Welsh composer William Mathias (1934-1992) wrote works for orchestra, opera, chamber ensembles, and choir. Best known for his Let the people praise Thee, O God, written for the July 1981 royal wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Mathias was a child prodigy on piano and began composing at age 5. A Babe is Born features his dynamic organ writing, and with its jaunty syncopated rhythms and rousing choruses has become a standard in the annual Carols from King’s College service. Each verse ends with a Latin refrain, first with just sopranos, then adding altos, tenors and finally basses for the triumphant finish.
Angels we have heard on high is a captivating arrangement of the traditional French carol by the Minneapolis-based composer Matthew Culloton (b. 1976). Culloton’s setting is characterized by a repeated, gently syncopated “gloria” accompaniment in the lower voices, and the unusual use of a minor key for this typically jubilant carol. Towards the end we hear a quotation in the tenor part of In dulci jubilo, a traditional German carol. Culloton is the Founding Artistic Director and Conductor of The Singers – Minnesota Choral Artists and has published numerous works with Morning Star Music in his series “Christmas with the Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists.”
Elaine Hagenberg’s (b. 1979) arrangement of Wexford Carol for piano, strings and percussion begins with a haunting, celtic feel, perhaps inspired by the carol’s origin in medieval Ireland. The mysterious-sounding beginning invites us to consider the nature of God’s gift in sending his son; the two verses following tell of the shepherds’ journey and joyful arrival at the manger. Hagenberg has become extremely popular in the American choral world in recent years for her emotionally expressive music, and her availability for commissions, workshops and guest artist appearances.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934), best known for his orchestral masterpiece The Planets, wrote Christmas Day: Choral Fantasy on Old Carols in 1910, and dedicated it to the music students of Morley College, where he served as musical director from 1907 until 1924. Throughout the piece, he interweaves three tunes well-known to Americans: “Good Christian Men, Rejoice“ (In dulci jubilo), “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” and “The First Nowell.” Less known to Americans is a melody derived from old Brittany used to set the words ‘Come ye lofty; come ye lowly.’ This tune’s 3/2 meter and sprightly tempo are a surprisingly good counterpart for a slow version of “The First Noel,” which Holst layers together in various voicings.
Eit barn er født Betlehem (A Child is Born in Bethlehem) is a contemporary setting of a Norwegian folk tune from the Vang in Valdres region of Norway. The text comes from the 14th-century carol, Puer natus in Bethlehem, translated into Norwegian by Hamilton Montgomerie Macgill in 1876. Ørjan Matre’s (b. 1979) arrangement is based on a version by the folk music group Trispann. The printed music suggests passages that may be improvised, and our rendition utilizes a string quartet. For further exploration, we highly recommend listening to the version on the album Rós by the Norwegian Soloists' Choir, which uses improvised lute, bass, and violin.
Sussex Carol, another imaginative arrangement by Elaine Hagenberg, is based on a popular English carol, "On Christmas night all Christians sing.” Hagenberg’s setting for choir, piano and strings (or chamber orchestra) is high in joyful energy, with its bell-like theme in the accompaniment, and progression to a climactic final “Amen.”
American composer Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) composed over 670 works in a variety of genres, including a significant number of works for chorus. Among the most popular are three cantatas set to sacred texts: Wedding Cantata (1956), Christmas Cantata (1957), and Easter Cantata (1961). The Christmas Cantata remains one of his most popular. The Latin texts are taken from the traditional responses from the Christmas masses and are set for three equal ensembles: chorus, brass choir and organ. The final movement “Gloria in excelsis deo” is an extended crescendo of continually shifting tonalities, with verses taken from Psalm 100 alternating with the chorus the angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.”
O Magnum Mysterium is an ancient text traditionally chanted at the Matins service on Christmas. It describes the image of oxen and donkey next to the manger with the Christ child as a wondrous mystery – that the son of God would be incarnate in such humble circumstances. Composers throughout the centuries have written music to this text; two of the most-performed being by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611) and Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943). Kevin Memley’s (b. 1971) gorgeous setting of this powerful text creates a feeling of awe and wonder with delicate melodic motifs, rich chords, and rocking duple rhythms against elongated triplets.
