Oh Come All Ye Curious

True Tales Behind Our Favorite Holiday Songs

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The genesis of some holiday songs is pretty self-evident--"The First Noel," for instance, or "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." But others don't reveal themselves so easily. Every year we hear favorites like "Good King Wenceslas," or "I Saw Three Ships" but many don't know the history of the people or events to which these songs refer. Each weekday between now and Christmas Eve, we'll tell you the story of a classic song or carol.

15) Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

This famous carol actually started life as a song in praise of the inventor of the printing press.

Charles Wesley, the godfather of English hymns and brother of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, wrote the words to "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" in 1739, although the carol was originally entitled simply "Hark!." Wesley also specifically requested that his words be accompanied by somber music--a request that was adhered to for 100 years.

Congregations in the 18th and early 19th centuries sang "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" to a plodding, dreary melody. It took some unusual events to break Wesley's gloom. In 1840 Felix Mendelssohn composed a cantata called Festgesang to commemorate Johann Gutenberg and the 400th anniversary of the printing press. A dozen years later, English musician William Cummings heard the second chorus of the cantata and retrofitted the original lyrics to Mendelssohn's tune.

Cummings' inspiration to pair a Mendelssohn melody with Wesley's words granted the carol a degree of immortality than it otherwise might not have had. For many years "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" has served as the recessional hymn of the annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in King's College Chapel, Cambridge. Many Americans are introduced to the carol from its rousing appearance in the end credits of "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

14) White Christmas

This Irving Berlin classic is the song that changed everything about holiday music. Before “White Christmas,” the holidays meant traditional carols and religious hymns. After it, secular tunes became part of the fiber of popular culture.

First performed by Bing Crosby in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn and covered by countless others, an estimated 125 million copies of the three-minute song have been sold over the decades, according to Slate.com music critic Jody Rosen.

Rosen, who wrote an entire book called White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, described the song as how "a cantor's son from Russia takes the Christ out of Christmas and composes one of America's favorite songs." He added that it is "the darkest, bluest tune ever to masquerade as a Christmas carol," with its hints of dissonance and minor and diminished chords.

In fact, days were never "merry and bright" for songwriter Berlin and his Catholic second wife, Ellin, after the death of their infant son on Christmas Day, 1928, 12 years before Berlin composed "White Christmas." And it's not a carol--that implication is religious--it's just a popular song.

"Is there another song that Kenny G, Peggy Lee, Mantovani, Odetta, Loretta Lynn, the Flaming Lips, the Edwin Hawkins Singers and the Backstreet Boys have in common?" writes Rosen. "What other tune links Destiny's Child, The Three Tenors and Alvin and the Chipmunks; Perry Como, Garth Brooks and Stiff Little Fingers; the Reverend James Cleveland, Doris Day and Kiss?" (Irving Berlin so hated Elvis Presley's cover of White Christmas that he launched a fierce but unsuccessful campaign to ban Presley's recording.)

To add to the song’s many contradictions, the its first stanza speaks of sun and green grass. Bing Crosby's record producer Jack Kapp thought this opening verse would be meaningless outside of the film Holiday Inn, however.

Crosby agreed, and didn't record these lyrics that explain the song's origin: "The sun is shining/The grass is green/The orange and palm trees sway./I've never seen such a day/In Beverly Hills, L.A./But it's December the 24th/And I am longing to be up North."

13) The Christmas Song

Best known by its evocative opening line of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose," this perennial favorite was written by jazz singer Mel Tormé and songwriter Bob Wells during a Los Angeles heat wave in the summer of 1944. According to Tormé, the song was an effort to “stay cool by thinking cool.”

“I saw a spiral pad on his piano with four lines written in pencil,” Tormé recalled. “They started, 'Chestnuts roasting ... Jack Frost nipping ... Yuletide carols ... Folks dressed up like Eskimos.' Bob (Wells, co-writer) didn’t think he was writing a song lyric. He said he thought if he could immerse himself in winter he could cool off. Forty minutes later that song was written. I wrote all the music and some of the lyrics.”

