Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Twelve Days of Christmas

My first Epistle since the Kung Flu broke loose here in the States...

Ever since I was about five years old, I fell in love with The Twelve Days of Christmas.  I think most of the reason I liked it so much is that I was always fascinated with numbers.  I was so fascinated with numbers that math was my strong suit throughout grade school   Not just in the schoolwork involved at that time, but channels on the TV (when you had big console TV's and you had to actually get up off your gluteus maximus, approach the TV, then change the channels), the dial on my mom's washing machine (I had the dial memorized when I was in kindergarten, or as the kids at that school called it then, "junior first"), and the thing that drove my mom absolutely bonkers, speedometers.  I used to draw so many different styles of speedometers when I was a kid that my mother couldn't stand it.  I filled almost a whole scratch pad with speedometers one time on our way back from Syracuse, NY (six hour drive, just about 300 miles-give or take).  She was PO'd, to say the least!

Anyhoo, The Twelve Days of Christmas, to me in illo tempore, was about numbers.  This was even cooler than Sesame Street!  I'm going to share the five versions I've always enjoyed.

The first version I remember listening to was sung by the Ralph Hunter Choir and part of an album my parents had called RCA Victor Presents Music For the Twelve Days of Christmas.  And the back cover had all 12 gifts which "my true love sent to me" (that is, the Lord).  I might have been even more amazed that the guy who sang the "six geese a-laying" part sounded a bit like Tony the Tiger.  HEY!  I WAS FIVE THEN!

Of course, later in life, there were the Muppets and the Chipmunks.  The Chipmunks' version of XII Diebus in Nativitate is highlighted, of course, by Alvin eventually letting Dave Seville know in no uncertain terms that he's getting tired in days 8, 9, and 10, with all the Chipmunks messing around in day 11 (Eleven pipers peeping, ten milking jumpers, and a whole bunch of giggling).

The Muppets' version of 12 Days is highlighted (to me) by Miss Piggy's "ba dum bum bum" after the "five gold rings" is sung out.  In fact, I liked it so much, that when I was music director at St. Teresa's in Pawtucket (August 1998-June 1999), our children's choir was invited to sing at two different Hasbro locations.  My cousin's wife (little did I know at the time she worked for Hasbro) coordinated the event.  So, while we did do serious religious Christmas carols (O Come, All Ye Faithful, and the like), we added Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (inserting, on the repeat, such things as "you would even say it glows LIKE A LIGHT BULB!") and The Twelve Days, at which, on the 12th day, I let them do the "ba dum bum bum".  It was well-received.

A lesser known version, my mom picked up this record at Ann & Hope, was Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sing We Now of Christmas, which had his own version of The 12 Days, with a chorus to help him out.  My highlights of that one were Ford's "two turtle doves" in his best basso profundo, and the run-right-through-em-all top speed 12th day.  Not even a pause at "five gold rings!"

The award for the most seriously-orchestrated-and-arranged version of The Twelve Days (that I've ever heard in my 56 years anyways) comes shortly after hearing the Ralph Hunter Choir version (scroll up four paragraphs).  This wicked serious but sometimes even haunting version comes from one of the two Firestone albums my parents had.  This one was Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Volume 2.  (They also had Your Favorite Christmas Music, Volume 4, and two Goodyear albums, The Great Songs of Christmas, Volumes 3 and 4.)  The Firestone album featured mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens, tenor Brian Sullivan, the Columbus Boychoir (now the American Boychoir since moving to New Jersey), along with the Firestone Orchestra and Chorus.  This version goes through several key changes and finally a modulation, different voices and arrangements for each little phrase (and hardly the same phrase twice after the "five gold rings").  Here are the keys for each "day"...
Days 1 and 2 - E-flat
Days 3 and 4 - A-flat
Day 5 - F
Day 6 - B-flat
Day 7 - E-flat
Day 8 - A-flat (the counterclockwise joy ride of the circle of fifths stops here)
Days 9, 10, and 11 - F
Day 12 - the GRAND modulation to G (the horn parts at the start of the verse and after the "six geese a-laying" gave me goosebumps back then, and still do now).
Give it a listen! Duodecim Diebus  begins at about the 30:24 mark.

And on this moment, five minutes shy of entering the seventh day of Christmas, in which the swans are a-swimming ever so gracefully, I say, "good night!"

Happy and blessed Christmas season, and my prayers to all for an IMPROVED 2021.

Quod scripsi, scripsi!