That Blessed Drum

   All she wanted to do was compose a Christmas song suitable for girls’ choirs, and in 1941,   Katherine Kennicott Davis became obsessed with the traditional French carol Pat-a-pan, and wrote her version with pa-rum-pa-um-pum, in place of it.  She published it as C.R.W. Robinson, and her Carol of the Drum did reasonably well, being picked up by the Trapp Family Singers in the early Fifties.

     Then the Harry Simeone Chorale got hold of it, renamed it “The Little Drummer Boy” and had a Top Forty hit every December with it from 1958 to 1962.  That recording is still one of the  most popular versions, William Shatner’s recording of it notwithstanding.

     That is one really popular song.  And one of the most hated Christmas songs in the repertoire.  It happens that way, sometimes.

     Zx a new hit Christmas sng, it was played over and over and over.  (The number one song of 1958, oddly enough, was another song that ticks people off at Christmas: The Chipmunk Song.)  SPME people do not like songs sung by children’s choirs.  And we have the precise bozos, who want to know why someone is playing a drum for a newborn infant.

     Bur the somg expresses a very popi;ar theme.  The lad with the drum males it clear he has no gifts to bring that are worthy of a newborn king.  All he’s got is that drum. Which Mary AND the Baby Jesus enjoy.  (Joseph, who was a stock humorous character in medieval literature, was probably pressing hos hands over his ears._

     We find the same plot in The Littlest Angel, a reasonably popular book of the 1946 Christmas giving season, but much more popular after illustrations were added in 1963,  The Imterwebs informs me that it is the fifteenth best seeking children’s book of all time.  This tells the story of a naughty little boy who happens to be dead.  He makes a mess of heavenly worship and respect, and when he is called to judgement, he is terrified, only to find the angel in charge of this to be warm and understanding.  The thing Is, he missed Earth.  Heaven’s very nice, but Earth also had its appeal.  If he could just have that box of stuff he kept under his bead, to remind him of Earth, he thinks he can behave.

     Thebn be datym, word goes out that God is sending his son to Earth, and every angel prepares some special gift for this unprecedented occurrence/  The Littlest Angel wants to be part of this, but all he has is the box of boy treasures.  He slips this into the gift array. and on the great day is horrified by how cheap it looks.  He has actually insulted the Baby Jesus with this box of garbage.

     You know how this works out.  God says his son will learn to value the things of earth (or the whole mission is for naught) and turns the little box into the Star of Bethlehem/

     The magic is a little less show in le Jongleur de Notre Dame, another tale which has been animated for Christmas by R.O. Blechman.  This is a short story from 1892, dealing with a jongleur, a word often translated “juggler”.  But the jongleur was a specific type of medieval minstrel: the lowest of the low, the kind who would balance on one hand so his tunic would slide up and show the audience his backside, the fellow who knew all the oldest fart jokes.  Th sine decided to retire to a monastery, and he ran into the same problem as our other heroes.  He could paint a beautiful picture, or write a delicate lyric.  But he WANTS to give something to the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, represented by a statue in a niche.  So on the holiday he slips down to the statue late at night, pushes some of the beautiful gifts to the side, and goes to work.

     The abbot hears a sound he can’t identify, and takes a couple of the brothers to see what’s going on.  The Jongleur is balancing on one hand, juggling with the other hand, and spinning hoops on his legs.  One of the brothers, offended by this blasphemy, starts forward, but the abbot pulls him back.  The jongleur is working very, very hard, and sweating like a horse.  And as the btiohers watch, the Virgin thanks the jongleur by reaching out and mopping his forehead.

     In fact, this theme goes right back to the New Testament, in the story of the Widow’s M9te.  Jusus notes that all she has given is a tiny coin, while other people are giving grandiose presents in the offering box.  But He values the little coin because it is, in fact, all the money the woman has in the world

     That was a long way to run, and I assure you, the words Pa-Rump-Pa-Pum=Pum are not in script8re.  But they COULD have been.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: