2017 Christmas Concert: Christmas Around the World


France

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Arr. Alice Parker

Chancel Choir

O, Come, O, Come Emmanuel: The antiphons on which this hymn text is based date back to the ninth century.  These seven antiphons are known as the “O” Antiphons because each verse begins with the letter “O” in addressing the Messiah’s scriptural titles.  These seven antiphons open as follows:  “O Wisdom from on high…” “O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…” “O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people,” “O Key of David and scepter of our home…” “O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…” “O longed for King of the nations…” and “O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…” According to traditions, these antiphons were sung, one each day, at Vespers before and after the Magnificat from December 17th (today’s date) through the 23rd

 
 

Rome

Creator of the Stars of Night

Arr. Michael Larkin

Chancel Choir

Creator of the Stars of Night: “Creator of the Stars of Night” was originally written as an evening hymn for Advent somewhere between the 7th and 9th centuries (sources vary). The original five stanzas plus a doxology have been reduced to two stanzas in the UM Hymnal, allowing it to be used as a more general evening hymn. The original version was modified by Pope Urban VIII to fit classical Latin meters in preparation for the Roman Breviary, 1632. As a result of this revision, only one line from the original Latin hymn was included in its revised form.

Of the Father's Heart Begotten: alternatively known as Of the Father's Love Begotten is a Christmas carol based on the Latin poem Corde natus by the Roman poet Aurelius Prudentius, from his Liber Cathemerinon (hymn no. IX) beginning "Da puer plectrum,"

The ancient poem was translated and paired with a medieval plainchant melody Divinum mysterium. Divinum mysterium was a "Sanctus trope" - an ancient plainchant melody which over the years had been musically embellished. An early version of this chant appears in manuscript form as early as the 10th century, although without the melodic additions, and "trope" versions with various melodic differences appear in Italian, German, Galatian, Bohemian and Spanish manuscripts dating from the 13th to 16th centuries

Divinum mysterium first appears in print in 1582 in the Finnish song book Piae Cantiones, a collection of seventy-four sacred and secular church and school songs of medieval Europe compiled by Jaakko Suomalainen and published by Theodoric Petri. In this collection, Divinum mysterium was classified as "De Eucharistia" reflecting its original use for the Mass.

The text of the Divinum mysterium was substituted for Prudentius's poem when it was published by Thomas Helmore in 1851. In making this fusion, the original meter of the chant was disturbed, changing the original triple meter rhythm into a duple meter and therefore altering stresses and note lengths. A later version by Charles Winfred Douglas corrected this using an "equalist" method of transcription, although the hymn is now found in both versions as well as a more dance-like interpretation of the original melody.

In this setting, Michael Larkin juxtaposes the two Latin chants together in a delicate accompaniment.


Russia

Minka

Arr. Jill Jones

Ladies Ensemble

Minka: This Russian folk song dates back more than three hundred years with a tune that has inspired composers from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky.  The origins of this tune are not known. 

In this arrangement, Jill Ann Jones depicts a snowy winter setting where children are laughing and playing on their snow sleighs.


Japan

Japanese Christmas Carol

Traditional Carol/Lee

Ladies Ensemble

Japanese Christmas Carol: T. Charles Lee (1915-1994) composed this traditional Japanese carol for unison voices in 1962.  This carol, like many folk songs, uses only five tones, known as a pentatonic scale.  The term “Koo-ree-soo-mah-soo” is Japanese for “Merry Christmas”. 

T. Charles Lee graduated from Oberlin College and received masters and doctoral degrees from the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music. 


Austria

Still, Still, Still

Arr. Ruth Schram

Ladies Ensemble

                Still, Still, Still: The melody is a folk tune (authorship unknown) from the State of Salzburg. The tune appeared for the first time in 1865 in a folksong collection of Maria Vinzenz Süß (1802–1868), founder of the Salzburg Museum. 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. They have changed slightly over the years but the modern Standard German version remains attributed to Georg Götsch (1895–1956).

