Songs of Christmas…Do You Hear What I Hear?

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This is part 20 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

Right up front I want to say, this may be my favorite Christmas carol story. And, it comes from a pretty unlikely pair. Who would have ever thought a former Nazi draftee from France would team up with a Jew from Massachusetts to write a Christmas carol, but that is exactly what happened.

Noel Regney found himself drafted into the Nazi army, but he didn’t stay there long. He deserted and found his way to the French Underground where he joined in with the Resistance to fight off the Nazis. Regney became a double agent and even leading the Germans into an ambush where he was shot in the arm, but recovered.

What Regney wanted to do more than anything else was to write classical music. He wasn’t interested in music that might make its way to the top of the Hit Parade and then fall back down to oblivion. He wanted to write music that would last.

Following the war, in an effort to make such music, Regney immigrated to the United States. One day in the late 1950s he wandered into New York’s Beverly Hotel. In the dining room he saw and heard a beautiful woman playing popular music on the piano. He was so taken with the woman, even though he spoke little English, he went up and introduced himself. Within a month, even though he had limited speaking skills in English and she spoke no French, the two were married. Her name was Gloria Shayne.

Even musically, the two seemed an unlikely pair. He was interested in classical music and she wanted to write and play rock and roll. Her preference was well founded as she wrote an early hit in “Goodbye Cruel World,” recorded by James Darrin. The couple did produce some material together with the songs, “Rain, Rain Go Away,” “Sweet Little Darlin'” and “Another Go Round.”

Regney was haunted by what he saw and experienced in World War II. He truly hoped the devastation was such that it would be the war to end all wars. When in a matter of a few short years he saw much of the world plunged into battle again in Korea and then Vietnam, Regney was deeply troubled by what he saw on the evening news.

In 1962, in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the very real threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Regney found a quiet moment, away from all he experienced in the past and what he saw in the presence. During that quiet, he wrote a poem. It was his plea for peace in the chaos of a world seemingly gone crazy. Regney said he was inspired to write the words, “Pray for peace people everywhere” as he watched mothers pushing their babies in strollers along New York streets.

Regney gave the poem to his wife and asked her to write the music for it. That was an unusual thing between these two. When they collaborated, it was almost always the other way around. But Regney told his wife he wanted her to write the music because he didn’t want it to be classical.

She left and went shopping. She said that on her way to Bloomingdale’s she had the beginning of the song in her mind. When she returned home and played it for Regney, she had inadvertently added a beat in the first line. Regney made a slight change to the poem as he feared the loss of one of the most beautiful tunes he had ever heard. The change took the first line from, “Said the wind to the…” to “Said the night wind to the…”

Shayne also wanted Regney to change one other line. She argued that people in the United States wouldn’t get the line, “…with a tail as big as a kite.” Regney stood by his writing and refused to change it. He was right on this one. People loved the line.

Once completed the couple to the song to a New York music agent and the Harry Simone Chorale, famous at the time for their recording of “The Little Drummer Boy” four years earlier, recorded the song in October of 1962. It was released in time for the 1962 Christmas season. It was an instant hit.

A year later, the song became a Christmas standard when Bing Crosby made his recording. Since that time, a long and varied list of performers has recorded “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Years later Regney and Shayne both said their favorite version of the song was by Robert Goulet. In his version of the song, when he came to the line, “Pray for peace, people everywhere,” he almost shouted the lyrics. Both Regney and Shayne also said, they could hardly sing the song all the way through because of the power the song had over their emotions.

Regney had not had a great deal of commercial success prior to the release of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” He had always said he wanted to write something meaningful, significant, enduring and beautiful. Mission accomplished.

Here is the thing, God brought together two people from different walks in life, different parts of the world and different faith traditions. God even switched their usual roles. Some might say the result was magical. I would say the result was Divine. God made the unlikely beautiful.

Where have you seen God do the unlikely and change the world in a significant way?

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,
Keith

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

Sources

Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_You_Hear_What_I_Hear%3F

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Shayne_Baker

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noël_Regney

Author:

Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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