundreds of carol collections and other song books and I could not find it in any collection prior to the 1950s,” says Studwell.

About that time the song steadily began to gain in popularity, winning over listeners with energetic beat and its enthusiastic call to action.

Most carols of the 20th century are not so enthusiastic. This is more like some of the older carols, like Joy to the World or Come All Ye Faithful in that regard,” says Studwell. “It shows some real enthusiasm for the Christmas holiday."

Several African American spirituals have become popular Christmas carols, notes Studwell. Those include ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee,’ ‘Mary Had a Baby,’ and “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow.” Carols arising from that genre are typically emotional, frequently inventive, generally tuneful and sometimes poignant, he says.

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted more than 350 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He also has served as an advisor to several projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols. Studwell is also a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields. He has written 35 books in all.

Studwell, who recently retired from Northern Illinois University, now resides in Bloomington, Indiana. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 330-1996.

http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2004/nov/carol04.shtml

 

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December 1, 2003

 

Good King Wenceslas’ named top carol for 2003

 

DeKalb — Yes, Virginia, there really was a “Good King Wenceslas.” Well, sort of, says Christmas carol expert William Studwell who has selected the ‘Good King’ as his Carol of the Year.

He wasn’t actually a king, but instead a duke of Bohemia, and his name in Czech was actually Vaclav,” explains Studwell, a retired professor from Northern Illinois University who is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on the topic of Christmas carols. The author or editor of 29 books on Christmas carols, Studwell has selected a Carol of the Year for the past 17 years.

While the writer of the lyrics, John Mason Neale, took some liberties with name and title of the inspiration for his carol, he did have at least one fact correct: Wenceslas (or Vaclav, as the case may be) was definitely considered good. During his lifetime he was noted for his piety and devotion to strengthening Christianity in Bohemia. Alas, his brother, Boleslav, was not so good. He assassinated Vaclav in 929 so that he could take over as duke. Vaclav ultimately got the upper hand on his power-hungry brother when, in the 11th Century, he was named the patron saint of Bohemia.

Many legends were attributed to Wenceslas, and it was around one of these that Neale built his carol, which was first published in 1853. The legend tells how, while on an errand of mercy to bring food, wine and firewood to a peasant, the duke’s page found warmth and strength by walking in the footsteps (literally) of his master.

While it is hard not to admire the carol’s message of generosity, Studwell is not a big fan of the lyrics.

The lyrics are, quite honestly, on the horrible side, and have even been called doggerel by some,” Studwell says. “Neale had two other carols, which came out around the same time that were better blessed literarily, one of those being the classic ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel,’ which he penned in 1851.”

Studwell is much more fond of the song’s bouncy, festive melody, which he believes is the true key to its popularity.

The tune is believed to be Scandinavian in origin and was first published in 1582, as the musical accompaniment for a spring carol called “Tempus adest floridum” (“Spring Has Now Unwrapped the Flowers.”) The melody was borrowed again as the tune for the 1919 carol “Gentle Mary Laid Her Child.” Studwell considers those lyrics superior to “Good King Wenceslas,” but concedes that the song will never be as popular.

Despite its poor lyrics, and tangential connections to the holiday, it will probably persevere over all rivals partly because of tradition and partly because of its good-natured narrative,” Studwell says. “No matter what the words may be, or whether the title is ‘Good King Wenceslas’ or ‘Pious Duke Vaclav,’ just about anything associated with the tune will probably emerge a winner.”

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted nearly 600 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He is also a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields. He has written 34 books in all.

Studwell, who recently retired from NIU, now resides in Bloomington, Ind.

http://www.niu.edu/PubAffairs/RELEASES/2003/dec/wenceslas.shtml

 

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November 26, 2002

 

Holly And The Ivy

Named Carol Of The Year For 2002

  

DeKalb - Musical historian William Studwell has selected a pair of 300-year-old carols for the honor of Carol of the Year 2002.

Leading the list is an English carol composed around 1700, “The Holly and the Ivy.” Also from that era is the French-born, “Patapan,” an early predecessor to the 20th century Christmas hit The Little Drummer Boy.

Studwell is a professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University, who has selected a top carol each year since 1986. Recognized as one of the world’s leading scholars of Christmas music, he has written four books and more than 50 journal articles on the topic. He is also the editor of the acclaimed Millennia Collection of Christmas music from Sony.