From composer Rosephanye Powell (b. 1962):
Christus Natus Est is a setting of a poem of the same title by African-American poet Countee Cullen (1903-1946), a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. As I read Cullen’s poetry, I found myself transported back in time, imagining the hope of Christ’s birth in the lives of my forefathers and mothers as they struggled for equality, justice and freedom during the time of slavery through the Civil Rights Movement. A spiritual that was very familiar to and impactful for me as a child was Go Down Moses. Because its message is so well aligned with Cullen’s poetic rumination, and because it points back to the biblical place and time about which Cullen speaks, it seemed fitting as a musical underlay. Christus Natus Est expresses both the angst of hope deferred and expectation of hope for that which is to come—both of which are exemplified in the birth and return of Christ. Cullen powerfully addresses and questions societal woes with such poignant words as “For bird and beast He did not come, but for the least of mortal scum. Who lies in ditch? Who begs his bread? Who has no stitch for back or head? Who wakes to weep, lies down to mourn? Who in his sleep withdraws from scorn? Ye outraged dust, on field and plain, to feed the lust of madmen slain”. His answer for all of these is the Latin text “Christus Natus Est” (that is; for these Christ is born). I believe that as the poet agonizes over the injustices in the world, he hopes in the return of Christ, heard in the phrase “Christ must and will come to his own”. Cullen resolves that life’s ills will remain until Christ returns to his own—not as the innocent child in the manger but as a warrior for freedom and justice.
The music of Dan Forrest (b. 1978) has become well established in the repertoire of choirs around the world, and ranges from small choral works to extended multi-movement works for chorus and orchestra. His major work Requiem for the Living (2013) has become standard choral/orchestral repertoire with nearly 1000 performances from ensembles around the world. His version of Silent Night for choir, strings, and piano is a stunning new take on this timeless carol, beginning with the smallest and simplest of musical ideas to paint “Silent Night… all is calm”, then gradually building into an overwhelming statement of the profoundest of truths: “Christ, the Savior, is born.”
Legend says that the Jingle Bells made its debut in 1850 in Medford, Massachusetts, composed by James Lord Pierpont. Pierpont was a native of the town and wanted to write something to commemorate the town’s annual sleigh races around Thanksgiving. He published the song in 1857 under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh.” It had three verses in addition to the one we typically sing today and details a young couple who go riding and tip their sleigh in a snowdrift. Mack J. Wilberg (b. 1955) is an American composer, arranger, conductor, and choral clinician who has been the music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square since 2008. In his hands, Jingle Bells becomes a virtuoso display, as the choir and two pianists race through five key changes at breakneck speed.
Performing December 9th:
Founded in 2001 as a sibling organization to the Grammy award-winning Texas Boys Choir, Singing Girls of Texas (SGT) is a premier treble choral program of Texas Center for Arts + Academics (TCAA). Singers in SGT Training, SGT Chamber Choir, and SGT Tour Choir attend school and rehearse at the public charter school, Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts (FWAFA).
Once a singer is accepted into FWAFA, they can audition for SGT Training beginning in 7th grade. As singers grow in their musicianship and self-confidence, they may continue to move through the organization by participating in SGT Chamber Choir (7th through 12th grade) or audition for SGT Tour Choir beginning in 9th grade, both of which provide further opportunities to learn and perform. Chamber Choir is for students who wish to continue their choir training, but are also interested in other artistic disciplines while the Tour Choir is an advanced performance-based ensemble that gives high-quality concerts in regional, national, and international tours.
SGT and respective members have received superior accolades from University Interscholastic League (UIL) Concert and Sight-Reading Contest and District and State Solo and Ensemble Contest, have performed at National and Regional American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) conferences, have received superior ratings at National Associate for Teachers of Singing (NATS) contests, have toured to New York, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, and Minnesota, were selected to present a studewnt-led presentation at New Mexico Music Educator’s Association in January 2023 on “Connection”, and are traveling to participate in the Winter Park Ski Music Festival in Colorado in March 2023.
Additionally, SGT has entered into its first year of a composer-in-residence program with Sarah Quartel. Over the next two years, Mrs. Quartel will be writing a masterwork for SGT to premier in 2024. In collaboration with Mrs. Quartel, SGT will also record a CD of her treble works and will sing on the showcase concert of the new Treble Choir Symposium, “Songbird Collective”, in June 2023, where Mrs. Quartel and Dr. Lynn Brinckmeyer will clinic treble singers and provide mentorship opportunities for directors and students. For more information on Songbird Collective, Singing Girls of Texas, or any other programs of TCAA, please visit artsacademics.org.