Wells was just 22 and Tormé was only 19 at the time. It was Nat “King” Cole who made the song a smash hit, recording it several times: first in 1946, then again later that year with a small string section; in 1953, using the same arrangement with a full orchestra arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and once more in 1961 in a stereo version with orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. Tormé himself eventually recorded his own versions in 1954, 1965 and 1992.

The Nat "King" Cole version of “The Christmas Song” was the second-most popular holiday song of the past decade--just behind "Winter Wonderland"--according to ASCAP.

12) O Holy Night (Cantique de Noël)

The history of this carol is fraught with controversy. The Catholic Church denounced "O Holy Night" when its lyricist, a French wine merchant named Placide Cappeau, became a socialist and it was discovered that the composer of the music, Adolphe Adam, was a Jew. In addition, the French church authorities deemed it as "unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste" and "total absence of the spirit of religion," according to Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.

Still, the carol caught on quickly after its premiere at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1847, in Roquemaure, France, just days after it had been completed. It is said to have been the first piece of music to be broadcast on the radio when a Massachusetts radio station played it on Christmas Eve, 1906.

The carol also has an interesting historical link to the abolition of slavery. The French text includes a passage that says Christ's love connects men as brothers, even to those who are slaves. In 1855, six years before the American Civil War, American John Dwight's English translation of the song included a strong abolitionist bent.

A favorite of opera singers--from Enrico Caruso's 1916 recording in French to Luciano Pavarotti’s 1990 version--it gives singers a flourish with which to end concert programs. A 2006 poll by Classic FM ranked “O Holy Night” as the UK’s favorite carol.

11) The Twelve Days of Christmas

Whether you consider it a silly kids’ ditty or a prescription for economic ruin, the traditional song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of the most popular holiday songs of the past century.

Likely of French origin, "The Twelve Days" probably originated as a singing memory game that children played on Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany. In church circles, the 12 days refer to the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany on January 6, not the 12 days before Christmas.

The first printed version of the song is said to be in the children's book "Mirth Without Mischief" published in 1780. The book identifies the song as a game of "memory and forfeits:" In the game the leader recites the increasingly complex lyric, which the other singers must repeat. When somebody fails, the individual is forced to do or pay something as penalty.

Another popular theory holds that the song was actually a catechism song sung in England during the period from 1558 to 1829 when Roman Catholics were forbidden to practice their faith. The song's gifts reportedly were meant to represent church's teachings. There is no substantive primary evidence supporting this claim, however, and it may be merely modern-day speculation.

Regardless of its origin and meaning, the song often urges the curious to ask: What would all of these gifts cost?

Each year, American wealth management company PNC tracks the cost of the items mentioned in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." In 2009, buying all the presents in the carol would cost $21,465--nearly $400 more than last year, with the prices of gold rings and French hens up sharply. Never mind that geese can be aggressive and messy and drummers will keep you up all night.

10) Deck the Halls

Nit-pickers are quick to correct singers who implore their audience to "deck the halls with boughs of holly." The correct opening line of the song reads: "deck the hall," but "halls" is a convention that may be here to stay. More importantly, why all the "fa la las?"

"Deck the Halls" has secular origins. It is believed to have originated as a sixteenth-century Welsh New Year's melody called "Nos Galan." There was a distinctive Welsh tradition in which merrymakers would dance in a circle around a harpist playing that tune. The "fa la la" bits were originally played on a harp. As if to underline the point, the song's lyrics include: "See the blazing yule before us, strike the harp and join the chorus." The connection with dancing is made explicit with the phrase "follow me in merry measure," as "measure" was a synonym for dance.

Dr. Ian Bradley, a Scottish theologian who researched the song, notes that "Deck the Halls" may have been exported to North America by Welsh miners who immigrated to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. While the exact author of the lyrics is unknown, many believe the words are of American origin.

In the eighteenth century Mozart used the tune to "Deck the Halls" for a violin and piano duet. And there are countless parodies ("Deck the halls with gasoline") and references to the tune in pop culture, from The Simpsons to a recent Lady GaGa Christmas TV Special.

9) In Dulci Jubilo

"In Dulci Jubilo," also known in English as "Good Christian Men, Rejoice," is one of the few bilingual Christmas carols. Technically, it was written in “macaronic” verse--a mixture of Medieval German and Latin with a few bilingual in jokes thrown in (think of it as early intellectual snobbery).