Ruth Schram composed this setting for female ensemble. This is set to a small instrumental ensemble by John Renfroe.

 

America

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

Arr. Linda Lamb

Handbell Choir

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear: Edmund Sears composed the five-stanza poem in Common Metre Doubled during 1849. It first appeared on December 29, 1849, in the Christian Register in Boston. Sears served the Unitarian congregation in Wayland, Massachusetts before moving on to a larger congregation in Lancaster. After seven years of hard work, he suffered a breakdown and returned to Wayland. He wrote It Came Upon the Midnight Clear while serving as a part-time preacher in Wayland.

Writing during a period of personal melancholy, and with news of revolution in Europe and the United States' war with Mexico fresh in his mind, Sears portrayed the world as dark, full of "sin and strife," and not hearing the Christmas message. Written in 1849, it has long been assumed to be Sears' response to the just ended Mexican–American War.

In 1850, Richard Storrs Willis, a composer who trained under Felix Mendelssohn, wrote the melody called "Carol." This melody is most often set in the key of B-flat major in a six-eight time signature. "Carol" is the most widely known tune to the song in the United States.


We Three Kings

Arr. Dan Edwards

Handbell Choir

 

We Three Kings: At the time he was writing "We Three Kings" in 1857, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. was serving as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Although he originally worked as a journalist for a New York newspaper and studied to become a lawyer, he chose to join the clergy upon graduating from the University of Vermont. Hopkins studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and after graduating and being ordained a deacon in 1850, he became its first music teacher five years later, holding the post until 1857 alongside his ministry in the Episcopal Church.

During his final year of teaching at the seminary, Hopkins wrote "We Three Kings" for a Christmas pageant held at the college. It was extremely uncommon that Hopkins wrote both the lyrics and music; contemporary carol composers usually wrote either the lyrics or music but not both. Originally titled "Three Kings of Orient", it was sung within his circle of family and friends. Because of the popularity it achieved among them, Hopkins decided to publish the carol in 1862, in his book Carols, Hymns and Songs. It was the first Christmas carol originating from the United States to achieve widespread popularity, as well as the first to be featured in Christmas Carols Old and New, a "prestigious" and "influential" collection of carols that was published in the United Kingdom. In 1916, the carol was printed in the hymnal for the Episcopal Church; that year's edition was the first to have a separate section for Christmas songs. "We Three Kings" was also included in the Oxford Book of Carols published in 1928, which praised the song as "one of the most successful of modern composed carols."


Mary, Did you Know

Lowry/Greene

Handbell Choir

Mary, Did you Know?: Singer, songwriter, author, and humorist Mark Lowry is best known for penning the lyrics to the Christmas classic “Mary Did You Know?” Songwriter, Buddy Greene composed the music to this text. Anna Laura Page, a prolific contemporary poser, composed this setting for handbells.

 


I Wonder as I Wander

John Jacob Niles

Judy Young, Soloist

I Wonder as I Wander: Sources differ as to the early history of this Appalachian Christmas carol, although its collection is attributed to folk singer, John Jacob Niles.  He composed the piece in 1933 and it was published in Songs of the Hill Folk in 1934.  This carol was influenced by three lines of a folk song sung to him by a girl while working as a surveyor in Appalachia.


Mary’s Little Boy Child

Jester Hairston

Chancel Choir

Mary’s Little Boy Child: Jester Hairston wrote the song Mary’s Little Boy Chile [sic] in 1956.  He also wrote the song Amen that he dubbed for actor Sidney Poitier in the film Lilies of the Field in 1960. 

Jester Hairston (1901-2000) was an American composer, songwriter, arranger, choral conductor, and actor.  He graduated cum laude from Tufts University and studied music at the Julliard School as well.  As a choir conductor in the early stages of his career, his work with choirs on Broadway eventually led to his singing and acting in plays, films, radio programs, and television shows.  Jester Hairston dedicated himself to preserving the African American Spiritual and memorializing the conditions that gave birth to it.