It’s September 1st and I know that I as well as many of my choral directing friends are organising their Christmas repertoire for later in the year. Many have already done so, so I’m too late for them, but for the rest, here’s a helpful selection of my most popular and most distinctive Christmas choral repertoire. Below the video are links to full recordings, scores, and more information.
- Hodie Christus Natus Est – my most performed piece ever, and available for mixed choir, high voices or low voices. It has fairly simple repeating pattern sections on the title phrase contrasting with trickier rhythmic settings of the remainder of the text, which suited very well the very first performers (a whole school, and the school choir) of a girls’ high school in New Zealand.
- The Lamb – SATB. This was originally composed for and performed in unison by a primary school with a round at the end, but I quickly made this arrangement of it for SATB choir, and it is always very popular – such a beautiful melody, you see, that even the flowing melismas don’t put people off!
- In The Bleak Midwinter – SSA or TTB. It’s also available for SATB and SATB with brass band. It’s a very gentle setting of some of Christina Rossetti’s poem…so very gentle, and very simple rhythmically too…so very simple. It’s very popular with school and church choirs….so very popular!
- Alleluia! Into The Light – SSAA or TTBB. One of my newest Christmas songs, but also one of my most successful. It is a secular song told from the point of view of an underground coal miner on Christmas Eve, imagining the delights of his day off tomorrow. It was included in the Christmas touring programme of the professional male vocal ensemble Cantus from Minnesota in 2018, while the same year Rock Festival Choir in Alnwick were giving the world premiere of this SSAA version!
- Cantate Domino – SSAATTBB. A very lively choral fanfare, also very popular recently. It uses interlocking rhythmic patterns which are inspired by similar rhythms in Balinese gamelan music. There are also some soaring slightly-out-of-synch melodies and textures for contrast. This fanfare was recently recorded by the choir Kantos for their Christmas CD, The Silver Stars At Play.
- That First Christmas Night – SATB. Sister Mary Bernadette Ward asked me to set to music her thoughtful poem about the wonder of the story of Christmas. The result is this tranquil melody with a gently rocking accompaniment. This song has also been performed as a single line melody with piano accompaniment by primary school choirs.
- Tiny, Flickering Flame – single line song. “Have you got something for Christingle?” asked the primary school teacher. “No, but I’ll write you one.” “I need it for next Tuesday!” “OK!” I wrote it and they’ve performed it every year since. It also been popular with adult choirs who sometimes add a bit of a round at the end.
- Chantry Chapel Carol – SATB with piano. I composed this for a vocal workshop at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, from the windows of which you can see the historic Chantry Chapel. It tells the mixed history of the chapel – chapel, book shop/library, cheese shop, chapel again, and is a partner song for The Holly And The Ivy (the Yorkshire tune, of course!)
- Laetentur Caeli – SSAATTBB. The instructions at the top of the score are “like earnest clergy and distant seraphs”. The upper and lower voices work independently and contrastingly until working together for the final section in this stately fanfare.
- Omnes de Saba – SSAA or TTBB. Another exuberant fanfare, this time suitable for Epiphany, and also this time with Medieval tendencies in the harmonic and rhythmic content.
- Magical Glass – SSAA or TTBB or SATB. There are two arrangements of this, one simpler than the other. The simpler one has been exceedingly popular, but both are well-loved by those that perform and listen. It is in a folky style, and tells the story of Sunderland’s glass-making industry.
- Dies Sanctificatus – SSAATTBB. A very exuberant fanfare which is antiphonal and energetic, and possibly the most difficult on this list, but so very invigorating to perform and hear – I’ve done both, so I know!
Twelve Of The Best: Christmas Arrangements
Not only do I compose my own music but sometimes am requested to arrange something by someone else. Here are my twelve best Christmas arrangements, mostly for choirs of various types.
- Patapan – a cheery French carol arranged for choir with flutes and percussion.
- Sweet Bells – an arrangement for choir and bells of a Yorkshire version of While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
- Ding Dong Merrily On High – the traditional carol arranged for choir or perhaps you prefer choir with wind band!
- Silent Night – asked for a version of Silent Night “in the barbershop style” this is what I came up with!
- O Holy Night – another night-time favourite, also requested by a barbershop group.
- The Holly And The Ivy – It’s the Yorkshire melody and here it’s combined as a partner song with my Chantry Chapel Carol for SATB choir with piano.
- Gabriel Fram Heven King – the Medieval lyrics are the trickiest part of this. The arrangement features jumpy melodies and drones, with some bell interjections here and there.
- Miri It Is – a wintry Medieval song, repeated here with increasing volume, droning and also rounds.
- His Golden Locks – John Dowland’s song as he wrote it, but with the lyrics changed to suit a Christmas theme for SATB choir.
- Miss Fogerty’s Christmas Cake – an Irish folksong arranged for SATB with optional recorder ensemble or piano accompaniment. The cake is fruity but somewhat dangerous.
- Somerset Apple Wassail – another fruity song, this time from England, arranged for SATB choir and also with optional recorder ensemble.
- Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy – the optional recorder ensemble of the previous two arrangements are compulsory here as they are the only things in it. It’s a s Tchaikovsky wrote it, but for recorders.