The carol is thought to have been written by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse around 1328. He claimed to have learned the song from dancing angels. "This dance," he wrote, "was not of the kind that are danced on Earth, but it was a heavenly movement, swelling up and falling back again into the wild abyss of God's hiddenness." More likely the tune was already in existence at the time.

Over the centuries, the carol has become familiar in many guises, from the famous Bach Christmas organ chorale prelude (BWV 729), to Mike Oldfield’s 1975 synth-folk crossover hit. There have been numerous arrangements, including standouts by Buxtehude, Praetorius and R.L. Pearsall’s sumptuous 1837 arrangement.

8) Sleigh Ride

Composer Leroy Anderson began writing "Sleigh Ride," which would become his most famous piece, in Woodbury, CT in 1946 during a July heat wave. Complete with jingling bells, clip-clops and "whinnying" by a solo trumpet, the song has consistently ranked among the top ten holiday songs of all time--without mentioning Christmas or any holiday--according to ASCAP.

It took Anderson over a year to get "Sleigh Ride" just right. He wrote the middle section quickly but toiled over the opening. Perhaps he was intimidated by the shadow of Mozart, who wrote his own "Sleigh Ride" ("Die Schlittenfahrt") in 1791.

When it was first written, "Sleigh Ride" didn't have any words at all; Mitchell Parish wrote them in 1950. In fact, "Sleigh Ride" is the only holiday song on our list written originally as an instrumental piece for a symphony orchestra. The Boston Pops Orchestra gave the first performance in a concert conducted by Arthur Fiedler at Symphony Hall in Boston, May 4, 1948 (yes, May). Mills Music published it the same year, and the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded it in June, 1949.

7) God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

You might be all the way through the first verse of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" before you start to wonder, "What does this song have to do with taking a nap?" And how do the words "Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan's pow'r" go with the resting happy guys in the first line?

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" dates to 15th century England, a time when carols were all the rage. “Merry," at the time, meant "great" or "mighty."

"A strong army was a merry army, a great singer was a merry singer," writes Ace Collins, in Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. The word "rest" meant to "keep" or "make." So, in modern English, the first line of the carol should read, "God make you mighty, gentlemen," Collins wrote. Which ultimately makes it a song about having the strength to overcome spiritual darkness.

The author of the lyrics is unknown, although the danceable melody made it unpopular with the church. "Like so many early Christmas songs, this carol was written as a direct reaction to the music of the fifteenth century church," writes Collins. The carol was sung for centuries before being published in Britain in 1833, when it appeared in a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys.

This quintessential English carol is referred to in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and is parodied in In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

6) Silent Night

"Silent Night" is probably the world's best-known Christmas carol and as such, it comes complete with numerous myths and back-stories. It has been translated into 320 languages. There are even fan clubs, of which the largest by far is the Silent Night Association, an Austrian group dedicated to disseminating its history and music around the world.

The song, known as "Stille Nacht" in the original German, was first performed on December 24, 1818, in the tiny hamlet of Oberndorf. Joseph Mohr, a local assistant priest, sought to comfort his flock, racked by poverty and misery in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. He turned to his friend Franz Xaver Gruber, a school master, to compose the music for six verses he had written two years earlier, and they performed the song together at mass with the help of a simple guitar.

According to one popular story, mice had eaten through the bellows of the church organ and so Gruber created the song for guitar accompaniment. But the answer is probably more prosaic: Mohr simply loved guitar music.

Another popular story claims that the carol, once premiered, was promptly forgotten until an organ repairman found the manuscript in 1825 and revived it. However, Gruber published various arrangements of it throughout his lifetime and a Mohr arrangement (ca. 1820) is kept at the Museum Carolino Augusteum in Salzburg.

The song bridges social, religious and cultural divides. According to the Christmas Carol Archive in Graz, Austria, more than 3 billion people worldwide recognize this song. It was the carol that wafted from the German trenches to the Allied lines during the famous 1914 Christmas truce in World War I. Check out Silent Night Web for versions in Swahili, Chinese and Zulu, among others.

