“Carol of the Bells” for Orff Ensemble

30 Dec

Carol of the Bells

Every year my school has a Holiday Sing-Along on the last day before winter break. All of the students gather in the gym for about 30 minutes to sing together and have fun while the room parents set up the classrooms for the winter parties. I created a PowerPoint presentation that includes the song lyrics, accompaniments, and usually a couple of fun videos to break things up a bit. I also like to feature some student performances during the Sing-Along, such as the Nutcracker dances we choreographed during music classes. This year, I had three very talented fifth grade ladies who completed the entire recorder book, and I really wanted to give them something special to perform.

I discovered that the music for Carol of the Bells is in the public domain (woo hoo!), so I decided to arrange it for the instruments I had. I have some nice Sonor Orff instruments, but they are all diatonic (C major with F-sharp and B-flat additions). Luckily my husband is an instrument hoarder, and we also own a chromatic glockenspiel that I was able to use. I downloaded the MIDI from cipoo.net and imported that into Sibelius 6. After tweaking the instrument ranges and the key, I had a recognizable arrangement that I am very happy with and my students enjoyed learning.

Below is the video of my students’ performance at the Sing-Along. We rehearsed during the girls’ recess time approximately three days a week for three weeks. I let them choose which parts they wanted to play, and of course, they gave me the easiest part. After a few rehearsals I realized that they had memorized their parts, so I asked if they wanted to perform from memory (they did), which meant I had to memorize my part too (good thing I had the easy part). The instruments on the video from left to right are: Mrs. Riley on diatonic soprano xylophone, Reina on chromatic glockenspiel, Noyuri on diatonic bass xylophone, and Yuna on diatonic alto xylophone. We found that we were able to best stay together in the echo-y gym with the melody and bass parts in the center of the stage.

Because I am running Sibelius 6 on a Windows machine, creating a PDF version of the sheet music was not native. I found a great tip on how to easily create PDFs from Sibelius at Sibeliusblog.com. The recommended PDFCreator took about 5 minutes to download and install. All I had to do was choose it from the print dialog in Sibelius. Yay!

Download the full score and parts in PDF format as a zip file here.

5 Responses to ““Carol of the Bells” for Orff Ensemble”

  1. Lauren July 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    Ok. I don’t know how I didn’t watch that until the middle of summer. What awesome kids! They did a fantastic job! I really liked the arrangement, too. Really nice on 4 parts.

    One of my classes played an arrangement I made for our holiday CD last year. I wish I had yours when I was teaching them! Unfortunately, we had to record ours at the end of November.

    Here are my kiddoes playing Carol of the Bells. This was a class of 32 awesome kids. Every kid got to choose what instrument they played (some chose wisely, others did not). We’re heavy on glockenspiel….that’s what I have most of. At least they got the fun tune!


    Thanks for your blog!

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley July 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Hi, Lauren,

      Thanks for your comment! I wasn’t brave enough to try this arrangement with a whole class of kids. Maybe next year. :-)

      I love your recordings! (I need to post more performances like that.)

      Do you use a method book for your ukulele instruction? I’m thinking about starting a uke unit this year with my fifth graders, and I’m just starting to gather resources.


      • Lauren July 15, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

        This is my first year recording my kiddoes. I was really hesitant, only because I was nervous to hear the “truth” about what my kids were doing! I focus on the mistakes a lot. But when I think about the kids who are playing, I realize that I have worked a minor miracle, for sure!

        I don’t use a ukulele method book. I have colored dots under the strings marking C, F, and G chords. When we start a song, I ask them to at least get the C chord. It is only one finger!

        As they feel more comfortable, they can add in the other chords. This way, the kids are in control and comfortable with what they’re playing. It gives them a safety net. I have classes with GT and resource kids mixed together – this works great for all of them!

        I usually have the Orff instruments going at the same time. I let my students can choose the instrument they want to play. That way there aren’t kid fighting over any one instrument. I have 20+ ukuleles, but classes of about 32.

        Hope this helps! :)

  2. Amber November 13, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Kelly, I found your carol of the bells arrangement you did with your students. They did wonderful. I do have a question and keep this in mind it’s my second year of teaching. On your xylophone parts you have them needing to switch out from natural to flats. Did you use chromatic xylophones? I don’t have those and would have to switch out bars but would be impossible to do this in a middle of a performance.

    • Kelly Schenbeck Riley November 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

      Hi Amber!
      I arranged the piece specifically for my diatonic xylophones which came with B-flats and F-sharps. When I started working on it with the students, we figured out exactly which bars each student needed (and didn’t need) for their specific parts. We set up the xylophones with just the needed bars. There was plenty of room for both the flats and the naturals when we took off the unused bars. Only the melody part really needed a full chromatic instrument.

      I hope that helps! Good luck, and I would love to see a video of your kids performing the arrangement if you end up doing it. :-)