Latest News and Comment from Education

Sunday, December 6, 2020

CURMUDGUCATION: The Jingle Bells Effect And The Canon

CURMUDGUCATION: The Jingle Bells Effect And The Canon
The Jingle Bells Effect And The Canon

So, if you need a little something to jumpkick you into the season, here's a playlist challenge for you.

Yes, that's roughly 76 minutes of various versions of "Jingle Bells," carefully selected, curated and ordered for your listening pleasure. 

"Jingle Bells" is a curious song to become a Christmas standard, mostly because it has nothing to do with Christmas but is instead the mid-19th century ancestor of songs like "Little Deuce Coup." It was written by the guy who would be J.P. Morgan's uncle, and who skipped out on boarding school to join the crew of a whaling vessel before later joining the losing side of the Civil War. 

Nobody has any great explanation for why, exactly, this song has persisted, but I have a theory. I think "Jingle Bells" is one of that special sub-group of songs that survives because it's fun to play. 

Most musicians have had that experience. I can remember always thinking that "Moondance" was a kind of "meh" song, until I was out on a gig and called on to play it, at which point I discovered that I would be happy to play that thing all night. The structure is just fun to work around, to play and play with. "Jingle Bells" is like that--it's deceptively simple, but for many musicians, playing it just leads to more ideas about what you can do with it. It can spark you to do really good stuff. There's something in it that persists even as you translate it into a dozen different idioms.

I thought about that effect this week as I watched the canon wars flare up again in tweeterland. As usual, people both for and against swapping out pieces of revered literature got ugly and defensive and angry, and the argument seems, in many ways, beside the point because it leaves the teacher CONTINUE READING: CURMUDGUCATION: The Jingle Bells Effect And The Canon