To watch Fr. Joe’s homily from the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass: CLICK HERE!
We all know and have sung the Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear ?” And just maybe many of us have assumed this Christmas song has been around for years and it is of European origins.
But you would be mistaken – Grasshopper.
It was written in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a powerful plea for peace by a man who had experienced the horrors of the Second World War, which haunted him in life. The man’s name was: Noel Regney, from France.
After the Second World War, he worked in France as Musical Director and in 1952 he moved to Manhatten (NYC)… There he composed music for many early TV shows and commercial jingles, in addition to writing serious musical compositions.
In the late ’50s, Noel Regney married pianist Gloria Shayne after knowing her for only a few weeks. Gloria wrote many popular songs recorded by well-known singers, including “Goodbye Cruel World” (James Darren’s recording peaked at number three on the Billboard charts) and “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life” (recorded by Mike Douglas).
Said the daughter of her parents, “my mother’s work tends to be more pop; my father’s is more classical and avant-garde.” When her parents collaborated, she says, “Usually, my mother wrote the words and my father wrote the music.” But they did the opposite when they composed “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Here is how it came to be:
In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in a crisis centered on missiles the Russians had installed in Cuba. The United States threatened military action if the missiles were not removed. The world trembled and prayed as these two nuclear powers stood eyeball-to-eyeball.
That October, as Noel Regney walked through the streets of New York, a sense of despair was in the air. No one smiled. Noel Regney had endured the horrors of war. He knew the fear and terror of being close to death. The safe and secure life he had built for himself in the United States was being threatened.
Christmas, which was supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, was approaching. Noel Regney had been asked by a record producer to write a holiday song. Noel Regney shared, “on my way my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling. All of a sudden, my mood was extraordinary.”
A glimpse of these babies reminded (Noel Regney) of newborn lambs. Thus, the song begins, “Said the night wind to the little lamb…”
As soon as Noel arrived home, he jotted down the lyrics. Then he asked Gloria to write the music to accompany his words.
There have been over 100 versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” but Noel Regney’s personal favorite was a recording by Robert Goulet, who nearly shouted out the line, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere.” But it was the Bing Crosby 1963 recording that brought Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne’s song of peace to the nation’s attention.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” carried a beautiful message close to people in all walks of life. It became a popular Christmas carol, “a song high above the tree, with a voice as big as the sea.” But the message of peace was lost on many people.
“I am amazed that people can think they know the song and not know it is a prayer for peace,” Noel Regney once told an interviewer. “We are so bombarded by sounds and our attention spans are so short.”
Let us hope and pray that, when it is sung in churches worldwide during the Christmas season, this song of peace will remind us that “the Child, the Child sleeping in the night” came to “bring us goodness and light.”
May the Prince of Peace bring you peace today and every day and may we bring the peace of Christ to one another, all others in word and deed today and in the days to come.