Wassail! ABC Fakebook


My wife loves Christmas, and she loves singing, so every year she looks forward to singing Christmas carols with great anticipation, and I don't mean the Hollywood stuff like Jingle Bells or White Christmas, I mean the old carols from way, way back, like before the relentless march of technology replaced woad with indigo. Inevitably some time in early December she digs out the Oxford Book of Carols and asks me to accompany some singing on the piano. Now the Oxford Book of Carols is a great book, but all the music in it is in four-part vocal harmony, which is about easy to sight-read on the piano as climbing a mistletoe tree in a blizzard.

So this year (written in 2004) I'm getting ahead of the game. I've gone through a bunch of good Christmas songs and written them out in fakebook style, using the software I put together for my other project. These include some really amazing songs which are part of our common heritage and really deserve to be widely known, so while I'm at it I'm putting them out there for everybody else to use too.

Many thanks to my wife Anne for help with the chord arrangements, though the final decisions here are all mine, and my musical ability is pretty sketchy, so if you think the chords for a song are not what you're used to or are just plain wrong, you should blame me. I wouldn't take these versions as authoritative by any means.


The Tunes:

Pick your key and click on a format.

Adeste Fidelesxx: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear More Latin lyrics here, we need more Latin in the world, don't you think?
Angels We Have Heard on High: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear More French lyrics here
Boar's Head Carol: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Sung every Christmas at Queen's College, Oxford, first published in 1521.
Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear The tune was a medieval ritournelle, a lively court dance. The carol with words was first published in 1553. More French lyrics here.
Cherry Tree Carol: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear There are many carols with this name, this one just happens to be my wife's favorite.
Cutty Wren: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Ridiculous lyrics for a beatiful tune. See http://www.old-glory.co.uk/cutty.html. R. Vaughan Williams was much enamored of the tune, "Rafe's Waltz" is now an English Country Dance.
Deck the Hall: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Welsh New Year's carol
Gloucestershire Wassail: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Wassail, Wes hal, Old English, 'Be thou whole' (hale); a form of salutation.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Pedants look here
Good King Wenceslas : abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Charles Wesley wrote the hymn in 1839, Felix Mendelssohn wrote the tune in 1840, and in 1855 W.H. Cummings put the two together.
I Saw Three Ships: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear
In the Bleak Midwinter: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear The history here.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Lyrics by Edmund H. Sears, Boston, 1849. Tune by Richard S. Willis, 1850.
My Dancing Day: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Cornish carol from Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, published 1833
O Come All Ye Faithful: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear The non-Latin version.
Sussex Carol: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear
Sussex Mummers' Carol: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Sung by Christmas Mummers from the neighbourhood of Horsham.
The First Noel: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Says the Oxford Book of Carols: "The carol cannot be later than the seventeenth century."
The Holly and the Ivy: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Possibly originally sung as a dialogue, a dance between the lads and the maids.
Wassail Song: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Sources possibly old as Charles I, so think Shakespeare!
We Wish You A Merry Christmas: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Says the Oxford book: "still in all too common use by modern doorstep carollers."
Wexford Carol: abc pdf jpg midi See&Hear Irish, County Wexford

More tunes may follow as I get the time to enter them, someday.


Jaypegs and midis and stuff, oh my!

What are all these three-letter acronym links on this page?

abc
ABC is a portable, human readable format for writing down music. It's very handy, easy to learn and use, and is supported by a ton of free software and shareware. If you're into music and you don't know about it, you should.
pdf
Stands for "Portable Document Format", readable by the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click on 'pdf' to get nice, printable sheet music. These PDF files were created by abcm2ps and Ghostscript
jpg
An image of the sheet music. You can use this if for some reason PDF doesn't work for you. To zoom in and make the images larger, try clicking on them--the zoom behavior depends on your browser. Also created by abcm2ps and Ghostscript.
midi
"MIDI" stands for Music Instrument Digital Interface. Clicking on the "midi" link in one of the tunes should make music come out of your computer. If it doesn't then give that friend of yours who knows computers a call.
I know mediocre midi is an abomination in the eyes of God (Calliope, anyway), and hardly qualifies to be called "music", but these midis might be helpful to those who don't read sheet so good. I find them helpful when trying to find the right range to sing a tune in.

How did you do all this?

If I have accomplished great things, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. --Isaac Newton

Actually, I did very little, but re-used a lot of very handy things. Here is a list of references and inspirations:


Can I Have One, Too?

Well, sure, kid. The ludicrously tiny collection of scripts that generates this site is available right here. It's under the GPL, too. Help yourself. Once your site is up all you have to do is copy .abc files into the abc-src directory and everything else takes care of itself.

Your comments are welcome: April 2004