Sunday, January 6, 2008

Credit Where Credit Is Due

This morning in church we sang The First Nowell out of the Pilgrim Hymnal, and then two songs from the New Century Hymnal: Who Would Think That What Was Needed and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Jesus, the Light of the World). On the way home, Onkel Hankie Pants pointed out a serious misstatement in the credits for Who Would Think That What Was Needed, which is sung to the tune Scarlet Ribbons, familiar to most people my age from Harry Belafonte's 1950s recording. The New Century Hymnal says that the melody is a Traditional English Folk Tune. This is not so. The song was written in 1949 by composer Evelyn Danzig and lyricist Jack Segal. We wondered if the misstatement comes from the Iona Community (John Bell and Graham Maule wrote the new words) and whether the New Century Hymnal committee simply took their word for it. And, indeed this appears to be true, as the Wild Goose Publications website where one can order sheet music for the song says that the arrangement is copyright 1987 but makes no mention of Evelyn Danzig. And John Bell a fellow of the Hymn Society!

OHP also had a bit of a quibble about the notes to the final song, which is an adaptation of Charles Wesley's words to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The tune is correctly attributed to George D. Elderkin (who also added the lines about "Jesus, the Light of the World") but the only dates given are those of Wesley's original words and the arrangement for the NCH which was done in 1993. Fortunately, my trove of Christmas (and Epiphany!) recordings includes the Boston Camerata's disc, An American Christmas. Its liner notes, by Joel Cohen, relate that the adaptation by Elderkin was published in 1890 in a book marvellously titled, The Finest of the Wheat: Hymns New and Old for Missionary and Revival Meetings and Sabbath-Schools. Cohen points out that the opening line has much in common with the Going Home theme of Dvorak's New World Symphony and wonders whether the Czech composer (who published his symphony three years later) might perhaps have heard Elderkin's song during his sojourn in America. This, however, we will never know.

And, apropos of giving proper credit, OHP also pointed out to me that Casey (whose real name was Roger Awsumb) was not actually singing in the clip I linked to yesterday, but was probably lip-synching to the singing of Yogi Yorgesson or Stan and Doug. But I can't tell for sure, because among the Christmas discs I do not own is Stan and Doug's I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas. (Hint to Santa....)

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