I am a descendent of The First Nowell!
Wouldn't have known had Wayne Kempton not found this.
Click here or just
scroll down to see Wayne's Email and the true story.
You have absolutely no idea how difficult
it was being me from December 10th through December 26th every year from
kindergarten through college at NIU. Wayne sent me this article from a Professor
at that school. I had a Chicago Tribune article about it that I've been meaning
to post for many years but this takes the pressure off. My Mother named me,
never knowing how difficult it would be on me at the Christmas holiday season.
THANKS WAYNE and PROFESSOR
STUDWELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! for setting the record straight. "...and
Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night!"
the little picture to see the big picture.)
Okay. I confess that I had no idea. But if the
Chicago Trib and Northern Illinois University say so, who am I to
Contact: Joe King,
NIU Office of Public Affairs
November 27, 2006
'First Nowell' named 2006 Carol of the Year (That's
DeKalb, Ill. — Everyone knows that the venerable Christmas Carol,
"The First Noel," has its origins in France. The trouble is everyone is
Northern Illinois University Professor Emeritus (and world renowned
expert on Christmas carols) William Studwell has chosen the 450-year-old
song as his Carol of the Year for 2006. He purposefully refers to it by
its original title "The First Nowell," and is using the occasion of the
honor to set the record straight on the song's history.
"Whenever the misguided and mistaken form "The First Noel" appears in
the literature of carols, the usual and typical impression derived is
that the carol is of French origin," says Studwell, who has been
selecting a Carol of the Year for 21 years. "But such an inference is
thoroughly and unequivocally incorrect."
The word "Nowell" is indeed an Anglicized version of the French word for
Christmas, "Noel," he says. However, all historical evidence indicates
that the song emerged from the remote Cornwall region of southwest
England in the mid 16th century. Whether the name was changed by a
Francophile publisher or just a lazy typesetter seeking a shorter word
is unclear, but sometime between 1870 and the early 20th century, the
switch was made. Regardless of how or why it happened, the new title
stuck and confusion over the birthplace of this much beloved carol has
reigned ever since.
The song endured another alteration sometime around 1860, when someone
took the liberty of modifying that portion of the tune accompanying the
line "Born is the King…" Most musicians and musical historians, says
Studwell, believe that change was for the better.
It may seem odd that such tinkering with a classic is tolerated, but the
so-called experts have always had a love-hate relationship with the
song. The lyrics have been belittled as "a sincere, devout attempt of a
peasant to put the Christmas story into rhyme," or worse, "crude
poetry." Nitpickers also like to point out that the song contains some
historical inaccuracies: It mentions the shepherds, instead of the wise
men, seeing the star, and it places the star in the east (from whence
the wise men came) rather than the west (the direction they would have
However, once they are through disparaging the piece, most experts place
the carol alongside the classics of the genre. Even its harshest
critics, says Studwell, soften their final analysis and deem the carol
tuneful, full of joy and vigor and one that will "ever be a favorite
because of its sincerity and simplicity."
That is the dilemma of this song, Studwell says.
"It is homely, unspectacular and not highly aesthetic. At the same time,
it is comfortable, lovable and enduring." In his new book, "An Easy
Guide to Christmas Carols: Their Past, Present and Future," (The Lyre of
Orpheus Press), Studwell ranks the "The First Nowell" number 13 in his
Studwell, 70, began researching Christmas carols in 1972 when he created
a pamphlet about "Oh Holy Night" as a gift for a family member. Since
then he has researched and written about hundreds of carols and has
conducted more than 700 media interviews on the topic for newspapers,
radio and television. He also has served as an advisor to several
projects compiling recordings and lyrics of carols.
He estimates that he has devoted more than 6,000 hours of his life to
studying and writing about Christmas carols. At the height of his
research he had a room full of tables stacked high with more than 400
reference volumes from around the globe and immersed himself in
collections at libraries across the country.
Studwell also is a champion of other musical genres that he believes are
under-appreciated and has written extensively on college fight songs,
state songs, patriotic music and circus music, becoming a nationally
recognized expert in each of those fields. He has written 40 books in
Studwell, who is retired from Northern Illinois University, now resides
in Bloomington, Indiana. He can be reached by telephone at (812)
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