Tour Dates
Latest News
Song Index
MP3 Page
Sheet Music
Press Kit Online
Folk Alliance
Join Email List
Joel Speaks
Tip Jar
or send    
to Joel

A Parlor Guitar Christmas

[click to return to A Parlor Guitar Christmas page]


Parlor music, simply put, is music performed in the home for small gatherings - family & guests entertained by an acoustic musician in the front room. The "parlor music era" is the time before the invention of the microphone, when a soft instrument like the guitar was best suited for small rooms and attentive ears. A few years ago I recorded an album of guitar solos called "Parlor Guitar" celebrating the popular music of the era and the tone of a smaller, quieter guitar. In this follow-up holiday collection, I am offering sacred and festive yuletide music of the parlor era. All the pieces here date from before 1920 -- some much older. But I don't pretend to re-create an early-music performance style of a century ago. In bringing this music to the guitar, I try to honor the original melodies to the best of my talents. I've taken care not to ornament the music with out-of-place modern sounds, but at the same time tried not to stifle my own creative sensibilities. Modern digital recording and editing tools were used, but no studio gimmickry - no overdubbing or multi-tracking. What you hear is one man with one guitar.

The guitar I play on this recording was built in 2009 by the studio of Bryan Galloup in Big Rapids, Michigan. It is the "Spartan" model of his Great Lake Guitar line: a curly maple wood body, spruce top, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard & bridge with a bone nut & saddle. It has exceptional tone and resonance. Steel and bronze strings of medium gauge were used in standard tuning. Played with bare fingers & natural nails, I used capos at various frets to help achieve the key and timbre I chose for each piece.

The Songs:
1 Wexford Carol 2:56
One of the oldest Christian carols, the 12th c. text is of Anglo-Irish origins. In County Wexford itself, the tune is called "Enniscorthy".

2 The First Nowell 3:10
This is indeed the original English spelling. Most scholars think this 16th c. carol is probably from Cornwall.

3 Il est né, le divin Enfant! 2:09
"He is Born, the divine Christ Child" is the usual translation of the 19th c. French text. But the tune is 17th c. and may be from Normandy.

4 While Shepherds Watched their Flocks 2:06
Nahum Tate's text has had many different settings. This hymn tune, aptly named "Christmas," is most popular in America, and is derived from George Frideric Handel's 1728 opera, Siroe.

5 Stille Nacht (Silent Night) 3:30
Austria, 1818. The day before Christmas Fr. Josef Mohr, the assistant pastor in little war-weary Oberndorf, had written a small nativity poem and asked his friend and local music teacher, Franz Gruber, to write a tune for it. The two young men sang it together that night at midnight mass - just two voices and guitar, with the small church choir echoing the last line of each verse. I play from Gruber's original Austrian melody here, but if you listen carefully you will hear those soaring high notes of the familiar American version in the final coda.

6 Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus 2:19
This cheery Welsh tune is named "Hyfrydol," written by young Rowland Huw Prichard in 1830. It has become the setting for several well-loved hymns, but was first used for the Advent text by Charles Wesley from 1744.

7 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing 2:40
Felix Mendelssohn's bright tune premiered in 1840, in part 2 of his Gutenberg Cantata, celebrating 400 years of moveable type. Charles Wesley's Christmas text was later wed to it posthumously.

8 We Three Kings of Orient Are 3:17
John Henry Hopkins, Jr. wrote both words & music of this musical tableau in 1857, for a Christmas pageant he was staging at his seminary in New York City. It has been a staple of Sunday School holiday programs ever since.

9 Wassail Song (Here We Come a-Caroling) 1:40
Though some elements are undoubtedly much older, this "Wessel Cup Hymn" was being sung on Yorkshire doorsteps by about 1860.

10 Up on the Housetop 1:52
Abolitionist activist and songwriter, Rev. Benjamin Russell Hanby wrote this song in 1864, arguably America's first secular Christmas song (Pierpont's "Jingle Bells" came seven years earlier, but written for Thanksgiving!)

11 O Little Town of Bethlehem 3:01
Written in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve of 1868, church organist Louis Redner was on deadline to compose music for the tender poem his pastor (Phillip Brooks) had written two years prior. The Church of England sings it to a different tune, but this American one came first. In old hymnals the tune itself is called "St. Louis," a name chosen by the publisher for no particular reason.

12 Toyland 3:04
Victor Herbert's Christmas-themed operetta, Babes in Toyland, was the toast of Broadway's 1903 season, and its hit song "Toyland" became an instant holiday classic.

13 In the Bleak Midwinter 2:38
Christina Rossetti did not intend her 1872 poem to be sung, but modernist English composer Gustav Holst fashioned this hymn tune ("Cranham") for it in 1905.

14 Gesu Bambino 2:58
My closing piece is the most recent. Italian organist Pietro Yon wrote it in 1917 while working at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. Quoting the 18th c. Latin hymn, Adeste Fideles in his refrain, Yon's tuneful melody has become an enduring favorite with operatic singers.

[click to return to A Parlor Guitar Christmas page]