What happens when you take Christmas carols and flip them around?

Chase Holfelder is an internet celebrity who has attracted over 32 million YouTube views by creating minor key covers of major key songs.

A fundamental aspect of the structure of the western world’s classical and pop music is the “key.” In essence, this is the group of pitches (or “scale”) that make sense together. It’s a difficult concept to explain. If you ever took piano lessons, this is why you had to practice scales over and over and over again. Your teacher wasn’t trying to torture you (or probably wasn’t): playing scales was the only way you were going to internalize musical keys.

Musical keys are grouped into major and minor. The major keys tend to sound upbeat and positive. Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Strauss’ “Blue Danube,” and Katy Perry’s “Roar” are in major keys. Christmas carols like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” and “Deck the Halls” are also all in major keys. In fact, the vast majority of Christmas carols are. Conversely, minor keys tend to be downbeat and brooding. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel” are examples of minor key Christmas carols. Some compositions manage to cover all the possible keys, major and minor. Perhaps the best known is Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier,” two sets of 24 preludes and fugues that had an enormous influence on future composers from Mozart and Beethoven to Chopin and on to Shostakovich.

In the video posted below, Chase Holfelder brings his minor key magic to Christmas carols. As he says, “Almost all major-key Christmas songs seem to work well in a minor key. So, I thought I’d do a compilation of a handful of carols where I first sing it in its normal major-key, and then sing it again in minor.” It’s more than just a kind of science experiment: Holfelder is actually a pretty good singer!

How did you like this unusual take on Christmas carols? Planning some musical surprises this holiday season? Let us know in the comments at Facebook and be sure to like and share.