One of the joys of learning the piano has been the ability to play some much loved Christmas music. We have always had a rule in our house that we don’t put the Christmas decorations up until 1st of December, therefore that’s the day that the Christmas CD’s come out. The rule has therefore been extended to the piano; I am not to play any Christmas tunes before this date. I have been a little cheeky with a Pam Wedgwood arrangement of I wonder as I wander, which was played on numerous occasions in November. I can get away with this because it doesn’t really sound like a Christmas carol. In fact neither of us had ever heard of it before I brought it home from a lesson. Apparently the original is based on Appalachian folk songs and was first recorded by folklorist John Jacob Niles in the 1930s, the Wedgwood version I have is beautiful. I will try to upload a video of it sometime as I cannot find a version online of someone playing this arrangement.
Two years ago I bought the PVG book The Bumper book of Christmas songs by Faber music, which mixes many of the traditional carols with a selection of popular Christmas songs. I bought mine from the sadly now closed Duck, Son and Pinker, which used to be in Bath, however inevitably you can get copy from Amazon here: Amazon. The arrangements for the carols are relatively basic but that means they are great for beginners and can be embellished by the more accomplished, however the Pop songs are complicated. A particular favourite of mine from the book is A Fairytale of New York, written by Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, and released as a duet by Shane MacGowan and the late great Kirsty MacColl. For most of the song following the piano part is fine, however because the book is PVG there a couple of sections which call for a switch to the right-hand playing the vocal part and the left-hand playing the notes marked for the right-hand one octave lower. These sections are few and far between, but if you do get the book, all will become clear.
Happily the book also contains my wife’s favourite Christmas Tune: A Winter’s Tale. Written by Mike Batt and Tim Rice and released in December 1982 by David Essex, reaching number 2 in the UK charts;Mike Batt has form with Christmas songs, having written the novelty hit Wombling Merry Christmas, for which words fail me. Anyway back to A Winter’s Tale, she has always loved the tune, so was slightly miffed to see on that bastion of all that is truthful: Wikipedia, that the song was voted 4th worst Christmas song in a 2008 poll. I have to admit that even before we met I was also quite a fan of the tune, which on the face of it has an unusual sentiment for a Christmas song. The singer is looking back on a relationship that has just broken up, wishing his ex-partner well in the future, and noting how it is “hard to be alone, at this time of year”. I think that the tune really works for solo piano. There is the inevitable key change 3/4 of the way through, which I think is required in all pop songs by all A&R executives, but it is a pleasing song to play and listen to.
My wife is really happy that I can play it for her, so I will give it a few more outings before the winter is over. I have linked below to a video of someone else playing an almost identical arrangement to that included in the above book, so that you can make up your own mind about the piece.
As you can see it is not a complicated piece to learn so I guess that anyone grade 3 or above could tackle it. In fact of all the tunes in the book it probably the one I have played the most. Although I think next year I will give Mary’s Boy Child a go. Having done a bit of research for this post (not much, as you have no doubt noticed), I see that Mike Batt runs his own record label. After helping launch the career of Katie Melua, he has also signed the popular Dutch singer Caro Emerald, so I hope he will continue to do well. Perhaps then he will be remembered not just as – the man who brought us the Wombles tunes. Which I will not dwell on, lest marital harmony be disrupted.