The Holly and the Ivy,” which Studwell classifies as a folk song, was composed in the Gloucestershire region of western England. That area has a history as the birthplace to many classic Christmas carols including, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “The First Noel.”

It’s a very aesthetic, gentle song, and rather ethereal,” says Studwell. “I think it is getting a little lost nowadays – it doesn’t swing, or pound – it is kind of an anachronism. It is a favorite of many people, but many others seem to have never heard of it.”

Patapan,” also composed around 1700, is little known to many, but may have been the inspiration for The Little Drummer Boy, which was written in 1941.

Bernard de la Monnoye, whom Studwell has dubbed the “carol poet laureate of the Burgundy region of France,” wrote the song, which urges a little boy to play his drum to add to the festiveness of the holiday. His other lesser-known Christmas compositions included “Cheerily Wife! The Devil is Dead!” and “Tantara! Mighty God!”

The tune of “Patapan” may have been borrowed from a folk song popular at the time, but that does not diminish the piece in Studwell’s mind. “A bright, under-known classic, exhorts little Willie to get his drum and tap-tap-tap on it. It is a brisker and richer predecessor to “The Little Drummer Boy,” a song of which Studwell is less fond, and one that never made his Carol of the Year list.

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “Oh Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted more than 300 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He is also a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields in the process.

Studwell, who recently retired from Northern Illinois University, now resides in Bloomington, Indiana.

www.niu.edu/pubaffairs/RELEASES/2002/nov/carol02.shtml

 

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December 4, 2001

NIU expert announces 2001 Carol of the Year winners

DE KALB -- Two carols, one ancient and one modern, tied for top honors as the Carol of the Year for 2001.

The older of the two is "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which some believe has roots stretching back to the 12th century, the modern lyric of which was penned 150 years ago. Of more recent vintage is this year's second selection, "Silver Bells," which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Both were singled out for recognition by Northern Illinois University Professor Emeritus William Studwell, who has selected a Carol of the Year since 1986. Studwell is recognized as one of the world's leading scholars of Christmas music, having written four books and more than 50 journal articles on the topic.

The origins of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," are uncertain at best. Some musical scholars claim that both the words and music can be traced back to 12th century France. Others say it is of more recent vintage, claiming that the words were derived from short sixth or seventh century verses called "O Antiphons," and date back only to 1710. Still others maintain that the music could have been derived from a 15th century processional used by Franciscan nuns.

Regardless, one thing is undisputed - in 1851 John Mason Neale, an English clergyman, Greek and Latin scholar and hymn writer, translated some Latin verses entitled "Veni, Emmanuel" and produced the well-known lyrics for what has become one of the best-loved Advent carols. His associate, Thomas Helmore, put the words to music in 1854 and the song was published that year.

"The smooth-flowing, mystical, hauntingly beautiful melody is magnificent," Studwell says. "In mood and style, there is no other holiday song like it. Because of its unique spiritual qualities, it could be called the musical soul of the Christmas season.

Neale, notes Studwell, was associated with the creation of several other Christmas carols, including "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853.

Exactly one century after "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" was written, this year's second honoree, "Sliver Bells," appeared on the scene when Bob Hope sang the song in the 1951 movie, "The Lemon Drop Kid," in a duet with actress Marilyn Maxwell.

"In the space of a couple of generations, this graceful, sentimental piece about Christmas in the city has become a familiar standard, perhaps even a classic of the Christmas season," Studwell says. "It combines a contemporary urban setting with old-fashioned emotional responses. This skillful blend is the essence of the song's continued popularity."

The song was created by the song-writing team of lyricist Ray Evans and musician Jay Livingston. The duo collaborated on other successful compositions, including three Academy Award Winners: "Buttons and Bows" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" or "Que Sera, Sera" (1956). The duo also wrote the theme for the 1960s television western, "Bonanza." [Livingston died October 17, 2001]

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet on "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member. Since then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted nearly 300 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He is also a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields in the process.

Studwell, who recently retired from Northern Illinois University, now resides in Bloomington, Indiana.

Source: Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

 

November 22, 2000

NIU PROFESSOR DUBS DUAL CHRISTMAS CAROLS OF THE YEAR FOR 2000:
"IT CAME UPON THE MIDNIGHT CLEAR" AND
"FROSTY THE SNOWMAN"

DE KALB - The presidential election isn't the only vote to end in a dead heat this year; The Christmas Carol of the Year balloting also resulted in a tie.

