16 Carols of the Year
Songs selected as Carol of the Year by Bill Studwell, Christmas carol expert:
- 1994: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
- 1995: "Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly"
- 1996: "The Christmas Song"
- 1997: "O Holy Night"
- 1998: "Sleigh Ride"
- 1999: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
- 2000: "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"/ "Frosty the Snowman" (tie)
- 2001: "O Come O Come Emmanuel"/"Silver Bells" (tie)
- 2002: "The Holly and the Ivy"
- 2003: "Good King Wenceslas"
- 2004: "Go Tell it On the Mountain"
- 2005: "Angels We Have Heard on High"
- 2006: "The First Nowell" (proper spelling, according to Studwell)
- 2007: "Jingle Bells"
- 2008: "Twelve Days of Christmas"
- 2009: "Winter Wonderland"
Source: Northern Illinois University
For most folks, Christmas isn’t complete without the songs.
Whether or not you’re a music expert, you probably have your favorites, often connected to treasured memories of the holidays.
This year the recognized expert on Christmas carols, Bill Studwell, named "Winter Wonderland" his 2009 Carol of the Year. Studwell, a professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University, has been researching Christmas songs since 1972 and was a technical consultant for this year’s Disney version of "A Christmas Carol."
"Winter Wonderland," was first released during the Great Depression but it kicked off a golden age for Christmas songs like "White Christmas, "I’ll Be Home for Christmas," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Silver Bells," "The Christmas Song" and others, all released between 1932 and 1951.
"It was an unprecedented period of growth for the genre," Studwell said. "Winter Wonderland," specifically, is "a beautiful tune, very lyrical, in that compelling big band style, and the lyrics are even better," Studwell said.
In Gainesville, folks have their own favorites for this time of year.
Steve Coldiron, an associate minister of music at First Baptist Church, points to three favorites: the contemporary and somewhat esoteric "Star Carol," the song "Mary Did You Know," and the classic "O Holy Night," which, as a young man, he saw performed by Beverly Sills of the Metropolitan Opera.
"It’s such a gorgeous piece, and it’s so versatile," Coldiron said. "You’ve heard orchestras do it, you’ve heard soloists do it."
When he saw Sills perform the song, "You could see tears coming down people’s faces — it was so beautiful."
For North Hall High School Band Director Alan Kirkland, "The Carol of the Bells" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel" appeal to him most musically.
Although he remembers hearing Manheim Steamroller Christmas music growing up, Kirkland said he most enjoys the timeless quality of the classics.
For Lancaster Music’s Ashley Whelchel, the songs performed in enduring stop-motion animation specials of the 1960s are her holiday favorites.
"The ones I associate with Christmas are from the old Rankin-Bass programs — ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’" Whelchel said. "It takes you back to that period of your life when all of that was real."
Whelchel made up a medley of songs from those animated specials for a chorus class she teaches in Sugar Hill.
"They’re in high school, but they still grew up with those programs and they still love them," Whelchel said.
Those not professionally tied to music also have their favorites.
The Times inquired of some familiar folks about their favorite Christmas songs and got these replies:
- "We always sing ‘Joy to the World’ after our Christmas play at church each year," said Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell. "I think this is significant in sharing the message that Jesus was born on this day, that the world should embrace its king, and every heart should open and welcome him in."
- "I first found ‘I Wonder As I Wonder’ in a John Jacob Niles song book when I was a kid," recalled Dave Anderson, publisher of local Spanish-language newspaper Mexico Lindo. "I worked it out on the piano but I never had sung it — not exactly a bass or baritone piece. I was handed ‘Mary Had A Baby’ many years ago in a small church and asked to sing it. Although it’s not really designed for the deeper male voice I made it through it. The two have been at the top of my Christmas music list for many years."
- "I enjoy John Lennon’s "Happy Christmas (War is Over)," said Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff. "It’s still relevant in today’s world."
- "‘What Child Is This’ is my favorite," said Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper. "The words are about the real meaning of Christmas and God’s special gift to the world. I also like the music to this song. My wife, Teresa, just learned to play this song on the piano and it has been a favorite in our home this Christmas."
- "‘Silent Night’ is always a favorite at my church’s Christmas Eve service," Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said.
- Said local attorney Arturo Corso: "It’s a tie: The grown-up in me loves the a cappella version of ‘Silver Bells’ where the chorale sings in cannon, simulating the instruments, and the kid in me loves the ‘Grinch’ song, which still makes me laugh after all these years — the imagery of a sea-sick crocodile, his appalling breath and the implement of a 99«-foot pole!"
- "I enjoy ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘What Child is This?’ and ‘O Holy Night’ sang by contemporary and popular artists," said Hall County Clerk of Courts Charles Baker. "I also enjoy traditional hymns sang by the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church choir and congregation that remind me of the birth of a savior."
- "There’s so many wonderful carols it’s hard to pick a favorite, but the one that comes to mind to me is ‘Mary Did You Know?’" said Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic. "I had a chance to hear John Berry sing it a week or so ago. It’s a beautiful song with a deep message of faith that stays true to our beliefs, and that’s why I like it."
- "‘Blue Christmas,’" said Northeastern Judicial Circuit Defender Brad Morris.
- "‘Christmas Time Is Here’ from the ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ soundtrack," said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. "It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that reflect the joy of the season and the prayer that joy and spirit lives all year long ... presented in a very simplistic form. Children lead the way!"
- "I like ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’" said District Attorney Lee Darragh. "‘Let nothing you dismay’ teaches us to be encouraged no matter our circumstances because of the saving grace of our savior Jesus Christ. It’s an uplifting hymn of joy and hope as we celebrate his birth."
- "I love the old stuff," said Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle. "Give me Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby over the new stuff. I also love any Christmas music that my wife sings at church."
- "‘The Little Drummer Boy,’" said Hall County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kiley Sargent. "The words to the song always remind me that the simplest gifts in life are sometimes the most precious."