Kerra Simmons is currently the Artistic Director of the Singing Girls of Texas (grades 7-12) at Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and runs the Community Conducting Class for Texas Music Conservatory, all programs of Texas Center for Arts + Academics (TCAA). Kerra Simmons earned her BM from the University of North Florida (UNF) in Vocal Performance with a Choral Conducting cognate and her MM in Choral Conducting at Texas State University. Ms. Simmons has been involved with choral music since junior high and has sung in multiple Florida All-State Honor Choruses, three Divisional and National ACDA Honor Choirs, and top vocal ensembles at her respective alma maters touring to places like South Africa, South Korea, and the Czech Republic.
At UNF, she was deeply involved in Choral Leadership and was the Assistant Conductor to the UNF Chorale, UNF Chamber Singers, and UNF Women’s Chorus. During her time at Texas State, she was the Assistant Conductor of the Men’s Chorus, Women’s Chorus, University Singers, and the Texas State Chorale. She also assisted in creating an undergraduate lab choir, was the Teaching Assistant for the undergraduate conducting class, and had the opportunity to work with Dr. Craig Hella Johnson during conducting seminars and to perform his masterwork, Considering Matthew Shepard, as a member and soloist of Texas State Chorale with Dr. Johnson as the conductor. Her Master’s research was on Women in Music and The Development of Korean Choral Music.
After completing her MM, Ms. Simmons used her gap year to teach Music and English in Seoul, South Korea where she rewrote an English as a second language music curriculum and taught ages 5 to 12. After her gap year, she served as the Associate Artistic Director and Interim Artistic Director of the world-renowned and GRAMMY© award-winning, Texas Boys Choir, a program of TCAA. During her transition from directing Texas Boys Choir, she re-established the Singing Girls of Texas as its own independent organization within TCAA and helped to bring the singers to the same level of professionalism as the Texas Boys Choir through advocacy that the girls in her program were worthy of the same experiences and opportunities as the boys. Ms. Simmons is incredibly passionate about equity and consistently works to bring opportunities to her students that she feels will give them lifelong lessons, experiences, and stories to share.
Ms. Simmons’ goal in her teaching is to not only inspire the singers to produce a beautiful and healthy sound but to also encourage them to tap into their individual and unique strengths as musicians and human beings. She believes in the power of music to bring together all people from different backgrounds and uses creative programming to intertwine various artistic mediums such as poetry and visual art. Her favorite pieces to conduct and teach are those of the non-Western tradition and her current research is on the advocacy and visibility of female composers, conductors, and musicians. She is currently working on a new project with composer Sarah Quartel, and in partnership with Texas Center for Arts + Academics called, “The Songbird Collective”, which will offer treble honor choir clinics, promote the commissioning of new treble works by female and female-identifying composers, and eventually provide services to conductors and future educators on wellness and skills to help them build tight-knit communities in their ensembles. Through this, she hopes to bring more positive attention to treble choirs and help to produce works that show the full female or female-identifying experience, not just flowery love or sadness in the absence of love. In her free time, she likes to cook vegetarian food, do yoga, and hang out with her cats, Bubba and Peaches.
Performing December 10th:
The child of two music educators, Leigh Ann McClure has been the Head Choral Director of the Central High School Choral Music Department in Keller ISD for sixteen years. The CHS Choral Department consists of approximately 300 students, three directors, eight concert choirs, and two show choirs. Ms. McClure previously taught in the Arlington, Cleburne, and Alvarado ISDs.
Ms. McClure received her BME degree from Baylor University and her MME from The University of North Texas. Her choirs have been consistent UIL Sweepstakes trophy recipients. In 2021, the Varsity Women were named winners of the inaugural “America’s Got Choirs'' competition sponsored by “FeelItLive” and in 2022 received the award for the “Outstanding Live Performance” from the same competition. These women performed with the renowned Bella Voce Women of Baylor University in concert in April 2022 and were named “Outstanding Treble Choir” and were “Honorable Mention” designation recipients at the prestigious Festival di Voce choral competition. McClure also enjoys being co-director of the school’s varsity show choir, Voices of Central.