5) In the Bleak Midwinter

One of the season's most evocative songs, this song was named the most popular carol of all time in a BBC poll of choirmasters and choral experts last year.

"Does any other carol get to the very heart of Christmas as understatedly but effectively as ‘In the Bleak Midwinter?'" wrote the editors of BBC Music Magazine. Admirers especially praise the haunting beauty of the carol's text by the English poet Christina Rossetti.

In fact, Rossetti had no idea that her Christmas poem of 1872 would be set to music, let alone sung as a carol. But it became a hit in the early 20th century thanks to two well-known versions, one by Gustav Holst and the other by the organist Harold Darke. The Holst version has been recorded by a number of pop artists, including Julie Andrews, Cyndi Lauper and James Taylor. The Darke version, with its delicate organ accompaniment, has gained popularity among choruses, especially after the King's College Choir included it on its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

With lyrics like "In the bleak midwinter / Frosty wind made moan / Earth was hard as iron / Water like a stone," the carol evokes a time when winter fuel involved schlepping for wood rather than turning up the thermostat. 

4) The Holly and the Ivy

If you've ever wondered why a carol pairs two seemingly unrelated evergreen plants, there happens to be a very old tradition at work.

Like many of the best-known carols, "The Holly and the Ivy" has its origins in pagan tradition. Holly was associated with good, and ivy with evil. They were also primitive symbols for man and woman, and the words are thought to derive from some ancient fertility dance common in Somerset or Gloucestershire, England (mistletoe was another important pagan symbol). But, by the Middle Ages, holly and ivy had shed their former associations to become mainstays of Christmas decorations in homes and churches.

The carol itself can be traced to sheet music in Birmingham, England from about 1710. The version we know was noted down by Cecil Sharp, a folk music collector, in Gloucestershire, England.

Sir Henry Walford Davies wrote a popular choral arrangement that is often performed today at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols and by choirs around the world.

3) Once in Royal David’s City

“Once in Royal David’s City” is sung on Christmas Eve in churches around the world, often as a processional hymn. Like many beloved carols, it has humble beginnings.

In 1848, Cecil Frances Alexander, the Irish wife of an Anglican bishop, heard her godchildren complaining about a boring church service. So she spiced up their prayers with a group of poems called Hymns For Little Children. A year later, an English organist and songwriter named by H.J. Gauntlett discovered the poem and set it to music.

The carol proved enormously popular: Every Christmas Eve since 1919, it has opened King's College Cambridge's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols as the processional tune. According to Cambridge custom, the first verse is sung unaccompanied by a solo boy chorister. To save the poor lad from having his holiday season spoiled by nerves, the chorister is never told of his solo moment until just before the service is to begin. As the service is broadcast live on the BBC World Service, there are millions of listeners worldwide who tune in to this service.

2) Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas may have been "good" in the eyes of the Church, but he was unpopular enough to be murdered by his own brother.

The 19th-century carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on St Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas), and whose miraculous footprints melted the snow so his page could follow, is based on Svaty Václav, Duke of Bohemia, a popular Christian prince born in 907 in a castle near Prague.

As Václav (known as Wenceslas in English) was entering church one day in 935, he was assassinated by his politically ambitious brother. As the song indicates, he was a good and honest man and immediately after his death he was considered a martyr and a saint. Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously bestowed him with the title "king.”

In Prague the central square is named after him and the feast day of St. Wenceslas--September 28--became a national holiday in the Czech Republic in 2000.

The tune itself dates from the 13th century while the lyrics are by the English hymnwriter John Mason Neale (1818-66). It was first published in 1853. Musicians including Joan Baez, The Beatles and Tori Amos have recorded modern versions.

1) I Saw Three Ships

Bethlehem, of course, is a landlocked city. So why the reference to three ships?

The song is based on the final journey of the Biblical Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men. According to European folklore, Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, carried the Three Kings' remains to Cologne Cathedral in 1162 where they now supposedly reside. Those relics made the final leg of their journey from Bethlehem to Cologne in three ships.

