We’re in the height of the Christmas season, and it’s been weeks of holiday movies, TV specials, Christmas songs on the radio and streaming non-stop. As we listen to our old favorites and some new ones, there is one song that has piqued my curiosity- ‘Carol of the Bells’.
The song is just over 100 years old and began as a Ukrainian Folk song called “Shchedryk” to usher in the New Year. Yet it has endured, having been recorded and performed across every modern genre of music.
There are many versions of it from orchestral to heavy metal, from techno to a cappella and it’s almost always a hit or at least a fan favorite no matter who it’s performed by. But why?
When I first learned how to play it on the piano in my childhood, it quickly became a holiday favorite of mine. There were a handful of other Christmas songs that I enjoyed playing but there was just something about the melody of Carol of the Bells that grabbed me.
Of course, many Christmas songs have been around for much longer. ‘The First Noel’ is thought to have originated in the 13th or 14th century, and many are considered to be much more popular than COTB, ‘ Silent Night’ is one. Both are religious in context. COTB crosses both religious and secular realms, a favorite in Christmas church services, choral performances, and mainstream music alike. But considering the more modern songs from ‘White Christmas’ to ‘ All I want for Christmas is You’, while ranked much higher in popularity and both having endured decades, will they still be as popular 100 years from now? It’s also interesting to note that neither has been recorded across as many genres as COTB.
So what is it exactly about Carol of the Bells? Is it just a great hook? Is it the haunting melody? The repetitiveness?
I doubt that Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych who composed 'Shchedryk' or Peter J. Wilhousky who wrote the American version of the lyrics in 1936 could have imagined the future heavy metal or techno versions of the song that were to come. I hope they had a great publishing deal!