Every year, Christmas carol expert William Studwell declares a "Carol of the Year." This year, Studwell's choice is "Angels We Have Heard on High."
Studwell, a Northern Illinois University professor emeritus now retired and living in Indiana, knows his stuff when it comes to Christmas carols.
Christmas carol expert William Studwell
A family Christmas gift exchange in the 70's started Studwell on his path to carol expertise. When the exchange called for handmade gifts, Studwell put together a pamphlet about carols, doing the research and creating the book himself.
Since then, Studwell has written four books and more than 50 journal articles about carols. I was able to interview him earlier this week for my interview show, "Weekend Rockford." Studwell tells me that I have been interviewing him for about 15 years now--time flies!
What qualifies "Angels We Have Heard on High" as 2005 Carol of the Year? Says Studwell, "It has a very fine main melody--aesthetic, sensitive, graceful--sophisticated, actually. It's high quality, and has a tremendously elastic refrain that you can do so much with. And the words are good too...it just kind of carries you over the mountains, over the clouds...and the 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' just elevates you!"
Studwell says, other than it being French and probably from the late 18th century, the exact origins of the song are unclear. He believes it was probably written, not by a peasant or a troubadour, but by someone with some education and musical knowledge.
The song was first published in 1855, probably some 100 years after it was written.
Will Christmas carols survive political correctness?
I had to ask this Christmas carol expert what he thinks about the current trend of either replacing or butchering traditional carols in the interest of political correctness. Predictably, he's disturbed.
"Very much so," says Studwell. "I'm a centrist--I'm not one of those left-wing crazies or right-wing crazies--but political correctness is absolutely ridiculous...It's getting worse, but there's a big counter-offensive, and I believe it will ultimately fail."
Studwell says there's already a "tremendous backlash" to the attack on Christmas, and he believes Christmas carols will survive. "Carols should live on for many, many years. Long live the carol."
What's YOUR favorite traditional Christmas carol? I love many of them, but I think I have to go with "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." I find it soul-stirring, joyful, and packed full of theology all at the same time!
Go here for more information on the history of "Angels We Have Heard on High."