When American Katherine K. Davis first penned this carol in 1941, she apparently titled it ‘Carol of the Drum’, and credited its origin as a “freely transcribed” Czech carol, later replacing that with her pen name, “C.R.W.Robinson”. The original source for Davis’ version has yet to be found, and so there is no consensus as to whether it is genuinely ‘traditional’ or an original composition by Davis (or a blend of the two). Henry Onorati, who worked for Dot Records, and composer/arranger Harry Simeone also claimed to have had some creative influence on the popular version of the carol. The two helped bring the newly-titled ‘Little Drummer Boy’ to fame in the 1950s and 60s.
This setting offers the common version of the melody with three additional parts: one harmony part, and two parts that act as both harmony and an imitation of a drum (if you can imagine crisp grace-notes sounding percussive). A group performance of this arrangement might involve a gradual building up to the full four-part harmony on subsequent repeats (and perhaps ending with just the simple melody, or the melody with the second line harmony).
Though this carol is most commonly heard in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it is in fact even more appropriate for Epiphany.
This is one of over 100 carols printed in On This Day Earth Shall Ring.
(Chord symbols have been added, but the lyrics have not been included as they remain under external copyright.)
An audio sample, featuring Scottish smallpipes (A-chanter). The full four-part harmony can be heard on the repeat, approximately halfway through the track:
And a Sibelius-generated audio sample, at a slower tempo, imitating a group of Highland pipers. (You may need to turn up the volume for this track.):