‘It Begins In Bethlehem’ tells the story of the shepherd’s journey to Bethlehem after receiving news from an angel about the birth of Jesus. Find out the story behind the writing of this popular Christmas song written by Bob Hartman and Sam Hargreaves.
So…what came first, the lyrics or the melody?
Bob Hartman’s response to this often-asked question gives interesting insight into their song writing process and, in this case, the lyrics came first! Hartman had already written the story for the wonderful and colourful ‘Rhyming Bible Book’ published by SPCK, and as he was writing the book, he thought it would be great to put some of his rhyming stories to music. Having worked with Sam Hargreaves before, it was obvious to Bob that he was the man for the job. And the finished product proves how right he was.
Very quickly Sam had some brilliant ideas encompassing many different musical genres that both supported and enhanced Hartman’s story-writing skills. An album was born and ‘It Begins In Bethlehem’ was one of the tracks.
Noticing how the words have a “distinction between the beginning which seems so gentle and then bam comes the angel,” explains Sam, “we thought the beginning should be a bit like a lullaby before the angels come in like 70s disco dudes.”
The lullaby element takes the melody of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, immediately giving an air of familiarity for kids. With the first chorus continuing the calm of the initial verses, the song then explodes into a faster-paced rock style, perfect for the chorus lyrics ‘Sing praise to God and give him glory’. The song ends as it began, with the beautiful lullaby closing the story.
“It's got a lovely motion to it’” says Hargreaves, “like a mini rock opera. I love the disco section; it just comes out of nowhere. When I play it for people, they just don't expect it at all, they figure it's just going to be quiet throughout because it starts that way so it's a perfect surprise.”
‘It Begins In Bethlehem’ has proved very popular on YouTube and the lyrics were chosen for the Bible Society’s 2020 Christmas story for children, recommending the song for use in carol services. Why not tell the story of the shepherds in your nativity services this year and see it brighten and enlighten your festive events?