The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: NPR reveals the difference between a carol and a hymn

December 22, 2010
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Music, especially choral music, is inescapable at this holiday time of the year.

But recently I heard a good program on National Public Radio that discussed the difference between a carol and a hymn – something I myself was not sure about.

The expert was Philip Brunelle (below), a well-recognized performer  and scholar of vocal music who conducts Vocal Essence.

He made many interesting points and cited many great examples, going back to the Middle Ages and coming up to today.

I was particularly struck about the origins and change in dance rhythms in holiday music, and about how we seem to be genetically hard-wired to remember melodies that proceed step-wise.

Take a listen — the audio version is better than the text — and let me know what you think.

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/19/132142876/hark-the-herald-angels-sing-when-carols-met-christmas

Here is a link to Brunelle’s group:

http://www.vocalessence.org/about/brunelle

And here are some all-time favorite carols? Or is it hymns?

And my favorite for the quiet it exudes:

Merry Christmas and Peace to All in the New Year.

And a reminder that the time-honored and deeply moving Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, begun in 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge, England, will be broadcasts Friday morning, Christmas Eve, at 9 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio.

What is your favorite carol at holiday time?

Your favorite holiday hymn?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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