Ding Dong Merrily on High

December 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

The melody to this piece is from 1589 – did you know that? It began as a dance tune, and was made into a carol much later. Isn’t it marvelous how melodies can be carried on through centuries? One of the great things about carols, particularly, is the way they rise up each season and urge us to sing them. Outside of church or choir, how often do we otherwise make an effort to sing together in our culture? And to think that we can carry history through, and on, by singing the same words as so many others so long ago.

The story this song always makes me think of is Little Women. I have read about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy cover to cover so many times, as if I might join their world – their little family? – by doing so. I was in 7th or 8th grade when it the film first came out, and my parents took us to see it very near to Christmas. I still remember the excitement of the opening music and the title curling across the screen, and my mother looking down the row at me and grinning. Oh the joy!

“Ding Dong Merrily on High” brings me at once to the scene when the girls are walking all donned in capes and ribbons out in the snow to share their Christmas with a family in need. Family – generosity – food – togetherness. A happy holiday.

Ding Dong Merrily on High

Ding dong! merrily on high
In heav’n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with Angel singing.

Hosanna in excelsis!
Hosanna in excelsis!

E’en so here below, below,
Let steeple bells be swungen,
And “Io, io, io!”
By priest and people sungen.


Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers.


You can listen to the King’s College (Cambridge) boys choir singing this carol, here.


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