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Ode to Joy to the World

Tis the season for new Christmas videos and the Piano Guys just released their newest Christmas tune titled Ode to Joy to the World. Yes, it’s a mash-up as only the Piano Guys do it and it’s a great, if not joyful, set-up to the season ahead. Take a look and a listen:

Joy to the World is actually a hymn, written by one of the most prolific hymn writers in history, Isaac Watts.

As a child, Watts showed remarkable propensity for rhyme, much to his father’s chagrin. After the family prayer time, one day, the sober minded elder Watts confronted his young son about why he had opened his eyes mid-prayer. The boy Watts creatively explained that he had been distracted, saying:

A little mouse for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say its prayers.

Unamused by his son’s rhyming reply and wanting to discourage such juvenile behavior, his father spanked him for it. To which Watts cried out,

O father, father pity take, and I will no more verses make.

No amount of spankings, though, could drive his love of verse, rhyme, poetry and music from his heart.

Watts’ education eventually led him to pastor a large independent church in London. He quickly earned a reputation for his oratory and preaching skills even becoming a private tutor helping train other preachers in the city. Throughout his years of ministry, Watts obsessively sought to put his Christian affections and convictions on paper so that others could join him in heartfelt worship and song.

Few songs, even hymns, are as heartfelt and joyous as Joy to the World. But is it a Christmas song? Pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll see the song talks more about Christ’s 2nd coming, which is still to occur, than his birth or ministry.

However, how can you have a 2nd coming without a first?

The song was originally a poem, based on Psalm 98, which says in verse 4 “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”

While Watts is attributed with the words to the song the music comes from another master of the 18th century, George Fredrich Handel – yes, the same guy who gave us the Hallelujah chorus from his magnificent work, Messiah.

If there were a top ten list of Christmas songs from the 1700s, Joy to the World would top the charts.

Like all things Christmas in America, Joy to the World was imported and is on record in the colony of Virginia as a favorite and traditional song of Christmas that people, both inside and outside of the Church, sang as part of their holiday traditions.

The other part of this mash-up isn’t a Christmas song at all — it is Ode to Joy, the final movement of Beethoven’s last symphony written in 1824.

Near the end of his career and his life, Beethoven wrote this while completely deaf and he never heard it outside of his own head. In fact, it was Beethoven who conducted the orchestra during the first performance of the symphony and he had to be turned around to see the audience’s wild reaction. He never heard their tumultuous roars of applause and appreciation for the piece.

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