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About Christmas Instrumentals

This section includes a selection of Christmas songs and hymns. These were written by various composers over the years and are performed instrumentally by Paul. These recordings are from Paul’s Acoustic Country Christmas CD released in 2014. All tracks were recorded at Ryantunes Studio, are subject to copyright, with performance rights through SOCAN.

In this About section, each track contains the Background of the music plus Paul’s notes on how he approached recording it.

Ave Maria 
(Composer: Franz Schubert / Time: 3:06)

In 1825, Franz Schubert composed “Ellen’s Third Song”, one of several musical creations based upon Walter Scott’s epic poem “The Lady of the Lake”, in which Scott’s fictional character Ellen Douglas is in exile when her clan goes off to fight the army of King James. Ellen prays to Virgin Mary asking for help during the battle, and Schubert’s creation is his musical interpretation of that prayer. The original version was without religious overtones, however possibly due to the beginning (“Hail Mary”), the composition soon became solemn, religious and written in Latin. The Ave Maria stands today at the pinnacle of musical creations.

Recording Approach
This is a most sacred hymn, and so “not jazzing it up” but maintaining its integrity using acoustic country instruments was my goal. I used the famous Pavarotti version as a guide for tempo and the overall orchestral approach. The classical guitar provides a consistent background thread while the main guitar was my “vocalist”. I remember that during recording, I had scribbled down that the hymn contains something like 12 different support chords.


Angels We Have Heard on High
(Composers: Various /  Time: 2:22)

Here is a hymn that was written by a number of people and generations over two-thousand years! The chorus dates way back to 130AD when the phrase “Gloria in excelsis Deo” was a chant that became popular during the Christmas season. Much later, during Medieval times a more complete French version titled “Les Anges dans nos Campagnes” was created based upon the Gospel of Luke that commemorates the story of the birth of Jesus. Then in 1882, Roman Catholic Bishop James Chadwick translated the French version to English. A few adjustments later, the music became “Angels We Have Heard on High” … the Christmas hymn as we know it today.

Recording Approach
I was looking for a “light” approach during the verses. However, the centerpiece is the Gloria chorus so used guitar that was able to both provide the mood and also build towards the chorus. I also selected the banjo for the music and though it might seem an odd choice given the subject-matter, I believed banjo would reinforce the “lightness” plus provide a different voice from guitar.

Here Comes Santa Claus
(Composers: Gene Autry & Oakley Haldeman / Time: 2:14)

Gene Autry, a 1940’s and 50’s cowboy star was riding his horse during the 1946 Pasadena Santa Claus Lane parade when someone in the crowd yelled “here comes Santa Claus!” The phrase stuck with Autry and inspired him to set down the lyrics that musician Oakley Haldeman later wrote the tune for. In 1947, Autry recorded the song, and later on it was recorded by many artists of various genre backgrounds. Some of those were Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Bob Dylan and many others.

Recording Approach
This is a very happy song, so used guitar and banjo as the main instrumentation with a bit of bluesy feel. The tempo is a bit slow for banjo but was happy with how it fit in the mix as it added a bit of lightness.


Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
(Composer: Johnny Marks / Time 2:07)

In 1938, Bob May was a copyrighter for the big department store Montgomery-Ward. When his wife died of cancer, he decided to write a storybook for his despondent 5-year-old, and at Christmas 1939, he gave her the gift. It was the story of a misfit reindeer with a red nose which he based upon his own childhood. May showed executives at Montgomery-Ward the storybook he’d created about Rudolph, and the big store sold it as a coloring book. In its first year, the Rudolph book sold over 2.5 million copies, and by 1946 over six million copies had been sold. Meanwhile May’s brother-in-law was a musician-Johnny Marks. Marks wrote some music for the Rudolph story and tried to interest music publishers, labels and musicians in recording it. For years, they all passed on the song until Gene Autry recorded it in 1949. It became an instant hit. outselling all but one Christmas song that year.

Recording Approach
Here is another happy Christmas song. And the tempo is slow. I used the old tried and trustworthy guitar-banjo combination to deliver Rudolph musically. I was worried that the banjo roll would be so slow as to take away from the fun nature of the song, but all worked out ok in the end.


Silent Night

(Composers: Franz Gruber, Joseph Mohr / Time: 3:09)

On Christmas Eve 1818, a brand-new carol was played at midnight mass at St. Nicholas Village Church in Oberndorf, Austria. It was performed by a choir and backed by a young guitarist- Father Joseph Mohr, who had written lyrics for the music. Earlier that day Mohr had taken the piece to the home of a local music teacher-Franz Gruber to have it set to music. Gruber did so, and that evening served as choirmaster for the unveiling of “Stille Nacht”. Later on in 1859, Episcopal priest John Freeman Young at Trinity Church in New York City published the English translation and slowed down the melody, which is the version common today.


Recording Approach
Following the Freeman tempo model, Silent Night seems to sound best when it is at a slower tempo. The guitar does the lion’s share of work in this recording but it was important not to cross lanes with banjo. To accommodate I used a KM184 on the neck near the joint of the guitar to pick up a bit of detail and used EQ during the recording to separate the two instruments.


Jingle Bells
(Composer: James Lord Pierpoint / Time: 2:24)

In year 1850, the address 19 High Street in Medford Massachusetts was the site of the Simpson Tavern, and today a plaque at the location reads “the birthplace of Jingle Bells”. James Lord Pierpoint wrote the song, and there has been some debate regarding where and when he wrote it. During autumn 1857 to celebrate Thanksgiving, Pierpoint copyrighted the song as “One Horse Open Sleigh”. The debate is due to the fact that at that time, he was the music director of the Unitarian Church in Savannah Georgia-nowhere near Medford. Either way, his creation was reprinted in 1859 under the name of “Jingle Bells”, and over the years has become associated with the Christmas season.

Recording Approach
How do you record a song that has been done a million times? I looked for a unique way to record it and thought a variety of instruments was the way to go. So I used the banjo in Verse 2, and a dobro in Verse 3. 

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