Noel, Todd Smith, Arranged by Brad Holmes
With text in the African Kituba dialect, this bright, rhythmic piece captures the feeling of a tribal celebration as it expresses the joy of the Christ Child’s birth. Djembe and hand-claps add to the excitement.
James Todd Smith (who goes by Todd Smith) is a singer and founding member of the contemporary Christian music band Selah. Smith grew up the son of missionaries in Zaire, Africa (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in a home built by his grandparents, who had been missionaries to the continent since the 1930s. Smith gives credit for his music career to his missionary upbringing. His debut album Alive was released in August 2004. 1
African Noel, Traditional African Folk Song, Arranged by Dave & Jean Perry
Joyful and rhythmic, the fresh new arrangement of a popular Christmas folk song features layered voices and a call-and-response between parts. The lower voices open the tune and are quickly echoed by sopranos and altos in split harmony. The addition of ethnic percussion makes for a lively performance.
Award-winning composers and retired music teachers, Dave and Jean Perry have over 175 sacred and secular choral works in print. Their music has been performed by choirs in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North America and Australia. They are recipients of multiple special composers’ awards from ASCAP. Both are involved in music ministry at their local parish. 2,3
Dide ta Deo, Nigerian Folk Song, Collected by Wendell P. Whalum, Arranged by Uzee Brown, Jr.
When the Morehouse College Glee Club was preparing for a historic tour of Africa in 1972, Wendell P. Whalum, transcribed the melody of this folk song as it was sung by a native Nigerian student who was attending Morehouse College at the same time. Dr. Uzee Brown Jr. set this melody for mixed voices and percussion.
Mr. Whalum (1931-1987), a highly acclaimed educator, musicologist, arranger and director of the Morehouse College Glee Club, dedicated much of his professional life to collecting African and African American folk songs. Dr. Brown currently serves as Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department of Music at Morehouse College. Additionally, Dr. Brown is Director of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir. The original 4-part setting (by Whalum/Brown) bore particular significance for the glee club. It vividly captured the spirit of glee club members as a song of celebration, signifying God’s blessings for a safe return to Africa, the “motherland”. 4
The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, Trinidad folk carol, arranged by Andre J. Thomas
The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy was commissioned for the centennial performances of the St. Olaf Choir’s Christmas Festival. Dr. Andre J. Thomas is Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Choral Music Education at Florida State University where he conducts several choral ensembles and teaches conducting. Dr. Thomas performs as a pianist and conductor, and is in demand as a choral adjudicator, clinician and guest director. Besides his extensive conducting credits, he is a distinguished composer and arranger, published by numerous publishing houses. 5
God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, arranged by Donald Moore
What do you get when you cross a familiar Christmas carol with an iconic jazz progression? This ultra-hip arrangement of God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen set in 5/4. Smooth unisons, basic scat-singing, and cool jazz chords define the style. 6
Donald Moore is a prolific composer, arranger, lyricist and author with over 800 compositions in print, including sacred, secular, educational and pop choral works, music collections, organ and piano works and twelve educational books. His compositions are regularly performed at state contests and festivals and have been showcased at state, regional, national and international music conventions. He is a twenty-six time winner of the ASCAPLUS Composers Award. Mr. Moore was recently listed by the American Choral Directors Association Choral Journal as one of 400 elite composers of significance throughout the history of American choral music. 7
O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridsen
When the Los Angeles Master Chorale commissioned Morten Lauridsen’s setting of O Magnum Mysterium in 1994, few people anticipated that it would launch the acclaimed composer’s career.
Sung entirely in Latin, the words are a responsorial chant from the Matins of Christmas, the nighttime liturgy in the Roman Catholic pre-Vatican church. The piece is intended to express the joy and awe that was felt by the shepherds as they celebrated and worshiped the Christ-child in the manger on Christmas Eve. It is tender, refined and contemplative. Sung a cappella in 4-parts, the haunting melody moves seamlessly between voices and the final Alleluia finishes with a whisper.
A National Medal of Arts recipient (2007), Mr. Lauridsen was composer-in-residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale (1994–2001) and has been a professor of composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for more than 40 years. His works have been recorded on more than 200 CDs, five of which have received Grammy Award nominations, including O Magnum Mysterium. 9
Wenceslas Canon, Old English Melody, Arranged by Andy Beck.
