The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

While By The Sheep

Alternate Titles: How Great Our Joy and The Echo Carol

Words: Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht, Traditional German carol, by Nach Friedrich von Spee, veröffentlicht 1625

Music: Traditional German melody, arranged by Hugo Jüngst (1853-1923)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer

1. While by the sheep we watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy! (Great our joy!)
Joy, joy, joy! (Joy, joy, joy!)
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
(Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!)

2. There shall be born, so he did say,
In Bethlehem a Child today. Refrain

3. There shall the Child lie in a stall,
This Child who shall redeem us all. Refrain

4. This gift of God we'll cherish well,
That ever joy our hearts shall fill. Refrain

Alternate First Line:

While by my sheep I watched at night,

A new arrangement, and in the Esperanto language, has been created by Gene Keyes: The Echo Carol.

And please visit a set of 148 online Christmas carol lyrics in Esperanto by Leland Ross Bryant [Haruo Ros’]: Kristnaskaj Kantoj.

William Studwell, The Christmas Carol Reader

American Theodore Baker (1851-1934) was a truly outstanding music scholar. He is best remembered for his famous multi-edition reference work, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. He is also somewhat remembered for his exceptional skill at producing not just one, but three, carols of importance. And these three carols all deal with phenomena which are not part of the Christmas story, that is, bagpipes, echoes, and roses. The bagpipes were in the title of "Carol of the Bagpipers" ("Canzone d’i Zampognari"), echoes were the musical impression in "While By My Sheep" ("Als Ich bei meiner Schafen wacht"), and a rose was the allegory in "Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming" ("Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen").

The echoing device in "While By My Sheep" is so effective that one of the variant titles of Baker’s translation is "Echo Carol." That title was also employed by another translator who similarly appreciated the vividness of the echo simulation. Yet the song should not be just regarded as a gimmick piece, for this sixteenth-century German folk carol is overall a very esthetic composition. It is one of the more superb members of a class of carols which must be categorized as being of the second level. In this case, second level refers to its degree of international recognition and not its artistic quality. If judged solely on its musical merit, it would surpass some of the first level or international class carols.

Keyte and Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols

Setting I replaced by the undistinguished chorale tune to which this text was sung in the sixteenth century; it may have originated in a shepherd play, perhaps with an off-stage echo. Though the 1623 sources gives no accidentals in bars 1 and 3, they are found in subsequent seventeenth-century books, and were almost certainly always sung.

Setting II presents a later version of the tune, which is the basis of the carol as sung in the US.

We provide two different English refrains (one underlaid in each setting), both free imitations of the German. The SNOBC provides 9 verses, in both English and German.


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