Music stories

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella?

I was working with my student, Caleb, on an arrangement of the Christmas carol, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” and we were discussing where this song came from. I told him that I knew it was French, but that was pretty much it.

So, to my friendly Google search I went. And what I found was fascinating! I never knew about the extra comma in the title. I always thought it was “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella”. My thought was, it was one girls’ name. Don’t really know why she was bringing a torch, but it worked in my head. The truth is, that extra comma brings in another person to the song. Jeanette AND Isabella were supposed to bring a torch.

So who are Jeanette and Isabella and why are they supposed to bring a torch? While originally, this song wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas song, Jeanette and Isabella found Mary and the baby Jesus, and they go tell everyone in the town, but of course, encouraging the visitors to keep quiet so the baby can sleep. They’re bringing torches to light the way to see baby Jesus!

There’s typically an interesting story behind most songs. For the Christmas season on Tuesdays, I’ll be sharing a bit of a story behind some Christmas carols that are well known, or in the case of this one, not so well known. I can definitely see how this one would have been a dance for French nobility, because it definitely has a wonderful lilting dance-like quality to it.

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