When this song of the Three Wise Men--or what was left of them--began circulating as a Christmas carol in the Middle Ages, someone may have decided the lyrics needed a less gruesome focus. So references to bones and Cologne were changed to words about Jesus, Mary, and Bethlehem. The song's popularity has always depended on its sing-song appeal to children more than its lyrics anyway. A 17th century printing of the song located in Derbyshire, England is perhaps the earliest known version.

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Comments [38]

John M

Tired of the same old Christmas music? Here's a playlist of some lesser-known Christmas songs: https://open.spotify.com/user/qaz23/playlist/22Hs4AlaOFExwI0cOEBHSj

Dec. 23 2016 12:10 AM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

I will only apophasistically refer here to my complaint about the playing of Christmas music dying with Christmas day, since the 12 days are just beginning, but I must ask why perfectly serviceable winter songs like "Sleigh Ride", "Winter Wonderland", "Let it Snow", "Skaters' Waltz", and even "Jingle Bells" are deprived of rightful lives of their own during the rest of the bleak midwinter, by being so forcibly associated with Christmas by the unimaginitive radio programming czars. These are most assuredlly not Christmas songs and should be allowed to lift our spirits in the dull drab months of January and February when nothing else is going on.

Dec. 23 2010 03:14 PM
Nora from New Vernon

Thank you Alan Polinsky for sharing the lyrics to my personal favorite from Walt Kelly which includes the line "Nora's freezin' on the trolley." As the only Nora this side of Ireland decades ago, I loved having my own Christmas carol!

Dec. 23 2010 11:22 AM
ira from miami

alan polinsky's alternative lyrics to "deck the hall" should be credited to walt kelly in whose wonderful comic strip "pogo" they first appeared.

Dec. 20 2010 03:18 PM
dom corcillo from jersey city

could you play some music with the euphonium,last sunday at rochefeller center there was a brass band of about 200 brass instruments, they sounded great..

Dec. 15 2010 08:18 AM
Michael Meltzer

"Schlittenfahrt" (Sleigh-Ride), or as Joseph Patelson used to say, "that terrible word," was written by Leopold Mozart, not Wolfgang Amadeus.

Dec. 15 2010 01:27 AM
Margaret from New York

These historical references are marvelous to include on your classical music station blog.
But I simply must ask, why on Christmas day did WQXR play carols rendered by Skitch Henderson and Leroy Anderson?
Does anyone have a good answer for this question?
I would like to know why WQXR would consider this programming.

Dec. 28 2009 11:43 PM
Rose Krieger

Re impossible dates cited for "Three ships a sailing": Constantine the Great lived in the end of the third to fourth century A.D.

Dec. 26 2009 10:14 PM
Bill D from nj

Thanks for providing the origins of the carols, it is a lot more fun when I hear them to know the origins (and also to hear human folly posing as religious belief, when churches denounce music because it can be danced to or was written by someone of another faith and/or political persuasion.....music is music). It surprised me to learn that Silent Night is known by so many people (I would vote more for White Christmas), that is amazing (though of course it is a beautiful tune).

I was amazed a couple of years ago when I learned the origins of "I saw three ships". When I was in school chorus 30+ years ago the music teacher said it was a story about how a seacoast community that depended on the sea to get things was waiting for the "christmas ships" presumably bringing the gifts and such ordered from elsewhere, they were late and showed up Christmas morning when everyone had given up hope.....guess bringing the bones as relics was too gruesome *lol*.

I also loved the stories about the "Christmas Song" and "Sleigh Ride" and "white Christmas", the creators in a sense of the more secular side of the holiday, which today predominates as the season to make retailers profist and so forth......as Michael Feinstein pointed out (and got hassled for doing) , it is interesting that 'modern Christmas' through these songs was at least partly creatred by Jews living in a warm climate:)
Personally, I find that heartwarming, to me it talks a lot more about the true meaning of the season, that the secular and sacred can share a place, as celebration of a season that should be about caring for each other and finding something special in a time that can be literally and figuratively dark, not about whose God is true or condemning others who don't believe as they do or get offended by someone saying "happy holidays" or the like......plus of course the music itself is touched with something special, whether secular, sacred, or silly (Thanks be to the person posting the lyrics to "Deck us all with Boston Charlie"!)

