Traditionally, Christmas carols are sung on snowy street corners, under flickering lamplight, by small groups of bundled-up, rosy-cheeked cherubic warblers. Out here in California, where it rarely snows, we instead play these seasonal melodies on the mandolin! Seriously, the traditional Christmas repertoire yields a wealth of beautiful music, all easily adaptable to the mandolin in any number of styles.
Realizing this, last year I recorded an album of Christmas evergreen "Davld Grisman's Acoustic Christmas (Rounder Records)" and had a lot of fun playing familiar tunes in a variety of acoustic settings. They ranged from blugrass bands to Renaissance consorts.
In keeping with the holiday season, this month I've selected two perennial favorites from the album: "What Child Is This" (more commonly known as "Greensleeves"), and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
Both pieces are played, for the most part, in the fourth position (first finger on the 4th fret), and they'll give your left hand a good workout in the higher reaches of the fretboard. As always, fingering is a personal variable, so feel free to experiment with alternate approaches. Notice also the "hammer-on, and pull-off" ornaments in each piece (bars 2 and 6 in "What Child," and bar 12 of "God Rest").
Your right hand will also get some practice with the tremolo. All other notes are played with downstrokes. Notice also the details of the arrangements. In "What Child," the simple melody is accompanied by a trio of recorders. In "God Rest," the melody is accompanied initially by piano, but then takes off into a modern jazz arrangement much like John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things", ( from the Coltrane Favorite Things album, Atlantic SD-1361). Have fun with these tunes. Best wishes for the holiday season!
Traditional Arrangement. Copyright 1984 David Grisman. Used by permission. All rights reserved.