A Christmas Carol That Inspired a Hymn Book

Vincent J. CarrolaBy Vincent J. Carrola

Consider the following story with me:

Even though it was a cold and snowy December, a group of actors decided to brave the Austrian Alps and cross over to a small town near Salzburg, Austria, in order to perform a special play that they had been preparing for Christmas. They arrived at the St. Nicholas parish church on December 23rd ready to perform their play (which was the story of Christ’s birth) for the local residents. However, in order for the group to perform their play they needed musical accompaniment. And, unfortunately, the church’s organ was not functioning properly. Therefore, the decision was made to perform their play at a local resident’s house where they would have access to a piano.

Now even though the actors’ dilemma was resolved, the priest of St. Nicholas parish church still had the problem of a non-functional organ. After all, Christmas Eve was tomorrow and what good would a Christmas Eve service be bereft of music? As the priest journeyed home on the evening of the 23rd, he looked out over the vast, quiet town and, suddenly, an idea came to him. Maybe a poem that he had penned a few years earlier could be set to music? But there was still the problem of finding an instrument that could lead the congregation. So, the priest talked with the organist of a nearby village who offered to set the poem to music and lead the congregation with his guitar. Thus, together, they wrote what would become one of the most famous Christmas Carols of all time. The priest was Joseph Mohr, the organist (guitarist) Franz Gruber, and the Christmas Carol, Silent Night. But little did Mohr or Gruber know that their carol would go on to inspire millions of people all over the world.

To say that Mohr and Gruber’s story inspired me to write music books would be partially true. A few years back, I was asked to accompany a choir on guitar while they sang Silent Night. In order to prepare for this I decided to arrange Silent Night for the guitar. After the performance, it was suggested that I try to publish my arrangement. So I looked into the possibility and, with that, This Holy Night 12 Christmas Classics for Guitar, was born.

Soon after, I realized that This Holy Night was not only an idea that sprang from a story and one guitar arrangement, but also from a necessity. And the more I thought about the necessity, the more I thought about a particular genre of music that was lacking for the guitar: praise and worship material. It has always bothered me that pianists had their choice of hymnals to play from while guitarists basically had nothing. So, I endeavored to write a guitar hymn book which eventually became The Worship Leader’s Guitar Hymn Book. But, in order to proceed with the guitar hymn book, several aspects had to be taken into consideration:

1. In order to be an inclusive music book, the guitar hymn book had to provide numerous performance options for guitarists of all levels. For example, if each arrangement included lyrics and common strumming chords, plus an optional intermediate-level guitar arrangement with TAB,  guitarists would have many options at their disposal. They could sing and play the chords, play the intermediate arrangement, or improvise and develop either the simple chord part or the intermediate version.

2. The guitar hymn book had to provide hymns in comfortable keys for guitarists that would match the keys of a popular hymnal so that guitarists would have the option to play with other musicians. This was a hard one. It seemed like every hymn was written in a key that was not at all comfortable for guitarists. Thus, basically every hymn that was included in the guitar hymn book had to be transposed to a key suitable for guitarists. This of course, could inhibit guitarists from playing with other musicians. So, to remedy this vexing problem, a capo chart was added to the guitar hymn book. Now all that guitarists have to do to fix the key problem is snap on a capo and play!

3. It would be amazing if the guitar hymn book could include an accompaniment CD. This is why: if guitarists want to play with other musicians, in order to get a bigger sound, the CD accompaniment would be an excellent and convenient substitute – though with no less quality! In order to accomplish this goal, I teamed up with my brother, Dominic Carrola, who arranged and orchestrated full accompaniment tracks for each hymn included in the book.

So, keeping these points in mind, The Worship Leader’s Guitar Hymnal was written. The result: a collection of praise and worship favorites that offers several performance options and is very assessable to guitarists of all levels.
Thank you for reading this post, and if you have any comments or questions feel free to comment below or contact me at VJCarrola@comcast.net.

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