Carol of the Bells is one of the most beloved Christmas carols out there. But what’s the story behind it? Well, it wasn’t written as a Christmas carol. In 1916, it was created by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich, but it was essentially a new year’s song about a sparrow flying into a house to proclaim how great the new year would be.
So…if it wasn’t a Christmas carol, how did it get to be one? Enter American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky. In 1936, Wilhousky heard the melody, and said that it reminded him of bells. And so, he wrote new lyrics to the nearly 20 year old song, and the lyrics that Leontovich first used in his original arrangement (that was performed at Carnegie Hall on October 5th, 1921) have been pushed aside by Wilhousky’s lyrics.
Throughout the years, as recordings of Christmas music became popular, and especially for choral music, Carol of the Bells became one that was regularly performed and recorded. I’m guessing that it will be difficult to go the next month and a half without hearing the melody, and possibly the words played.
If you want to learn to play Carol of the Bells, or any other Christmas song, Harmanny Music Education can help! Lessons are available in person or online starting this week!