Tune of the Day: Pat-A-Pan
This traditional minor-mode carol comes from the Burgundy region of France. It was written about 1700 by poet Bernard de La Monnoye, and set to a tune which was probably taken from the Burgundian tradition.
The carol revolves around the birth of Jesus Christ, and is told from the perspective of shepherds playing simple instruments, flutes and drums, the sound of which gives the song its name: “pat-a-pan” is meant to mimic the sound of the drum, and an accompanying lyric, “tu-re-lu-re-lu”, the sound of the flute. This is similar conceptually to the better-known Christmas song “The Little Drummer Boy”. However, as historian William Studwell points out, the cheerful and rhythmic “Patapan” is a brisker and richer predecessor to “The Little Drummer Boy”. The recent song, in contrast, does have the advantage of a sensitive and heart-warming narrative. Musically, though, “Patapan” is superior to “Drummer Boy” and the majority of other carols from any period.
Notable recordings of the song include those by Leroy Anderson, Julie Andrews, David Archuleta and James Galway.