Northern Illinois University Professor William Studwell, the nation's leading expert on Christmas music, has picked two carols, "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and "Frosty the Snowman" for this year's top honors.

"It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was the first great American Christmas carol," said Studwell, who bestowed that designation based upon the song's rolling, religious melody and its message of optimism, goodwill and pacifism. "The song tells about the birth of Jesus, singing angels and expresses unfaltering hope for the spiritual prosperity for all," Studwell said. "A carol such as this that touches the heart, is a timeless piece."

The piece was written by Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears. The work was first published as a poem in the Christian Register in 1849 and in 1850 it was put to a melody originally written by composer Richard Storrs Willis for the hymn "See Israel's Gentle Shepherd Stand." That melody proved to be very popular, ultimately providing the tune for four different carols.

"Midnight Clear" sparked a two-decade carol boom from 1849 to 1868 that produced more classics such as "We Three Kings of Orient Are," "Jingle Bells" and "Up on the House Top."

"In the 1850s and 1860s there was the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War. During stressful times, artistic creation seems to always shine through," Studwell said. "'I heard the 'Bells on Christmas Day' is a good example. It was about the poet's son being severely wounded in the war. The U.S. was blossoming in the arts and literature. Our country was maturing. After that period, no other truly outstanding carol was produced until the 1930s."

Tying for this year's top honor is "Frosty the Snowman." Frosty's light-hearted, jolly air has entertained families for 50 years.

"This story, which was written in 1950, was in several ways an imaginative echo of 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,' which appeared the year before," Studwell said. "The clever story by Walter E. (Jack) Rollins and rather good melody by Steve E. Nelson are the key building blocks of Frosty's tremendous popularity."

Frosty's arrival produced a myriad of merchandise and at least three television specials that maintained Frosty's popularity throughout the decades. The 1969 cartoon adventures of Frosty, narrated by Jimmy Durante, told the tale about the birth, life, demise and rebirth of the snowman. In 1979, the snowman's adventures continued with Frosty's Winter Wonderland, narrated by Andy Griffith, and Rudolph and Frosty.

In addition to "Frosty the Snowman," Rollins and Nelson developed another holiday character, Easter's "Peter Cottontail" in 1949.

Studwell, who is the nation's leading authority on Christmas carols, has picked a top Christmas carol for the past 15 years. As he has delved into the topic, he has come to believe that carols are probably the most influential body of songs in the Western world. He has spent years researching the topic and has written four books which are already in print, "Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide" (1985); "The Christmas Card Songbook" (1990); "The Christmas Carol Reader," (1995); and "Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music," (1998). Studwell also edited "The Millenia Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs and Carols," a 10-title multi-media package of text, sound and graphics.

His study of carols began in 1972 when he created a pamphlet on "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member.

Studwell, who is the principal cataloguer at NIU's Founders Memorial Library, is also a recognized expert on other such "underappreciated" music such as college fight songs, state songs, patriotic songs and circus music. He also has written books on ballet, opera and popular music.

Studwell will be retiring from NIU at the end of the year [2001] and will be leaving the state soon after.

Source: Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

 

November 23, 1999

Rudolph lights up season as 1999's top Christmas Carol

DEKALB—The most famous reindeer of all--who incidentally was born in Chicago, not the North Pole--is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his theme song this Christmas.

To mark the occasion, William Studwell, a professor at Northern Illinois University, has named Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the 1999 Christmas Carol of the Year. Studwell is the nation’s leading expert on Christmas carols and various other musical genres, ranging from the obscure and under appreciated to the widely popular.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer went down in history back in 1949 when Johnny Marks wrote the famous Christmas tune. But the character was actually created 10 years earlier by Marks’ brother-in-law, Robert L. May, for a Chicago-based Montgomery Ward advertising campaign, making the reindeer a decade older than his famous theme song.

Although it was May who spun a best-selling tale based on the reindeer, it was Marks who guided Rudolph into the national spotlight.

