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It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh" in the autumn of 1857.

According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town's popular sleigh races during the 19th century. Otis Waterman, one of Pierpoint's friends, described the song as a "merry little jingle", which became part of its new name when published in 1859 under the revised title of "Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh." The song has since passed into the public domain.The date of the song's copyright casts some doubt on the theory that Pierpont wrote the song in Medford, since by that date he was the organist and music director of the Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, where his brother, Rev. In August of the same year, James Pierpont married the daughter of the mayor of Savannah.He stayed on in the city even after the church closed due to its abolitionist leanings.The double-meaning of "upsot" was thought humorous, and a sleigh ride gave an unescorted couple a rare chance to be together, unchaperoned, in distant woods or fields, with all the opportunities that afforded.Music historian James Fuld notes that "the word jingle in the title and opening phrase is apparently an imperative verb." In the winter in New England in pre-automobile days, it was common to adorn horses' harnesses with straps bearing bells as a way to avoid collisions at blind intersections, since a horse-drawn sleigh in snow makes almost no noise.

The rhythm of the tune mimics that of a trotting horse's bells.However, "jingle bells" is commonly taken to mean a certain kind of bell.Jingle Bells The original 1857 "Jingle Bells" had a slightly different chorus featuring a more classical-style melody.The "I V vi iii IV I V I" chord progression is a common theme in classical music; except for the final two chord changes, the melody as originally written follows the same chord progression as Pachelbel's Canon; the tune would later become more closely associated with another Christmas song, “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” which appeared about twenty years after "Jingle Bells".The "Jingle Bells" tune is used in French and German songs, although the lyrics are unrelated to the English lyrics.Both songs celebrate winter fun, as in the English version.