Musical Countdown to Christmas: I Wonder and I Wander by John Jacob Niles

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Welcome to Day 10 of my musical countdown to Christmas. Remember to enter a comment for your chance to receive my gift of the day.

Who was John Jacob Niles?

  • Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1892
  • Learned music theory from his mother and began writing music as a teenager
  • Served in the first world war
  • Studied music in France after the war
  • Sang opera and then toured the United States with Marion Kirby
  • A historian, song-writer, and recording artist
  • Traveled across the Appalachian Mountains to find folk music
  • Felt it was his duty to collect, preserve, and revive American musical folklore
  • Created dulcimers
  • Farmer
  • Wrote several books on music
  • Called the “Dean of American Balladeers”
  • A Contemporary of Joan Baez, Burl Ives, and Peter, Paul and Mary
  • There is a John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky which displays a number of instruments he crafted

The Story behind I Wonder as I Wander

  • On July 16, 1933 John Jacob Niles heard a little girl (Annie Morgan) singing a song he’d never heard before. She was dirty and wearing tattered clothes, but sang the song beautifully. The tune caught his attention because of the haunting melody.
  • She told him it had been passed on to her by her mother who heard it from her mother, etc.
  • Annie Morgan repeated the song seven times for Niles in exchange for a quarter
  • John Jacob Niles took the fragment of song he collected and used it to compose I Wonder as I Wander, consisting of a melody of four lines with three different stanzas
  • He completed the song on October 4, 1933 and first performed it on December 19, 1933
  • Listen to the recording below of I Wonder as I Wander as recorded by John Jacob Niles

Historical Context – What happened in 1933?

  • It was the worst year of the Great Depression
  • One in four people was unemployed
  • Adolf Hitler opened the first concentration camp at Dachau
  • A loaf of bread cost 7 cents; The average labourer earned $20/week
  • The Prohibition was repealed
  • Strong winds formed dust bowls in the Midwest
  • The vaccine for diphtheria was introduced in the United States

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today:

Enter a comment below for an opportunity to receive the 1,000 piece puzzle.

Puzzle


Musical Countdown to Christmas: Hallelujah Chorus by George Frideric Handel

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Welcome to Day 9 in my musical countdown to Christmas. Only three more days until we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ!

Who was George Frideric Handel?

  • Born February 23, 1685 in Halle, Germany, the son of a barber/surgeon
  • Wanted to take music lessons; Was opposed by his father, but encouraged by his mother
  • Played the organ for Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow at age 7 and was accepted as his pupil
  • Composed for organ, oboe, and violin by age 10
  • His father died when George was 11 years old
  • At age 18 accepted a position as violinist with Hamburg Opera’s Goosemarket Theater and also taught private music lessons
  • Attended Halle University
  • Produced his first opera, Almira, in 1704
  • Wrote and produced operas in Germany, Italy, and England
  • Moved to England in 1726 and became an English citizen
  • Started the New Royal Academy of Music and produced successful operas for the next 10 years
  • Began writing oratorios after the opera was no longer popular

The Story behind the Hallelujah Chorus

  • Handel wrote the Messiah (oratorio) in 1741 under the commission of Dublin’s Lord Lieutenant, based on a biblical libretto assembled by art patron Charles Jennens
  • The complete Messiah was written in a mere 23 days!
  • In April 1742, Messiah debuted at New Music Hall in Dublin
  • The Hallelujah Chorus occurs at the end of the 2nd part of the Messiah, which focuses on the Passion
  • The chorus presents both a single melody and then two or more melodies (polyphonic) at the same time
  • The chorus ends with the presentation of “And He shall reign” arranged in the style of a fugue, a popular form of music in the Baroque period
  • After Handel’s death, the Messiah was adapted for performance by a larger orchestra and choir

And just for fun – a flash mob version 🙂

Historical Context

  • A British fleet reached Cartagena de Indias (Colombia)
  • Captain Bering discovered Mount St. Elias in Alaska
  • Anders Celsius, an astronomer, introduced the Centigrade temperature scale

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today:

Leave a comment below for an opportunity to win a paperback copy of The San Francisco Wedding Planner Complete Series I, which I wrote with four other authors: Jen Cudmore, Mishael Austin Witty, Sheila Seiler Lagrand, and Patti J. Smith.

Cover for San Francisco Wedding Planner Series 1 Complete


Musical Countdown to Christmas: We Three Kings by John H. Hopkins Jr.