The charming story coupled with Marks’ catchy lyrics and music, as well as the talent of the famous singing cowboy, Gene Autry, helped Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fly to the top of the music charts. Marks went on to write other holiday favorites, including Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and Holly Jolly Christmas.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became the biggest Christmas hit since 1942’s White Christmas, and Rudolph became the first significant new holiday character since Santa Claus and his elves," Studwell said.

"Rudolph is a cute and lovable character," he said. "People like him because he was the ‘under-reindeer’—the lowest on the pecking order. But he overcame that to become a superhero of Christmas."

"Rudolph’s brightly-lit nose and heroic stance have brought him to the forefront of Christmas novelties. An explosion of Christmas merchandise hit the markets after Rudolph hit the airwaves," Studwell said. "Rudolph’s fame also sparked the trend for the creation of other holiday characters, such as Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch. Even the school yard parodies of the song indicate that Rudolph has indeed "arrived" in everyday culture," Studwell said.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer really got the conspicuous consumption of Christmas merchandise going. It was the first great novelty song after World War II—people were ready for something new. The song came out during a time of new prosperity—people had money to spend. And this trend has continued with the introduction and merchandising of other Christmas characters," Studwell said.

In addition to having a song written for him, Rudolph also enjoyed fame as an actor. His first stint, which has long been forgotten, was a 9-minute cartoon in 1944. Rudolph’s big break came in 1964 when he starred in his own Christmas special with a soundtrack written by Marks. Although that show has since become a holiday television tradition, Rudolph's subsequent specials, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year and Rudolph and Frosty, haven’t been nearly as popular.

Studwell’s expertise on Christmas carols began in 1972 when he researched Oh, Holy Night to create a pamphlet of the song as a gift for a family member. Since that time, Studwell has become a leading expert on Christmas music and has penned several books on the topic, including "Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide," (1985); "The Christmas Carol Reader," (1995); "Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music," (1998); and "The End of the Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs,"(1999), which features his own carols. He has also written books on ballet, opera, circus and barbershop quartet music, as well as collections of state and college fight songs.

In 1986, Studwell began naming a Christmas Carol of the Year to share the little-known stories behind the favorite holiday classics and keep the songs in the spotlight.

Source: Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

 

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November 18, 1998

NIU PROF NAMES "SLEIGH RIDE" CAROL OF THE YEAR FOR 1998

DEKALB -- "Sleigh Ride," one of the most popular holiday songs of the last half century, was brought to life through the collaboration of a lyricist from the deep South and a lifetime New Englander, who may never have met.

A holiday staple on radio since the early 1950s "Sleigh Ride", with it's bouncy up-beat tune and catchy lyrics, has been selected as this year's Christmas Carol of the Year by Northern Illinois University Professor William Studwell, the nation's leading expert on Christmas music. This marks the 13th year that Studwell has continued his tradition of picking a top song.

"It's a first-rate song, I give it a solid A," Studwell said. "It's crisp, distinctive, and it carries you along. You could probably guess what it was about without ever hearing the title," he said, explaining why he chose to honor the song on its 50th anniversary. The song is one of several from that era that have earned distinction in Studwell's eyes, the others being "Carol of the Bells," (1936); "White Christmas," (1942); and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," (1949).

"Sleigh Ride" was written as an instrumental piece in 1948 by LeRoy Anderson, whom Studwell regards as one of the top semi-classical composers ever produced by the United States. His hits include staples of the 1950s such as "The Syncopated Clock," "Blue Tango," and "Fiddle Faddle," all of which can still be heard occasionally today. He often worked as an arranger for the Boston Pops and that orchestra devoted several shows to his work.

Within a year of its writing "Sleigh Ride" had already been recorded several times and was already becoming quite popular.

The tune caught the ear of Mitchell Parish in 1950. A native of Shreveport, LA, Parish at one time worked as the staff lyricist for a music publisher and had a knack for matching just the right lyric with a catchy tune. In 1929 he penned the lyrics for the Hoagy Carmichael classic "Stardust" the music for which was written in 1927; in 1939 he wrote the words for "Deep Purple," which was a 1934 composition by Peter DeRose; and, also in 1939, he teamed with Glen Miller to write "Moonlight Serenade."

The marriage of the music and lyrics quickly pushed the song to new heights of popularity, with stars like Perry Como and Bing Crosby adding it to their holiday repertoires.

"Sleigh Ride" is still often performed as an instrumental, but either version is excellent, Studwell believes. "As a song with words, "Sleigh Ride" is in the top rank of popular Christmas carols, with mood and theme similar to "Jingle Bells" but with definite musical superiority."

