Oh Holy Night and the Difference a Year Makes

Oh Holy Night has long been my favorite Christmas song – I love the wonder the music conveys; it seems to perfectly capture the mood of the nativity moment from the Christmas story.  It’s also just a beautiful collection of notes, with highs and lows and plenty of drama!  Last year as Christmas approached I plucked out then played some version of the song – I was a total newbie, still working my first few Suzuki Book One songs, but I was determined.  I had no music (nor any ability to engage with music), so with only the tune in my head I plucked it out note by note, writing down finger positions as I went.  And I struggled with it mightily – what can I say, the song was just way out of my league!  But I did my best – in thinking back, that was on my old rental violin to boot!  I kind of wish I had a recording.

Here it is a year later, and I’m in much better shape.  Yesterday when the idea struck me to play the song for the first time this season I didn’t even bother to look back for the “music” I created last year, rather I went out online to find real music.  The first arrangement I found was in C major, a key that I’m not well-versed in on the violin (now give me a piano and that’s the only key I can touch!).  But since this little Oh Holy Night project is just supposed to be a fun, extra-curricular lagniappe kind of song, I kept looking for a key that wouldn’t require me to learn anything too formal like a new scale.  The next arrangement I found was in G major – jackpot!

I looked it over, and it looked playable.  I printed it out, set it on the music stand, and just started playing – I bumped into a couple of accidentals – C# instead of natural on the A string, a few ties here and there, but this thing is totally in my league.  As I played it through the first time I realized that I get to create my own fingering/bowing for it.  My Suzuki repertoire always – at least up to where I’m at now – specifies fingering and bowing patterns to remove ambiguity (and also because, generally speaking, there are right answers).  But this music doesn’t come with those suggestions, so I get to make it up as I go!

In my first few forays yesterday I realized that I’m favoring open E string for the Es, but that fourth finger E on the A string makes a lot more sense in most cases due to the notes surrounding the Es.  Further, I’m improvising slurs across strings and such – I’m fascinated by that.  What makes it seem appropriate to slur a note versus playing them with separate bow strokes?  My body/brain/arm/fingers seem to contain some ideas about it that my conscious brain doesn’t quite have access to!  It’s really fascinating – I don’t have a lot of experience sight-reading from scratch like this without all the ambiguities being dealt with in the music for me.

An interesting coincidence – the only other sheet music I’ve downloaded is Danny Boy, and that song, while it does end up on all four strings, favors a lower register.  This arrangement of Oh Holy Night is in a higher register – it’s really up there, taking advantage of the fact that the violin is a treble instrument, after all!  But since it is so far up I have, even at my current level of newbie-ness, enough knowledge that I could find some parts of the song to lower by an octave to add some drama.

But, as I said at the beginning of this post, one reason I love the song is that it brings plenty of drama just the way it is.

Thanks for reading.



  1. Julie Libel · · Reply

    How fun for you, Ryan! And very resourceful to find the music and attempt to play it also.

  2. I’m having fun with it – I played it for Teacher yesterday and she helped me with the bowing; it’s coming along!

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