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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Howe


Who doesn't love the Christmas song 'Jingle Bells'! It's fun, lively, positive and happy and children love to sing it and shake the sleigh bells. The lyrics conjure up that Christmas magic - the snow, the cold, and the idea of reindeer dashing along, 'through the snow'...

The song itself has an interesting history. It was written by James Lord Pierpoint (1822-1893), who, in his lifetime, was a colourful character. Being born the son of a strict, abolitionist Unitarian minister, James lived a life of rebellion. As a child he ran away from his boarding school to join a whaling ship. He stayed at sea for a decade. As a husband and father he abandoned his family to join in the Gold Rush in California. He was forever chasing his dreams - trying to make his fortune and live a life of excitement. He also happened to be the uncle of the financier J.P. Morgan. James's oldest sister Juliet had married the millionaire Junius Spencer Morgan who was an extremely rich banker. Their oldest child, John Pierpoint Morgan, followed his father into the banking indusry, also becoming seriously rich in the process.

Although James lived most of his life in Georgia (he ended his days in Florida) he wrote 'Jingle Bells' in an attempt to conjure up memories of family sleigh rides in Massachusetts. It is believed that he never intended it to be a Christmas tune. In fact, the words are quite rebellious, especially the later more unknown verses, very 'un-Christmassy! He probably wrote it early in 1857 because it was published that year by a Boston music publishing house. At that point it was called ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’. It was two years later when it was re-published with the title we know today - ‘Jingle Bells’.

I have a number of Christmas carols that I have arranged and I couldn't leave out 'Jingle Bells'! So I've composed an easy version for beginner string players, in D major. It has 2 violin parts, a viola or violin 3 part, a cello part and an optional cello 2/double bass part. There is a part for sleigh bells and an optional piano part. I have simplified the tune a little to avoid tricky string crossings. To help real beginners, the tune is in the piano part. The piece does work without the piano part, that is why I stated it is optional. But the piece does work best with the piano. But you can do it without, that's ok too.

Now here is something complicated to get your head around: the performance would work nicely with the sleigh bell and piano backing track. But I had to put them both on the same backing track because you the sleigh bells begin on their own, before the piano. If you had children playing live sleigh bells, they wouldn't know when to start because the piano comes in after a few bars. So the live sleigh bell players can start when they hear the ones on the track starting, or they can start when the strings come in. It was one of those tricky problems I had to solve. Sometimes with the things I do I have to think things out very carefully, to take in every eventuality. I hope I suceed in getting it right!!


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