Dec. 24 2009 10:54 AM
Carol S from Mt. Vernon

It is extremely unlikely for a number of reasons that Adolphe Adam was Jewish (as pleased as I would be to claim him). Most music historians
discredit that notion.

Dec. 23 2009 09:22 PM


You are correct! We fixed the error.

Dec. 22 2009 12:55 PM
Henry Watkin

I believe the composer's name is "Adam" rather than "Adams."

Dec. 22 2009 11:36 AM
Dot Rice from New Jersey

Enjoyed reading about the origins of Christmas music. Please include this segment every year. As I'm typing this note, "Sleigh Ride" is playing on QXR. I love it even more now since Leroy Anderson penned it in July, 1946, a month before my birth, and the Boston Pops performed it for the first time in May, 1948, a month prior to my brother's birth.

Dec. 22 2009 07:03 AM
Eva from New York

I'm obsessed with Christmas carols and I love this history of them. I always wonder about them, and having been in many choirs as a child, I hope that these songs don't disappear. Keep this feature every year!

Dec. 18 2009 09:13 PM
Alan Polinsky

I was hoping that when explaining the origins of the songs, you would have at least gotten the words right. Sadly, I was wrong. In Number 10, you refer to 'Deck the halls'. For shame. It is well known (at least by those in the know) that the lyrics are:

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!


Dec. 18 2009 01:51 PM

WQXR is always and exclusively on my radio. Steve Sullivan has the perfect voice for late night radio. What does he look like? Thankyou for a lifetime of wonderful listening. Minna

Dec. 17 2009 01:23 PM
Phil Bangert from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

WQXR provides my home with a breath of musical fresh air. My Llocation is in a classical music desert. You will receive a donation as thanks.

Dec. 15 2009 01:56 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ


The 128kbit stream is up and running. .mp3 for Winamp, Windows for WMP, AAC+ for ?

Dec. 11 2009 09:52 AM
Jeffrey S Robbins from South Salem, NY

Please!! If KAZU in Monterey can run a 128 kbps stream, surely WQXR can. By the way, on iTunes radio, the channel is still described in part as "New York Times Radio News".

Dec. 11 2009 08:41 AM
Lori from New York

Thank goodness for the live stream, without it I think I'd go mad at work. Yess the music and most the especially the DJ's rock, 'specially Jeff Spurgeon!!!. Have been a listener all my life and would be lost without classical music. Keep up the good work.

Dec. 11 2009 08:19 AM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Re: streams

One more thing, I am spending a lot of time listening to 105.9 at home, in the car, and on line. For me, thbis is a sacrifice. I am Q2 guy. I was very involved with George and Brad as wnyc2 was built out.

My comments are meant to help WQXR succeed. I am not a critic, I take not pot shots at anyone. No ad hominem attacks. I only want success.

I have been irritating people in PubRadio - one of the priviledges of membership - all around the country for a long time. I am a PubRadio fanatic. If you read http://www.insidethearts.com/scanningthedial/, you know that music on terrestrial radio is in way bad shape. Many stations are sending Classical Music strictly to the web. We do not want to wind up there, but it could be the future.

Once people are on the web, the station is competing in a global market, with everything on Shoutcast, with everything at http://www.publicradiofan.com, with AccuRadio, egad, the list goes on. KCRW, Los Angeles, their second largest *membership* is New York City. Think about it.

That 128kbit stream is a must in this global market for listeners and member dollars.

That is my interest, keeping this ship afloat.

I hoped that I did not hit 3001 words.

Dec. 10 2009 07:05 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Re: streams

You said, "...The upgrade in streams was mentioned in the recent newsletter...." That is great, and, it is on the home web page. But, maybe this is "preaching to the choir".

Don't assume that 105.9 listeners look at the web site or read the news letter.

WQXR was not the most internet savvy place in town. I mean, you know, music via AOL, etc.

Assume that you need to lead radio listeners to the internet. Maybe they are dealing with bad reception and do not even know about the web stream. Assume that people who knew about the 32kbit stereo stream or the 32kbit mono stream gave up on WQXR on the internet.

