‘Holly and the Ivy’ named Carol of the Year 2002

July 1, 1993

‘Holly and the Ivy’ named Carol of the Year 2002

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DEKALB—Musical historian William Studwell has selected a pair of 300-year-old carols for the honor of Carol of the Year 2002.

Leading the list is an English carol composed around 1700, “The Holly and the Ivy.” Also from that era is the French-born “Patapan,” an early predecessor to the 20th century Christmas hit, “The Little Drummer Boy.”

Studwell is a professor emeritus from Northern Illinois University who has selected a top carol each year since 1986. Recognized as one of the world’s leading scholars of Christmas music, he has written four books and more than 50 journal articles on the topic. He is also the editor of the acclaimed Millennia Collection of Christmas music from Sony.

“The Holly and the Ivy,” which Studwell classifies as a folk song, was composed in the Gloucestershire region of western England. That area has a history as the birthplace to many classic Christmas carols including, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “The First Noel.”

“It’s a very aesthetic, gentle song, and rather ethereal,” says Studwell. “I think it’s getting a little lost nowadays—it doesn’t swing or pound—it is kind of an anachronism. It is a favorite of many people, but many others seem to have never heard of it.”

“Patapan,” also composed around 1700, is little known to many, but may have been the inspiration for “The Little Drummer Boy,” which was written in 1941.

Bernard de la Monnoye, whom Studwell has dubbed the “carol poet laureate of the Burgundy region of France,” wrote the song, which urges a little boy to play his drum to add to the festiveness of the holiday. His other lesser-known Christmas compositions included “Cheerily Wife! The Devil is Dead!” and “Tantara! Mighty God!”

The tune of “Patapan” may have been borrowed from a folk song popular at the time, but that does not diminish the piece in Studwell’s mind. “A bright, under-known classic, exhorts little Willie to get his drum and tap-tap-tap on it. It is a brisker and richer predecessor to “The Little Drummer Boy,” a song of which Studwell is less fond, and one that never made his Carol of the Year list.

Studwell began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created a pamphlet about “O Holy Night” as a gift for a family member. Since then, he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has conducted more than 300 media interviews on the topic for newspapers, radio and television. He is also a champion of other musical genres that he believes are under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs, state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally recognized expert in each of those fields.

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