Music History, Music stories, Musical Community

What is the most famous Mexican song?

Happy Cinco de Mayo! May the 5th is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, where the Mexican army defeated the French in 1862. It is probably celebrated more here in the United States than in Mexico, but it got me thinking about the question I posed in the title of this post. What is the most famous Mexican song?

 

I’m not as familiar with the music of Mexico, as I am with other countries, so I started doing some research. I found songs like “La Bamba”, “La Cucaracha”, “Oye Como Va” and “Besame Mucho” as the most famous ones. You can check them out below.

 

 

 

 

Other more recent Mexican musicians would include Gloria Trevi, Luis Miguel and Selena, among others.

 

 

 

Do you have a favorite Mexican song? Share it in the comments!

 

Music History, Music stories

What Child is This?

Throughout my years of life and musicianship, I’ve had lots of favorite Christmas songs. But more recently, one that wasn’t high on the list of my favorites has become one. And in today’s post, I’m going to explain a little about the song and why I’ve come around on it.

 

What Child is This is one of the few Christmas carols written in a minor key. Minor keys usually evoke a sad or melancholy feeling, where major keys, usually evoke a happy or triumphant feeling. So what’s going on here? Well, you can ask the question, “which came first, the melody or the lyrics?” to a song, and in this case, the answer is the melody. An old English tune named “Greensleeves” about a woman…with….green….sleeves. Logical, right? So what does it have to do with Christmas? Nothing. The tune fit the text, and it isn’t clear (but doesn’t like it was intended) if William Chatterton Dix, the author of the text intended it to be set to music at all.

 

So what’s the story behind the words? This is where it gets fun. In 1865, Dix experienced an unexpected and severe illness that left him bedridden and suffering from depression. Not fun at all! But this experience (and his recovery) led to a spiritual renewal in him, and somewhere around the Christmastime of 1865, he penned these words.

1. What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

2. Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

3. So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 

These words are extremely powerful, and set to the tune “Greensleeves” are a perfect backdrop for the full life of Jesus. At Christmas, yes, Christians celebrate His birth, but His whole purpose was not to solely be born, but to redeem the world through His death and resurrection. THAT is why I’ve changed my opinion on this song. It’s not just about a cute little baby born in a stable, laid in a manger (that part may or may not be true) on a silent night (definitely not true! There were people and animals everywhere!), but it’s the full story. Some songs focus on a snippet or a section of a story, and leave you wanting more. This gives you a full picture, leading to the last verse, reminding us that it isn’t just about a birth, not only about nails and a spear piercing, but salvation for the whole world!

 

Music History, Music stories, Musical Creativity

Get Back Thoughts #2: Teamwork

Last week, I wrote about the Beatles documentary “Get Back”. I wrote about how they needed help and got it from Billy Preston. This week, I’m going to talk about teamwork.

The Beatles were known as the “Fab Four”. It wasn’t John or Paul or George or Ringo. It was John and Paul and George and Ringo. One of the things that I really appreciated in watching this documentary was that even in the midst of personal disagreement and strife (this was very close to the end of the Beatles as a band), when they made music together, you could see how they worked together to create an amazing and unique sound.

One of the ways you see this is in their songwriting process. It wasn’t always just Paul or George or Ringo or John individually writing the songs. It’s all of them working together. One of my favorite parts was when Ringo was sitting down at the piano working on Octopus’s Garden.

Music can be an individual effort. But from my experience in making music throughout my life, I’ve found so much more joy in a collective experience. Whether that was singing in a choir, playing handbells in a group, playing trumpet in band, accompanying singers or instrumentalists on the piano or organ, the teamwork that goes into making music is so important. The Beatles, even in the midst of struggles still worked and clicked together in making music. Whether it was just goofing around on songs they all knew, or making new songs, you can see their teamwork happen so clearly.