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Welcome to Day 8 in my musical countdown to Christmas. Today we take a look at We Three Kings by John H. Hopkins, Jr.

Who was John H. Hopkins Jr.?

  • Born October 28, 1820 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • His father was Bishop of Vermont
  • Graduated from the University of Vermont
  • Worked as a reporter, intending to go on to law school
  • Attended General Theological Seminary instead
  • Taught music at General Theological Seminary
  • Was a writer and poet, book illustrator, and stained glass window designer
  • Also worked as editor, deacon, priest, and rector

The Story behind We Three Kings

  • Originally titled The Quest of the Magi
  • Written in 1857 for a Christmas pageant at General Theological Seminary
  • Based on the biblical story of the Magi and their journey to worship the promised Messiah (Matthew 2:1,2)

Historical Context

  • Stephen Douglas founded a Baptist Seminary in Chicago
  • The United States Supreme Court ruled that Africans could not become citizens
  • Mark Twain began a two year apprenticeship to become a riverboat pilot
  • Joseph Gayetty invented commercial toilet paper
  • James Buchanan became the 15th President of the United States of America
  • The Ohio Life Insurance and Trust (New York Branch) failed, causing widespread financial panic
  • Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today:

Leave a comment below for your opportunity to win a CD with two Focus on the Family radio interviews with Mr. Tim Sisarich.

Tim Sisarich


Musical Countdown to Christmas: Go Tell it on the Mountain by John W. Work Jr.

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Welcome to Day 7 of my Musical countdown to Christmas. Today we’re going to take a look at Go Tell it on the Mountain, shared with the world by John W. Work, Jr.

Who was John W. Work, Jr.?

  • Born on June 15, 1901 in Tullahoma, Tennessee
  • Son of a church choir director
  • Grew up in Nashville
  • Earned his Master’s degree in Latin
  • Taught Latin and Greek
  • A professor at Fisk University
  • A professional musician who published more than 50 compositions
  • Decided to collect songs sung by American slaves

The Story Behind Go Tell it on the Mountain

  • The song was sung by American slaves as far back as 1865
  • In 1960 John W. Work III published Folk Songs of the American Negro, which included the song called, Go Tell it on the Mountain (author unknown)
  • Peter, Paul & Mary changed the lyrics and renamed the song, Tell it on the Mountain
  • Paul Schlossal rewrote the lyrics for children and named the song, Go Tell it on the Swingset
  • The song has been recorded by over 20 popular artists through the years

Historical Context

  • 1955 – Winston Churchill was defeated
  • 1955 – First transistor radio was produced by Sony
  • 1956 – Elvis Presley released his first song
  • 1957 – Soviet Union launched the Sputnik
  • 1958 – NASA was founded
  • 1959 – Xerox produced the first commercial photocopier
  • 1960 – Students protested segregation in Greensboro, North Carolina

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today:

A paperback copy of the Kathi Macias’ 12 Days of Christmas, which contains 12 stories by 12 different authors. My story, Cecile’s Christmas Miracle, is number seven in this series.

12 Days of Christmas Cover


Musical Countdown to Christmas – The Birthday of a King by William H. Neidlinger

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Welcome to Day 6 of my Musical Countdown to Christmas. I hope you’re enjoying this series as much as I am. Today we take a look at The Birthday of a King by William H. Neidlinger.

Who was William H. Neidlinger?

  • Born in 1863
  • Studied in Brooklyn, London, and Paris
  • A Composer of two operas, a mass, a cantata, and many songs
  • Put his own poems and the work of others (Whitman, Tennyson, Longfellow, etc.) to music
  • An organist and conductor in New York City
  • Founded a school for children who were underachievers in New Jersey
  • Developed music pedagogy and music therapy, which he tried at his school

The Story behind The Birthday of a King

  • Written in 1890
  • Originally published in 1912
  • The words and music were written by William H. Neidlinger

Historical Context

  • The first playable recording (1877)
  • Carnegie Hall opened in New York
  • Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes
  • Emily Dickensen (poet)
  • Recording of the Hallelujah Chorus by the Battery Band in New York
  • A decline in the New York Stock Exchange started an economic depression in 1893

Looking for more details?

My gift for today

Enter a comment below for your chance to win Every Child Can Succeed: Making the Most of Your Child’s Learning Style by Cynthia Tobias.

Every Child can Succeed


Musical Countdown to Christmas: Joy to the World by Isaac Watts

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Welcome to my musical countdown to Christmas, Day 5. You may also want to read about the carols and composers from Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4. Don’t forget to leave a comment for an opportunity to win my gift of the day.

