42 Astoundingly Useful Scripts and Automations for the Macintosh

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

One of my favorite Christmas songs. Save us all from Satan’s power, and tidings of comfort and joy.

Jerry Stratton, December 18, 2019

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen has long been one of my favorite Christmas songs. It’s fast-paced yet easy to sing along with.

As a child, however, I was always confused as to where the comma went. Is God resting them merry, or are they merry gentlemen? The title often doesn’t have a comma in it at all, making about as ambiguous as it can get. Researching for this article, several sources make it clear that it is almost certainly meant to be as I’ve titled it here, but even the old text I pulled this melody from titles their version “God rest you, merry Gentlemen”.1

It has an archaic and quaint quality partly because so many of the words are used in ways we wouldn’t use them today. Rest, merry, comfort, joy. Especially the former three, they’re a little off from their modern meanings. You can see some of it today by thinking about the difference between the noun comfort and the verb comfort. When the song was written, the noun had a similar meaning to the verb. To comfort someone is to encourage and support them, to strengthen them. You can get a sense of the meaning in such archaic legal phrases as “give aid and comfort to the enemy”, and in the similar words “fortitude” and “effort”.2 And how often do you use the term “rest” as a verb to do something to someone else? It’s mostly a personal verb nowadays: I’m going to rest, not I’m going to rest you.

Merry was more a sense of pleasantness than revelry. And joy still retained much of its religious connotation with “rejoice”.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come. And he will encourage and raise you up. The meanings are so very close to their modern meanings, yet obviously different in strange ways, as a child there was an almost happily eerie sense to the song. Which is probably a good part of why it was one of my favorites.

Here’s the treble clef:

# God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

# treble clef

# source music resets sharps/flats/naturals at end of each measure… or perhaps randomly

--key G

presto

"E E" | "E E" "G B" "F B" "-D+ A"         | "E G" "-D F" "-C E" "-B -D"
        "E E" "-D+ F" "E G" "E A"         | 2 "-D+ B" 4 R "E E"

        "E E" "G B" "F B" "-D+ A"         | "E G" "-D F" "-C E" "-B -D"
        "E E" "-D+ F" "E G" "E A"         | 2 "-D+ B" 4 R "E B"
        "E C" "-D+ A" "-D+ B" "G C"

        "F= D" "E +E" "-D B" "-D+ A"      | "E G" "-C+ E" "-D+ F" "G G"
        2 "F= A" 4 "G G" "-D+ A"          | 2 "-D B" 4 "E C" "-D B"
        "G B" "F A" "E G" "-D+ F"

        2 "E E" 8 "-B G" "-B F" 4 "-C+ E" | 2 "-D A" 4 "E G" "F A"
        [2 G] B C "G D" "G E"             | "G B" "F A" "E G" "-D+ F"
        2 "E E" R

Save it as treble.txt, or as you wish. And here’s the bass clef:

# God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

# bass clef

# source music resets sharps/flats/naturals at end of each measure… or perhaps randomly

--key G

presto

-

"E E" | "E G" "E E" "-D+ F" "-B B"    | "E B" "-B B" "-C G" "-G G"
        "-C G" "-B B" "E B" "-C E"    | 2 "-B F" 4 R "E E"

        "E G" "E E" "-D+ F" "-B B"    | "E B" "-B B" "-C G" "-G G"
        "-C G" "-B B" "E B" "-C E"    | 2 "-B F" 4 R "E G+"
        "A A" "F A" "G G" "E G"

        "-B G" "-C G" "-G G" "-B F"   | "E G" "E G" "-D A" "-B D"
        [2 -D] D C "E B" "F A"        | 2 "G G" 4 "-C G" "G G"
        "-G D" "-A C" "-B B" "-B B"

        2 "E G" 8 "E G" "E G" 4 "E G" | "-D F" "-C A" "-B D" "-A C"
        "-G B" "E G" "-B D" "C C"     | "-G D" "-A C" "-B B" "-B B"
        2 "E G" R

Save it as bass.txt; note the lone minus sign at the top, to drop the entire thing down one octave.

Play it using the piano script from 42 Astounding Scripts:

  • $ ~/bin/piano [ bass.txt ] treble.txt

And save to a midi file for importing into GarageBand using:

  • $ ~/bin/piano treble.txt --save treble
  • $ ~/bin/piano bass.txt --save bass

After those commands, there will be two midi files, treble.midi and bass.midi. After importing the midi files into GarageBand and spending a pleasant half an hour playing with the various instruments, I decided to go with harp for the treble clef, and I doubled the bass with one track for Upright Studio Bass and another for Classical Acoustic Guitar.

The video is from a trip into Michigan during a relatively heavy snowfall. Among the many times I need God’s comfort, it is on icy roads in low visibility stuck behind large vehicles. Arriving home safely was a moment of joy.

  1. Not sure why the only two words in the title that are capitalized are God and Gentlemen, either.

  2. I’m pulling these etymologies from John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins and Eric Partridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English.

  1. <- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing