Sing We Now of Christmas, arranged by Fred Prentice, is a setting of "Noël Nouvelet,” a traditional French Christmas and New Year's carol dating from the late 15th century and the early 16th century. This carol celebrates the figures in the crèche, the handmade nativity scenes found throughout France, where they are part of the Christmas celebration in homes and in town squares. This song would be sung by families at home and at community gatherings rather than as part of the liturgy in Roman Catholic churches at the time it was written. Fred Prentice’s arrangement, with a harp part by Carol Barnett, opens quietly, as if the narrator is in the manger scene, and gradually builds in excitement as the story of the angels, shepherd and wise men is told.
Shawn Kirchner’s arrangement of Pat-a-pan, the Burgundian carol by Bernard de la Monnoye (1641-1728), opens with the singers imitating pipes and drums on playful "turelus" and "patapans" while the piano sparkles on bright descending arpeggio motives. This refrain continues to alternate with the verses, which are sung by sopranos and altos, then sopranos and basses in haunting unison octaves, then unaccompanied 3-part canon. In the triumphant closing verse, the sopranos and altos again take the lead while the tenors and basses imitate drums. As the energy builds, the tenors and basses join the rest of the choir on the sung text, and full, rich chords bring the piece to a powerful and jubilant close. –Shawn Kirchner
NATIVITY SUITE by Dale Warland comprises settings of three well-known traditional texts for the Christmas season: "Welcome All Wonders," "O magnum mysterium," and "A Boy Was Born." Warland (b. 1932) is an American conductor, composer, founder of the Grammy-nominated Dale Warland Singers, scholar, teacher, choral consultant, and renowned champion of contemporary choral composers. He is one of only two choral conductors (along with Robert Shaw) inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. Of his Nativity Suite, Warland writes:
I. Welcome All Wonders
This setting of Richard Crashaw 's 17th-century text is meant to capture the excitement that the shepherds must have felt as they witnessed the birth of the "little one." Crashaw's own subtitle calls out for exactly that: "A hymn sung as by the shepherds." The dualities that permeate the poetry are made manifest in two sharply contrasting musical ideas: the fanfare-like motives in the flute and harp, and the thoughtful, legato phrases of the choir.
II. O Magnum Mysterium
The opening sounds of the instruments and voices in this setting of one of the most widely known of the Latin texts appropriate for Christmas are meant to conjure an air of mystery. The initial tone clusters, approached by layering the voice parts, are presented very subtly in order to enhance the intimacy and the veiled quality suited to this traditional liturgical text for Matins on Christmas Day. The "alleluias," which reflect the significance of the Christmas event, are joyful but slightly restrained.
III. A Boy Was Born
In this setting of the traditional translation of a 16th-century poem, the instruments express the sentiment that animates the choir's words in ways that voices are incapable of doing. In several instances, the voices serve as accompaniment to the instruments, particularly the flute, with joy often expressed by its very high tessitura and its captivating agility. The repeated "alleluias" at the close of each verse are resounding exclamations of joy, with harmonies made up of as many as eleven voice parts.
Moses Hogan is recognized as a leading force in promoting and preserving the African-American musical experience. Founder and conductor of the Moses Hogan Chorale and the Moses Hogan Singers, he is best known for his contemporary and accessible choral settings of spirituals (over 80 in publication). Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King opens with a slow call and response theme between the soprano soloist and choir. The soloist asks a series of questions: “What shall we call that pretty little baby?”, to which the choir answers: Christ the Lord, the newborn King.” The upbeat second section is a joyful setting of the traditional spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Богородице Дево (pronounced “bogoroditse devo”) is the 6th movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and is a setting of the Ave Maria text. The All-Night Vigil has been praised as Rachmaninoff's finest achievement and "the greatest musical achievement of the Russian Orthodox Church". It was one of Rachmaninoff's two favorite compositions, along with The Bells, and the composer requested that its fifth movement (Nunc dimittis) be sung at his funeral. The Vigil incorporates Orthodox chant into every movement, often harmonized with lush chords and a dark timbre colored by low bass notes. In this setting of “Ave Maria,” the chant melody, first harmonized in standard 4-part style, is taken over by the altos divided into thirds, and joined by the basses for a stirring climax, before reverting to a simple prayerful 4-part conclusion.
Matthew Culloton is the Founding Artistic Director and Conductor of The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists. As a composer, he has been commissioned by The Singers, the Dale Warland Singers, and numerous high school, collegiate, and church choirs. Culloton composed God’s Mother Be using the 15th century text “I syng of a mayden" (sometimes titled "As Dewe in Aprille") celebrating the Annunciation and the Virgin Birth of Jesus. The gentle style of the harp accompaniment and lovely, simple melodies in the choir parts portray the tenderness of the nativity scene.
The much-beloved song O Holy Night ("Cantique de Noel") was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chretiens" (Midnight, Christians) and translated to English by Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight in 1855. Of the version we perform today, arranger Ryan Murphy says, “O Holy Night has been very personal to me since I first remember hearing music. The work draws my focus to the holy meaning of Christmas. The arrangement is dedicated, with love, to my family - past, present, and future. Deepest thanks to Judith Clurman for the opportunity to write this for her, and her Essential Voices, USA.”
Randol Alan Bass is a composer, conductor and arranger from Texas – born in Fort Worth, raised in Midland, and educated at the University of Texas at Austin for his undergraduate degree. His Gloria was written for the New York Pops Orchestra and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1990 under Skitch Henderson. It has subsequently been extensively programmed by professional and non-professional musical ensembles all over the world in various versions from full orchestra to chamber orchestra to brass and/or organ. It is a rhythmic, yet lyrical, setting of the liturgical Latin text. The opening fanfare transitions to a lovely setting of Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis (and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men), and to alternately rhythmic and lyric passages uniquely written to match the mood of their corresponding text.