Shchedryk written by Mykola Leontovych is one of the familiar tunes that we associate with the holiday season. Consistent with a lack of appreciation many of us feel for the familiar, I never felt compelled to research its origin and history.
I was inspired to do just that last night. My children (13 and 15 years old) were given an arrangement of this song a couple of weeks ago by their piano teacher to perform as a duet (arrangement by Melody Bober). As most parents with musical children know, the first couple weeks with a new piece is often excruciatingly painful to the ears. I took care of that last year by giving my children in-ear headphones, which they dutifully plug into the electric piano during their practice sessions (a mixed blessing, as I miss out on some of their developmental achievements, but I can live with that!) After practicing for about 10 days individually, last night they attempted to work it out together. While it was not perfect, as expected, I was surprised to find that some parts were so beautiful that tears came to my eyes - parental pride can't be discounted of course. Surprisingly emotional reactions are often the most quickly encoded into memory, and the most likely to cause knee jerk reactions like impulse buying - something composers inwardly desire while outwardly stating that they did it simply for the pleasure it gives to others.
In my own work, I would love to create something that evokes such a strong emotional connection with others. I remember last summer when my son was reading "Bees to Benny" (my first book) and I could hear him laughing from the other room as he reached a scene which he later wrote in a note to me "was so funny!" (The scene was set in the Liebe's kitchen as the family learned that Jacob had just been inside the home of their elusive neighbours, who had lived across the street for fourteen years, though no one had met or even seen them enter or leave their house.)
My knee jerk reaction, upon hearing the kids last night, was to learn more about the composer and the song that I had taken for granted. Leontovych did not get rich from this song - if fact it didn't even become popular until it was Americanized after his death, complete with English words about Christmas that did not relate in any way to the initial text of the song. Shchedryk was about a bird telling a farmer that Winter is temporary and will pass, bringing a bountiful new year for him and his family (very rough translation.) Here is Wikipedia's translation of some of the lyrics:
Apparently, the song was written for an assignment in a course he was taking on harmony. Here is a version of the original song recently recorded by a Bulgarian choir. Enjoy!