Who was Isaac Watts?

  • Born on July 17, 1674 in Southampton, England
  • He complained to his father that the songs of the church were hard to sing; his father told him to write something better
  • Learned Greek, Hebrew, and Latin
  • 1696 became a tutor
  • 1702 became a pastor
  • Struggled with poor health
  • Wrote books on geography, astronomy, grammar, and philosophy, but he’s most famous for the more than 700 hymns/poems which he wrote both for adults and children. Most of his poetry and hymns were based on Scripture passages.
  • Considered the “Father of English hymnody”
  • Awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by the University of Edinburg

The story behind Joy to the World

  • Written in 1719 under a tree on the Abney Estate near London, England
  • Based on Psalm 98
  • Original theme of the song was the second coming of Jesus
  • Watt’s poem was set to music over 100 years later by Lowell Mason

Historical context (1719)

  • Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe
  • First recorded sighting of the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) in New England

Looking for more details?

My gift for today

Leave a comment below to be entered in a draw for the devotional book, Rise. This book has 32 weeks of devotionals for students in their first year of college, written by ninety-two different authors.

Rise by Ruth L Snyder


Musical Countdown to Christmas: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Who was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

  • Born in Maine in 1807
  • The second child of eight
  • Enjoyed writing and planned many writing projects with his friend William Browne
  • Published his first poem at age 13
  • Attended Bowdoin College along with Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Learned seven different languages and taught French, Spanish, and Italian at Bowdoin
  • First book (travelogue) was Outre Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (1835)
  • Married Mary Potter, who died of a complicated miscarriage
  • Suffered from depression
  • Fell in love with Fanny Appleton (but Fanny didn’t reciprocate for seven long years)
  • Started teaching at Harvard University in 1836
  • Became popular worldwide as a poet and writer
  • Resigned from Harvard in 1857, a self-sustaining author
  • In 1861 Henry sustained burns trying to rescue Fanny from a house fire; Fanny died on their 18th wedding anniversary
  • In 1863 Henry’s son, Charles, ran off and joined the civil war against his father’s wishes
  • Has been described as a traveller, a linguist, and a romantic

The Story behind I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

  • Henry’s son, Charles, was a soldier in the Union Army
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the words in December 1863 as he sat at the bedside of his son Charles, who was injured in the war
  • Original Title: Christmas Bells
  • You can find the full text of the poem on Hymns and Carols of Christmas
  • Watch the video below to hear more of the story and a stirring rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Historical Context of the Song

  • Written in the middle of the American Civil War (1861-1865)
  • Over 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in this war due to either battle or disease
  • Harriet Tubman freed slaves
  • “Missa Solemnis,” by Franz Schubert was performed in Leipzig
  • “Les Pêcheurs de Perles,” by George Bizet premiered in France

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today

Enter your comment below for a chance to win a copy of a dramatized version of Oliver Twist (written in 1838 by Charles Dickens).

Oliver Twist


Musical Countdown to Christmas: Away in a Manger by John T. McFarland

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Welcome to day 3 in my musical countdown to Christmas. You may also be interested in reading the posts for Day 1 and Day 2. Don’t forget to leave a comment below for your chance to win!

Who was John T. McFarland?

  • Born January 2, 1851
  • Methodist Minister who served in Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island, New York, and Kansas
  • Edited Sunday School Programs for the Methodist Episcopal Church

The Story behind Away in a Manger

  • First published in 1885 in a Lutheran Sunday School book compiled by James R. Murray
  • Most people say the author of the first two stanzas is unknown.
  • Another collection published in 1887 by James R. Murray (Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses) claimed the song was written by Martin Luther. “Luther’s Cradle Hymn, Composed by Martin Luther for his children and still sung by German mothers to their little ones.”
  • The carol became known in Germany AFTER it was widely known in the United States, which discounts the theory that Martin Luther wrote the first two stanzas
  • Third stanza was written by John T. McFarland in 1908 for use in a children’s church day program

Historical Context of the Song

  • Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was published
  • First issue of Good Housekeeping was published
  • Louis Pasteur developed a successful vaccine against rabies
  • The first bottle of Coca-cola was sold in 1886
  • Nikola Tesla began experimenting with x-rays

Looking for more details?

My Gift for today

Enter a comment below for your chance to win “Welcome to Whit’s End” a CD with two Adventures in Odyssey stories and a bonus mini-drama.

Adventures in Odyssey