In addition to having numerous TMEA All-State Choir members, she teaches all-state choir camps each year and is an active adjudicator, clinician, and honor choir conductor. Ms. McClure has served the Texas Choral Directors’ Association as Secretary; the Texas Music Educators’ Association as Region Secretary, MS/JHS Region Vocal Coordinator, Region and Area Vocal Chair, All-State Women’s Choir Organizer, Convention Ballroom Organizer, and is currently Area B Division Mentorship Chair; and the Texas Music Adjudicators’ Association as Vocal Vice-President. In 2013, she was a recipient of the UIL “Sponsor of Excellence” award.
Mrs. McClure was honored to sing with the FWC for many years and is grateful that her students have been invited to perform in concert alongside this outstanding ensemble.
In her spare time she enjoys playing golf, traveling, participating in the music ministries at Keller UMC, and spending time with her sweetheart, Carl Lorey, her adult children, and four adorable grandsons.
The Central High School Choral Music Department is directed by Leigh Ann McClure with assistants Nick Chabot and Casey LeVie. The Central Choral Department consists of eight concert choirs and two show choirs. The Varsity Mixed Choir performs and competes as three ensembles–Chamber Mixed Choir, Treble Choir, and Tenor/Bass Choir. ]
These choirs have been consistent UIL sweepstakes recipients. They have been named Grand Champion Concert Choir at the Heart of America Choir competitions in Nashville and Orlando.
Central High School has garnered numerous spots in the TMEA All-State Choirs. The Chamber Women were recognized as the inaugural winner of the “FeelItLive” choral competition and in 2022 were named as the “Outstanding Live Performance”. In addition, they were named “Outstanding Treble Choir” and a recipient of “Honorable Mention” designation at the prestigious Festival di Voce competition. The treble ensemble performed in concert last spring with Baylor University’s “Bella Voce” treble ensemble.
These students represent numerous organizations on the CHS campus—including NHS, varsity athletics, one-act play, band, drill team, cheer, student council, and Charger Champion student mentors. Central is proud to have alumni singing and studying music in numerous collegiate programs as well as teaching choral music across the state.
The department’s private voice teachers are Chrystle Hicks, Sarah Powell, and Renee Hunt and Sarah Jones is the collaborative accompanist.
Performing December 11th:
The Mansfield High A Cappella Choir is one of 6 performing ensembles at Mansfield High School. The 36 voice choir is an auditioned group consisting of sophomores, juniors and seniors. The choir consistently earns division 1 ratings at UIL concert and sight-reading contests as well as best in class and overall outstanding choir at national festivals. Several students are also members of the TMEA Region V Honor Choir and the school consistently places students in the Texas All-State Choir. Members of the Mansfield choir have had the privilege to sing with world renown composers and conductors. The choir is under the direction of Reginal Wright and Mariah Spiry.
Reginal Wright has completed over 20 years of public school teaching. As an educator Reginal has earned many awards including Outstanding Teacher, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and the Secondary Educator of the Year Award. Reginal has performed music throughout Europe and the United States. As a conductor, he is a sought after clinician in both middle and high school. He has enjoyed the opportunity to conduct honor choirs throughout the United States. As a composer, Reginal’s works have been commissioned by middle school, high school college and professional choirs. His works have been performed by All State Choirs and invited convention choirs. His “Invictus” was performed in the 2021 ACDA National Convention and by the 2022 Texas All State Tenor - Bass Choir. Reginal’s works are published and distributed through BriLee, Carl Fisher, Graphite, Hal Leonard, Oxford University Press, Santa Barbara Music Publishing and his own publishing company, Reginal Wright Music. Reginal received both his Bachelor and Masters of Music Education Degrees from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. He is currently the head choral director at Mansfield High School. His choirs are consistent Sweepstakes winners in both concert and sight reading contests. Choirs under his direction also earn “Outstanding in Class'' awards at State and National Music Festivals. The Mansfield High School A Cappella Women’s choir was featured as a SWACDA invited choir in 2012 and 2022. In 2018, the Mansfield High School Men’s Choir was honored as a Texas Music Educators Association Invited Choir. Reginal resides in Arlington with his wife Renetta, son Gabrien, daughter Reece and Yorkie Cooper.