The popular Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas is immediately recognizable from the beginning of this 3-part piece, which combines the traditional English carol with the Old English melody of Hey, Ho, Nobody Home. True to the song’s lyrics, the stately walking tempo suggests a processional hymn and the slightly percussion feeling adds a Renaissance feel. In 1853, English hymn writer John Mason Neale wrote the “Wenceslas” lyrics, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide,
The legend of Wenceslas is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935). The carol tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the First Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow. 10
Andy Beck is a composer and arranger, guest conductor, choreographer, and clinician. He has authored several top-selling choral and children’s musicals, as well as co-written the highly regarded method book “Sing at First Sight, Foundations in Choral Sight-Singing.” 11
Still, Still, Still, Austrian Carol, Lyrics by Marilyn Keith and Alan Bergman, Arranged by Norman Luboff
Still, Still, Still is an Austrian Christmas carol and lullaby. In German its first line is “Still, still, still, weil’s Kindlein schlafen will!” (“Hush, hush, hush, for the little child wants to sleep!”)
The melody is a folk tune (authorship unknown) from the State of Salzburg, appearing for the first time in an 1865 folk song collection. The words, which run to six verses in German, describe the peace of the infant Jesus and his mother as the baby is sung to sleep. The words have changed slightly over the years but the modern Standard German version remains attributed to Georg Götsch (1895–1956).
Lyrics for the English version were written by award-winning American lyricists and songwriters Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. Norman Luboff compiled the 4-part choral arrangement for the song in 1958. 12
Das Gläut zu Speyer (The Bells of Speyer), Composed by Ludwig Senfl, Edited and Arranged by Tom Shelton
Within his lifetime, Ludwig Senfl composed numerous German lieder (folk songs), Das Gläut zu Speyer being one of them. One can truly hear the sound of the Bells of Speyer as this a cappella arrangement speeds along, each voice part getting the chance to mimic the sounds of the bells. Senfl’s leider, which range from courtly love songs to comical songs, used techniques that originated in the early 16th century. Das Gläut zu Speyer would have been performed in groups of four, five or six voices using ostinato-type patterns (a motif or phrase that persistently repeats).
Tom Shelton teaches Sacred Music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, with an emphasis on children’s and youth music. He also teaches conducting and music education. 13
Fum, Fum, Fum, Catalan Dance Carol, Lyrics and Arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw
Fum, Fum, Fum is thought to have originated in the 16th or 17th century as a Catalan Christmas carol.
One source, the Musical Heritage Society, indicates that “fum, fum, fum” is an onomatopoeia imitating the noise of a rocking cradle, and that the rhythms come from the Sardana, a courtly dance which originated in Catalonia and the Provence.
The English version, sung in 4-part a cappella, is not really a translation but a version based on the traditional Catalan carol, created in 1953 by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw. It was this version that popularized the carol in the United States and other English-speaking areas. There are several other versions in English as well.
Composer, conductor and teacher Alice Parker received her master’s degree from the Juilliard School, where she studied choral conducting with Robert Shaw. Robert Shaw was an award-winning American choral composer and conductor (leader of the Robert Shaw Chorale). He received 14 Grammy awards, and was a 1991 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. 14
What Sweeter Music, English Poem, Composer John Rutter
Lyrics are from a poem by Robert Herrick, 17th-century English lyric poet and cleric, from A Christmas Caroll, Sung to the King in the Presence at White-Hall (sung to King Charles I). John Rutter shortened the poem a bit, modernizes the spelling, dresses it in contemporary musical language, and turns out a carol that sounds ancient and fresh, all at the same time. 15 Mr. Rutter is a 21st-century English composer, conductor, editor, arranger and record producer, mainly of choral music.
Wassail!, Music by Philip Seward, Op. 90, No. 20
There have been dozens of Wassail songs penned over the centuries. “Wassail!” (2010) is a combination of two of these traditional carols about the famous drink. Listen for the traditional tune, “Wassail, wassail, all over the town!” as well as “Here we come a-wassailing….” Combined in a setting by Philip Seward in 2010, the song premiered that year as a solo sung by the composer with pianist Elizabeth Doyle at the Chicago Cabaret Professionals Holiday Cabaret, Merry Measures.
“When I set the two songs initially, I thought they had a similar feel and would be fun to sing together. It was also an opportunity to tap into Christmas traditions that aren’t specifically religious for the venue of the original performance at Chicago Cabaret Professionals.” – Philip Seward
Philip Seward is the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award at Columbia College Chicago. Aside from his composing, performing and teaching, Mr. Seward conducts the choir at St. James Presbyterian Church.
Baloo Baleerie, a Scottish lullaby, Ruth E. Schram
The title is alliterative nonsense based around the Scots word for lullaby, “baloo”. The first verse refers to the story of the changeling, whereby a fairy would secretly substitute its own offspring for an unguarded human baby. In the first verse, the fairies are told to leave, while in the second verse, guardian angels are asked to protect the child. The third verse advises the child to sleep softly.
Ruth Elaine Schram wrote her first song at the age of twelve, and her first octavo was published in 1988. She now has over 2,000 published works and she has been a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award each year since 1990.
Program notes by Kristie Webb-Williams and Tom Perles