Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007
K-STATE MUSIC PROFESSOR SAYS BEAUTY, SIMPLICITY KEYS TO LASTING HOLIDAY SONGS
MANHATTAN -- For a Christmas song to become popular sometimes less is more, according to Jana Fallin, a Kansas State University professor of music.
The beauty and simplicity of a song, combined with its message, is what can create a lasting Christmas tune, said Fallin, who also is a distinguished teaching scholar and division chair of music education at K-State.
"Positive memories associated with childhood -- and the different Christmas songs -- probably factor into the popularity of a song," said Fallin. "The simplicity and sing-ability of a song also can contribute to its popularity."
Some songs, like "Silent Night," have been around for nearly 200 years. The symbolism behind "Silent Night," in addition to its beauty and simplicity, have probably contributed to its longevity, Fallin said.
The lyrics and music to "Silent Night" came together in 1818 in Austria. The lyrics were written in German by Father Josef Mohr and the melody was composed by Franz X. Gruber, an Austrian. Their little church had all the music ready for the Christmas concert, but the organ froze and could not be used. Mohr and Gruber quickly composed "Silent Night" to be accompanied by a guitar, Fallin said.
"This song has beautiful symbolism in that out of a bad situation came good, which is much like the birth of Jesus," Fallin said. "Jesus was born in a manger, and while we tend to romanticize this in our interpretation of the manger scene, it was actually a dark, dank place. It was a manger, filled with animals and excrement -- but that's where Jesus was born. This song was created out of a dark time. They needed music when the organ was broken, and with some improvisation, a wonderful song was born."
Fallin said that since St. Francis of Assisi held an evening in 1223 that included carols and dancing in addition to re-enacting the manger scene, singing or caroling have been a part of Christmas worship. Following the Protestant Reformation, ordinary people -- not clergymen -- were able to write many of the songs.
"Because of this, many of the Christmas songs have a folk quality," Fallin said. "They were written by the people and the songs are simple, beautiful and easy to sing and play."
While faith inspired songs like "What Child is This" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," which were penned in the 1500s, commercialism has probably contributed to the popularity of Christmas songs like "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Fallin said.
"'Rudolph' was created in 1939 for children as a holiday promotional gift by a department store, and when Gene Autry sang it in 1949, the song became a legend," she said.
Other recent holiday songs like "The Christmas Song," written in 1944, are popular because they are easy to sing along with and people connect to them, Fallin said.