Austrian Christmas carol office sorts out jingles and bells (Feature)
By Irmgard Rieger Dec 21, 2010, 12:06 GMT
Graz, Austria - Those who cannot bear the thought of a silent night at Christmas have a place to go to in Austria, where the Office of Christmas Carols digs up forgotten melodies and lyrics.
The institution in the town of Graz also takes on special requests, such as coming up with a version of Silent Night in Bambara, a dialect spoken in Mali.
'That was our biggest challenge so far,' said musicologist Eva Maria Hois, who manages the office located in a winding alley in the town's baroque centre.
With the help of a university student, her colleagues were able to work a little Christmas miracle.
'I don't know whether it is singable or whether the lyrics match the melody, but we were able to provide a translation,' Hois said.
For the past 20 years, the office has acted as a kind of seasonal emergency service for people who want to reconnect to childhood memories of Christmas past.
The initiative is part of a regional institution that archives and promotes traditional music.
The majority of requests come from people who can remember only a snippet of a song.
A German man living on the North Sea island of Borkum e-mailed the first four words of a carol he sang as a child, wondering if the office's staff could help.
Help they could. 'That must have been in a German school book from the 1920s or 30s,' Hois said.
The carol, about a little bird in a fir tree forest, was stored in the office's electronic database, and Hois' colleague Thomas Felfer was able to help in a matter of seconds.
'Sometimes people come in and sing or hum something to us,' the young man said.
In these cases, the carol expert consults his archive of binders, books and stacks of sheet music.
Many of them are hand-written, some contain information about instrumentation, while others are full orchestra or choir scores.
This proved useful for an Italian singer who was able to study choir music from her home country with friends in Graz.
Beyond tending to musical traditions, the office staff offer seasonal collections of poems or instructions for making Christmas tree ornaments.
And for want others to do the singing, the Office of Christmas Carols has put together a selection of recordings.
The office's German-language web address is www.steirisches-volksliedwerk.at/weihnach/weih1.htm.
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