Silver Bells


This year December arrived in Boston with rain and wind.

I had to lead my final Music Together class of the fall term via Zoom rather than outside in a local park — which is where, wearing masks and sitting in a circle on blankets set 10 feet apart from each other, we have been meeting weekly for the past two and a half months.

We have a two-week session featuring winter holiday songs starting next week, and then a few weeks of downtime.

I never imagined I’d be leading music classes out of doors in December, but if the sun is shining — and we wear enough layers of clothing — most families have been quite enthusiastic about making music outside.

2020 is a year full of surprises, and we are doing our best to remain flexible — and safe!

As regular readers of my blog posts know, during this pandemic I’ve begun distributing songs to digital music services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music.

During the month of December I hope to release one winter holiday song per week.

You can click here to listen to “We Need A Little Christmas” and click here to listen to “Winter Wonderland” if you are curious.

I’ll also be sharing a few holiday songs in blog posts.

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans

Today’s song — “Silver Bells” — was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans for a 1950 movie, The Lemon Drop Kid, where it was sung by Marilyn Maxwell and Bob Hope.

Jay (who wrote the music) and Ray (who wrote the lyrics) were a famous songwriting team with many hits to their credit including “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera.”

They were also both Jewish.

Jay was born Jacob Harold Levison in 1915 in a small industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and Ray was born Raymond Bernard Evans the same year in Salamanca (not far from Buffalo) N.Y.

They met at the University of Pennsylvania when they both joined the university dance band, and their songwriting partnership endured until Livingston’s death in 2001.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, many of my most favorite winter holiday songs were written by Jewish songwriters.

This fact is an example (to me, at least) of the pluralism that the USA has occasionally been able to embrace — and model for others — during our ever-evolving history.

I love that “White Christmas,” “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Christmas Song” (among many others!) were written by Jewish songwriters — many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I always associate “Silver Bells” with my mother’s mother — a hard-working private nurse who lived in the borough of Queens for most of her life and no doubt did a lot of her holiday shopping on “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks — decked in holiday style.”

In the movie The Lemon Drop Kid, Bob Hope’s character is involved with gambling and ends up owing $10,000 to a mobster.

His solution is to disguise himself as Santa Claus and raise money from holiday donations.

In some interviews Jay Livingston explained that the inspiration for the song came from the bells rung by Salvation Army volunteers during the holiday season.

However, in an interview on NPR after Livingston had died, Ray Evans said that they were inspired by an actual bell which one of them kept on his desk at Paramount Pictures, where they were under contract at the time.

Probably the song was inspired by both of these things…

Not every song has a great verse — which is often why they are not included in popular recordings.

But “Silver Bells” has a lovely verse:

“Christmas makes you feel emotional…

It may bring parties or thoughts devotional…

Whatever happens and what may be, here is what Christmas-time means to me.”

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

I hope we are able to consume fewer things this holiday season.

One of the reasons why I am excited about releasing songs via digital music platforms is that I no longer need to create a CD to share my music.

I found these rather stunning statistics on the web site of a waste disposal company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • To manufacture a pound of plastic (30 CDs per pound), it requires 300 cubic feet of natural gas, 2 cups of crude oil and 24 gallons of water.
  • It is estimated that it will take over 1 million years for a CD to completely decompose in a landfill.
  • People throw away millions of music CDs each year!
  • Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CDs become obsolete (outdated, useless, or unwanted).

Yikes!

A New Jersey company called Back Thru The Future says, however, that “CDs can be recycled for use in new products. Specialized electronic recycling companies clean, grind, blend, and compound the discs into a high-quality plastic for a variety of uses, including: automotive industry parts, raw materials to make plastics, office equipment, alarm boxes and panels, street lights, and electrical cable insulation, and even jewel cases.”

And they offer a free recycling service if one pays to send one’s old CDs, DVDs and hard drives to them:

“CDs and hard drives are made of high value recyclable material – polycarbonate plastic and aluminum respectively. The recycling of CDs and hard drives saves substantial amounts of energy and prevents significant amounts of both air and water pollution attributed to the manufacturing of these items from virgin material.”

Maybe THAT will be one of my holiday projects this year… recycling CDs and DVDs that I will never listen to again.

Another deep breath in.

And deep breath out.

The news here in the USA seems to become simultaneously more hopeful (with the Biden-Harris team starting to build their administrative teams) and terrifying (with supporters of our current president calling for violence and even martial law) each day that we move closer to a graceless and belligerent transition of power.

So I will end this blog post with a bunch of lovely images from Pixabay which the song “Silver Bells” reminded me of.

Thank you to Jay and Ray for writing this song.

Thank you to the executives at Paramount who kept renewing Jay and Ray’s songwriting contracts.

Thank you to Doug Hammer for being such a terrific collaborator.

Thank you for the sun continuing to shine on our blue-green planet.

Thank you for the new, more energy efficient windows in our basement — with blown insulation in our walls on the horizon…

Thank you for the natural gas (energy collected by plants long ago from the sun) now fueling our furnace and kitchen stove.

Thank you for vegetables — which capture energy from the sun and convert it into delicious things for us to eat, such as bell peppers.

Thank you for all the families who have chosen to make music together with me during the past few years. I am grateful for our musical sessions, which serve — for me at least — as a much-needed respite from the unsettling news swirling through our lives these days.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post!

35 thoughts on “Silver Bells

  1. All very interesting. And – thinking about it – I have experienced that some of the most enthusiastic proponents of “Christmas” as an event I have known have been Jewish or from the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) and with non -Christian faith backgrounds.

    • You are very welcome, Cindy. I am happy and honored that my blog post (gently) hit the spot for you. I look forward to the joy I experience viewing your next round of photographs…

    • I was skeptical about leading Music Together classes outside. One of the many things that I loved about MT classes pre-Covid-19 was the lack of amplification while we were singing together — although we did play up to three pre-recorded songs for dancing along/playing along during each class… But the re-chargeable, portable (fits in my bike’s front basket!) amplifier/speaker plus headset which my boss bought for me to use outside worked surprisingly well… and we were all very happy to see each other in person (albeit from a distance and wearing masks + lots of layers of warm clothing). Hurrah for flexibility in body, mind and spirit!

  2. A lovely post, Will. This year we need more holiday cheer, and I’m extra appreciative of all of my friends who are sharing joy in posts. We’re getting our Hanukkah and Christmas decorations out this weekend. 😀

    • Thank you for reading and listening to YET another one of my blog posts. This weekend we are experiencing rain which is supposed to turn into wet snow overnight. So time to buy a wreath for the front window! I am also picking up 75 letters to be personalized and sent to possible voters in Georgia ASAP. Another way to celebrate the holidays…

  3. Pingback: Saturday Snippets…5th December 2020… | Retired? No one told me!

  4. Do you know I have to read your posts at least twice? That’s because they’re full of so many good things- like silver bells, Jewish songwriters, Music Together classes, CD recycling, and more. Thank you for bringing me joy, Will. And for learning something new. I dearly love the old songs, as they remain the best year after year.

    I’m guessing you will have to forgo your family holiday in upstate NY this year. What a year this has been! Thank goodness for music.

    • Thanks, Jennie! I am glad you appreciate the flow from topic to topic. Sometimes I fear my blog posts are a-bit-too-much-all-over-the-place. No family visits at all this holiday season. A true period of stay-at-home-hibernation… while our amazingly generous and self-sacrificing and over-worked and traumatized medical staff struggle to keep up with the alarming rise of Covid cases! Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

      • You’re welcome, Will. No, your posts are not at all too over the place. Stay safe, stay well, and Merry Christmas. And remember those deep breaths! 🎄🌟

  5. I agree with Jennie, above. Your posts are so rich in valuable content that flows easily from one topic to another.

    And your voice sounded as clear as—well, a bell!

    Good news about recycling CDs. Plastic is terrible stuff that we must phase out. I just published a post with a powerful prize-winning youth video on climate change (I think you commented when Judy posted it recently.)
    I also offer links to a number of ways we as individuals can make changes in our lives that will help ensure the young people worldwide in the forefront of this effort that they will, indeed, have a future on Planet Earth.

    Thanks for your good cheer!

  6. A beautiful rendition, Will. That song isn’t the most familiar Christmas song to me – I think the movie The Polar Express is what really introduced it to me. It’s fascinating to hear the stories behind the songs, thank you for sharing them.

    • You are very welcome, Andrea. I need to watch The Polar Express again. I remember it being a very stylized form of animation (starring Tom Hanks?) I love learning more about how certain songs came to be written (and how many winter holiday songs were written on a deadline during July or August!)

    • Thanks, Kirt! I appreciate that you found time to read AND listen AND leave a comment. Many of us are looking to California for clues to our future. I am guessing that we’ll be entering a new period of strong lock-downs in MA, too. Clearly our leaders have not been able to explain to enough of us the power of exponents… and how this virus spreads/multiplies exponentially! May your holiday season be full of love despite being very different from past years…

  7. What a beautiful rendition of Silver Bells. Your posts are a balm in these difficult times. Thank you, dear and wonderful Will.

  8. Keep on breathing in and out deeply! Lots of change and as a veteran of it, I can assure you you may not Emerge unscathed. But you will definitely emerge. And I grow every single darn time. Thank you so much for sharing all the interesting tidbits. You’ve been enlightened me!

    • You are very welcome! Yes, sometimes breathing out and breathing is the most/best I can manage to accomplish… Thank YOU for sharing your wisdom and encouragement with me…

    • Thank you for visiting and listening and then leaving a comment, Paula! As soon as I started listening to holiday music (earlier this months) I was transported to the kitchen at 42 Brattle during Holly Fair! I may need to send an email to former CCAE staff and faculty saying that I am thinking about everyone during this holiday season… Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Here’s to various vaccines being approved and administered to ever-widening circles of willing human beings in the upcoming weeks and months!

    • Thank you. That special quality is in large part the trust and rapport that pianist Doug Hammer and I have built over 25+ years of working together. And our shared love of music!

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