Text by: Kimmy Baraoidan
I’m really not a fan of Christmas songs, Christmas carols, or caroling. I always dread the –ber months because radio stations, malls, supermarkets, sari-sari stores, jeepneys and buses start to play the cheesy, outdated ones on loop—as if playing them on repeat would hasten the arrival of the most festive season of the year. There are maybe two or three that I like, but that would still depend on the arrangement and sometimes on who sings and plays it.
One Christmas carol that I am fond of is “Carol of the Bells,” originally known as “Shchedryk.” Some people may not know that “Shchedryk” is a Ukranian shchedrivka or New Year’s carol composed and arranged by Ukranian composer and teacher Mykola Leontovych in 1904. The English adaptation, “Carol of the Bells,” was done by Peter J. Wilhousky in 1921.
Contrary to “Carol of the Bells” being about Christmas, “Shchedryk” is actually about a swallow that flies into a household, singing of wealth that is to come the next spring. “Shchedryk” uses what’s called hemiola in the rhythm. Hemiola is the alternating of accents within each measure from 3/4 to 6/8 and then back. But enough of the technical stuff. Let’s get on to the actual musical piece.
One popular arrangement of “Shchedryk” is that for a mixed-voice choir a capella done by the Ukranian Republic Capella under the direction of Oleksander Koshetz in the 1920s. Here is the Boys’ Chorus of the Children’s Chorus of Russia, led by conductor Vasily Grachov, performing the said arrangement in January 2014 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
I’ve listened to other choirs perform this arrangement, but somehow a European boys’ choir makes it sound legit. There’s something in the quality of their voice that gives a haunting feel to the song—like entering a deserted cathedral in the wee hours of the morning, discovering that someone in a hooded habit has been stalking you, and falling into a state of terror and panic. Yeah, I prefer my Christmas carols dark. And metal, if possible.