Horse drawn sleighs being drawn across the snow has been a popular musical theme for centuries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a sleigh ride piece in 1791, following in the footsteps of his father, Leopold, who wrote one in 1755. Perhaps the best ever, however, Studwell believes, is "Troika" from Sergei Prokofiev's 1934 masterpiece, "Lieutenant Kije." Studwell himself even borrowed the theme for an original composition that will soon be published as part of a collection of his carols, "The End of the Year: Twelve Original Holiday Songs," (Lyre of Orpheus Press, Kingsville, TX).

It is not surprising that Studwell decided to try his hand at writing some holiday songs. He has spent years researching the topic and has written four books on the topic already in print, "Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide" (1985); "The Christmas Card Songbook" (1990); "The Christmas Carol Reader," (1995); and "Publishing Glad Tidings: Essays on Christmas Music," (1998). He was also selected to edit the text of "The Millenia Collection: Glorious Christmas Music, Songs and Carols," a nine-title multi-media package of text, sound and graphics tentatively due to be released next year [1999] by Christmas Classics, Ltd.

His study of carols began in 1972 when he created a pamphlet on "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member. As he has delved into the topic he has come to believe that carols are probably the most influential body of songs in the Western world.

"Carols are international in influence and affect virtually all classes and groups in society," Studwell wrote in "Publishing Glad Tidings." "Furthermore, the relatively small number of important or widely known carols (a few dozen at most) makes the very sizeable cultural impact of the carol even more notable."

Studwell, who is the principal cataloguer at NIU's Founders Memorial Library is also a recognized expert on other such "under appreciated" forms of music as college fight songs, state songs, patriotic songs, and circus music. He has also written on ballet, opera, and popular music.

Source: Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

The news releases concerning other Carol of the Year series carols were not available on the NIU web site. However, the history of these and many other carols are recounted in Studwell's book The Christmas Carol Reader (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1995). The books contains a total of 140 essays on the music of Christmas. I highly recommend it, subject to the caveat that it contains neither notes nor a bibliography. However his Christmas Carols: A Reference Guide (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985) contains an extensive bibliography of Christmas carols, including his sources.

 

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November 18, 1998

The Naming of the Deer, or,
Why Clement Moore, with the Collaboration of
St. Nicholas, Gave Those Odd Names to the Eight Deer

By William E. Studwell

Northern Illinois University

In the process of preparing an homage to Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), the author of "A Visit from S. Nicholas," on the 175th anniversary of the publication of that classic poem in the Troy Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823, an intriguing document was accidentally discovered. A few pages of notes, apparently in the hand of New Yorker Moore, a professor of Oriental and Greek literature, has been recently discovered. A section of these notes reveals the reason why Moore wrote the poem. In December 1822 Moore was personally visited by St. Nicholas himself, an incident which normally sober Moore, in hindsight, believed could have been a dream. The purpose of the visit, according to Moore's notes, was a desire by Nicholas to clarify the public perception of himself and his activities, which at the time was confused and inaccurate. Respecting Moore's intellectual and personal integrity, Nicholas asked Moore to write and publish a literary piece based on information supplied by Nicholas. The result was the quickly-written "Twas the Night Before Christmas," which as reported by Moore, thoroughly delighted the benevolent Saint. The notes reveal little more about the incident except for some details about the names and personalities of Nicholas' symmetrical set of eight reindeer.

A summary of Moore's reindeer commentary, based on information from Nicholas, follows:

Dasher -- the left side leader; travels well in short quick spurts, a perfect requirement for fast house-to-house dashes; also a dashing role model for the other seven deer.

Dancer -- the left number 2 deer; name alliterative with Dasher; has well-trained hoofs to maintain stability on snowy rooftops.

Prancer -- the left number 3 deer; Dancer's twin; also has skillful hoofs for rooftop maneuvers but is less disciplined than Dancer.

Vixen -- the left rear deer; name rhymes with Blitzen; has much emotional energy but is unpredictable.

Comet -- the right side leader; like his astronomical namesake, is both speedy and enduring; also commands attention, a must for leaders.

Cupid -- the right number 2 deer; name alliterative with Comet; moves as fast as Cupid's arrow but is too perfidious to lead.