The only person who ever says anything mroe than the .org thing is David, and he did it also at WNYC. So, get Jeff, Midge, Naomi(?), Elliott,.everyone to, "pitch" the stream.


Dec. 10 2009 06:40 PM


The upgrade in streams was mentioned in the recent newsletter, but we'll be sure to start announcing it on air soon too. Thanks.

Dec. 10 2009 05:25 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ


If you are using a player like Winamp or Windows Media Player, maybe iTune, make sure that you are taking advantage of the brandy new 128 kbit stereo stream which was just launched a few days ago.

I have been bugging the on-air people to pitch it, but so far they are not doing it.

Dec. 10 2009 01:57 PM
Johanna from Kitchener, ON

I stream WQXR at work because there is no non commercial all classical station in southern Ontario anymore. I lived in NJ for 10 years and used to love listening to your programs especially the Baroque series. This is a wonderful idea - the stories of the origins of these carols is a history and cultural lesson all in one. My all time favourite has always been "In the Bleak Mid Winter" both for the haunting harmonies of Holst's version but also the words. I have sung other hymns using the words of Christina Rossetti and relished her use of the English language. Again, thank you.

Dec. 10 2009 11:27 AM

"The Three Ships"......

I was taught that the three ships were the camels the Wise Men rode into Bethlehem. Camels are referred to as the "ships of the desert".

Dec. 10 2009 11:26 AM
Michael Meltzer

Just a point of language (Yiddish) for Mr. Wise: one doesn't "schlep for wood," one schleps the wood itself. To schlep is to lug or to drag, usually applied to the moving of a load that's just a little too heavy for the handler to move comfortably.

Dec. 10 2009 06:53 AM
Lori Evanson from NYC

Yes - this is so interesting. Thank you for including this information on your website. I love WQXR and am so grateful you are online. This station helps me stay calm and focused at work.

Dec. 09 2009 11:44 AM
Bill V from Suntree Florida

Thanks to WQXR for continuing the traditions of Carols. The NPR station in Central Florida (Orlando) has gone all talk ...what a bummer!

Dec. 09 2009 11:42 AM
personna from New York City

I do miss the daily music quiz. I could start the day either feeling that I was very knowledgeable (the questions were often easy) or that I had learned a piece of new trivia. But the music and lack of commercials about health and illness make up for the loss. Thank you QC

Dec. 09 2009 11:24 AM
Rachel "Flute Lady" from NYC

I had to sing "Holly and Ivy" and "I Saw Three Ships" in the college choir, and I always found the lyrics either bizarre (ships? In Bethlehem, which is nowhere near the sea?) or just plain non sequiturs (what does the holly berry have to do with Jesus and Mary?). Thank you so much for explaining!

Dec. 09 2009 11:03 AM
Ann from New Jersey

I listen every day at work, WQXR keeps me sane. Thank you Thank you!

Dec. 09 2009 10:45 AM
Helen Demir from Istanbul, Turkey

I am living in Istanbul, Turkey and I stream WQXR on a regular basis to be my taste of home. The Christmas Carol commentaries are ingenious! Thanks for unlocking the mysteries and histories of these soothing and delightful carols!!!

Dec. 09 2009 06:09 AM
John Liband from Bookville , NY, L.I.U Campus

I have always liked that carol, "once in royal David's City", they always sing it a lot, and especially on that program every year from St Olaf's in Minnesota.

Dec. 08 2009 07:19 PM
Marybeth from Staten Island

I love the meaning behind the carols and enjoy listening to WQXR every day.

Dec. 07 2009 08:33 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ


You are joking? Maybe it's the web stream? Now at 128kbits stereo.

Dec. 07 2009 01:23 PM
andrew from Long Island New York

Thank you Wqxr for all you do...

I am amazed that CRISTINA ARAUJO from ARGENTINA can listen to you daily!
That's some range.

Hello CRISTINA! I will be in your country
in January to start a South American Cruise!

Dec. 07 2009 12:04 PM
cristina araujo from Buenos Aires, Argentina

interesting and educational commentaries, thanks!!!!
I listen to you everyday from Argentina and I love not only the music but every peace of information I recieve.

Dec. 07 2009 10:08 AM

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