Yesterday, I got an email from a church that I am filling in for on the organ later in the month. The email was letting me know that at each service, there would be two violinists. I got very excited and replied immediately saying that I would be looking forward to it. The response I received intrigued me. There was some worry that it would be an issue. My response to that was that I was going to start looking through my resources for music to work on. Of course, this church doesn’t know me or my background, I was just recommended as a sub. They don’t know that I’ve grown up around music in the church, spent 18 years as full time church music minister and that I feel very strongly about utilizing instruments in worship. But sometimes, musicians don’t always want to work with others. Sometimes, musicians don’t like working with others. When we do work together, beautiful music happens. Just like what you see when you watch the documentary “Get Back”.

“Get Back” is currently streaming on Disney+. It is in 3 parts, each about 2+ hours in length.

Music History

Mr. Handel’s unintentional Christmas Songs

George Friedrich Handel wrote two pieces that are sung so often this season and are beloved, but….weren’t intended as Christmas music.

The first one is the hymn “Joy to the World”. Handel didn’t write the words, the great hymnwriter Isaac Watts did. But the hymn doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus specifically, Christmas, or any of it. Why? Because it wasn’t originally intended to be a Christmas hymn. Watts wrote many Psalm paraphrases, or taking the psalm words and phrasing them metrically to fit for a hymn. This is one of those. The closest “Christmasy” part to the hymn is the first verse. But I love using this tune with students, because it’s such a wonderful melody to talk about steps, scales, thirds, fifths and octaves, because it is a descending major scale on the first line, then leaping up a third and moving by a step.

The second one is the “Hallelujah Chorus”. It too, to is not a Christmas piece. So why do we sing it at Christmas? Awesome question. When Handel wrote it, it was part of the Easter section of the Messiah. He wrote two main parts. Christmas and Easter. About 70 years after it was written, it became a Christmas staple…due to Americans. The Handel and Haydn society was a performing group in Boston. In 1818, on Christmas Day, they gave a concert of excerpts from “The Messiah”. And it was such a beloved event that it became tradition. And tradition is hard to break, even when you don’t really know why you do it! If we dig into the theology of it, it works, because Christmas is connected to Easter. If Jesus wasn’t born, he couldn’t have lived and died and rose again to save the world from their sins!

So there you go. Two musical selections, initially intended for non Christmas purposes, now sung by so many every Christmas season. And now you know! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Handel pieces ACTUALLY written for Christmas!

Music History, Music stories

Get Back Thoughts #1: Help

Recently on Disney+, the documentary “Get Back”, using archival footage of The Beatles was released. I had the opportunity to watch all 3 parts, and as a musician and a Beatles fan, I had a lot of takeaways. I will be sharing a few different snippets of my thoughts over the next couple of weeks on Wednesdays.

The subtitle that I came up with for this was “Help”. Not just because of the song the Beatles wrote by the same name, but my takeaway was on musicians needing help. One of my biggest fascinations with this documentary was the creative writing process. They had a deadline of January 31st, 1969. They started on January 3rd, 1969. Essentially, a month to write, craft and record songs. Ultimately, it took longer than the month, but that was pretty much their time frame.

This album brought the songs “Get Back”, “The Long and Winding Road” and my personal favorite, “Let It Be”. All of these (and others) were written in the course of a month. The creative process is fascinating. By this time, there had been a lot of interpersonal tension, and that plays out in the documentary. But, to watch them work together, make music together, and have fun together is an absolute joy.

The other “Help” part was when they realized they needed an extra musician. This was the biggest, most well-known band in the world. They had created songs that people loved and it was always just the 4 of them. But they needed more in their sound. So, they included Billy Preston, keyboard player for Ray Charles. The maturity and understanding to ask for someone else to be involved speaks volumes. They could have been arrogant about it and said that they didn’t need help. They could have settled for what it sounded like without Billy. It was OK, but adding Billy and electric piano in made everything come alive and filled in the spaces that needed filling in.

As musicians, we can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. Not just including and working with other musicians, but we need others to encourage, support and help us along the way. I know that I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without others. My instructors, my parents and so many more who encouraged me along my journey. Asking for help as a musician isn’t a weakness. It’s a strength. Another set of eyes and ears can do wonders for creativity, learning and musicianship. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Music History

Carol of the Bells

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!