Donner -- the right number 3 deer; name derived from the German word for thunder; is very strong, but not very enduring.

Blitzen -- the right rear deer; Donner's closest companion; name derived from the German word for lightning; the fastest and most energetic of the eight, but the least likely to last all Christmas eve.

Source: Northern Illinois University Office of Public Affairs [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

 

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Cynthia Crossen, writing for the Wall Street Journal, quoted Professor Studwell extensively in an article that appeared in December, 1997. The text of that article follows.

Songwriters strive for Christmas hit

Old tunes, carols remain preferred holiday fare

Do you hear what I hear?

Of course you do. It's unavoidable. It's the sound of about a dozen traditional Christmas carols looping around the sound systems of every restaurant, shop and lobby in America.

In the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's, people will play, sing and hear this handful of mostly 19th-century religious carols -- "Silent Night," "Away in a Manger," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "We Three Kings of Orient Are" -- billions of times. Why, a person with sensitive ears might wonder, doesn't someone write new Christmas carols?

The short answer is they do. You just hardly ever hear them. About 5,000 Christmas songs already exist, and many hopeful composers still hunch over their pianos trying to think up new angles on the world's best-known story. But writing a new Christmas song -- even a good one -- isn't the same as getting it to the ears of the masses. Today, that's about as easy as getting a camel through a needle's eye.

"You could have a good song out there for years, and not be successful," says William Studwell, who has written 12 Christmas tunes, including "Christmas Time Swing," with a big band sound, and "The Christmas Grouch," which is sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells." "I'm certainly not getting rich on mine," says Studwell, who has managed to get only about half of his songs recorded.

Studwell, chief cataloger at the library of Northern Illinois University, De Kalb, agrees with others who say that if "Silent Night" were written today, it would sink like a stone. "It would have zero chance" unless there were a big name behind it, says Owen Burdick, organist and director of music at Trinity Church on Wall Street. "If you got Paul Simon to sing it with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, then maybe."

The silver lining to the carol deadlock is that many songs of the season deserve their one-way ticket to oblivion. The weirder creations of the past half-century include such mirthless titles as 1972's "Daddy's Drinkin' Up Our Christmas" and 1977's "Santa's Messin' With the Kid." Other forgettable tunes: Ella Fitzgerald's "Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney" and Mel Blanc squawking "I Tan't Wait till Quithmuth" in his Tweety voice. One can only wonder what the pseudonymous Yogi Yorgesson (real name: Harry Stewart) was thinking in 1949 when he wrote the back-to-back tunes "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" and "Yingle Bells." And what about "Yoy to the World"?

Yet even good Christmas carols have found the 20th century tough sledding. In the golden age of religious carols, the decades just before and after the Civil War, most Americas could be found in church pews on Sunday morning, captive audiences for new spiritual music.

"There was a very public face to Christianity then, so these carols and hymns could be performed very widely without people taking offense," says Leigh Schmidt, professor of religion at Princeton University. "The music entered the cultural life blood faster than it could today." Schmidt notes how in the early part of this century, tens of thousands of people would crowd around a huge organ in the grand court of the old Philadelphia department store Wanamaker's and sing Christmas hymns together.

Today, public tastes are much more diffuse, and the route to listeners is lined with recording studios, radio stations and music-video channels that all prefer proven celebrities to obscure greenhorns.

But the most powerful damper on new Christmas music may be the sentimentality the holiday evokes, the tendency of people to recall past Christmases as a little rosier than they really were. "People like the classics," says Craig Townsend, associate rector for education at St. James Church in New York. "They like to feel they're doing what they did as a child and what their parents did when they were children." As Townsend riffles through his church's hymnal, he counts only one entry from this century among the 38 Christmas carols and hymns.

In fact, a few 20th-century songs have joined the pantheon of Christmas favorites -- "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bell Rock" -- but all are secular, partly because of increased sensitivity to the beliefs of non-Christians.

The most successful new Christmas song of the past two decades, Studwell notes dispiritedly, was "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," which became popular in 1983. One verse goes,

"When we found her Christmas morning,
At the scene of the attack
She had hoof prints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back."

"I don't mind novelties, Studwell says, "the Chipmunks don't kill me. But that's an awful tune."

A copy of this article was located at the web site for South Coast Today [Accessed Dec. 21, 2001]

 

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