A Sacred Celtic Christmas

A Sacred Celtic Christmas

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A Sacred Celtic Christmas

December 20, 2019 ~ St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church  ~ 7:00 p.m.

Program Notes

Solis – Choir of the Sun

 Who are the Celts?

The Celtic tribes originated in pre-Roman central, eastern, and western Europe. There is variation in the cultures of each Celtic region; however, a distinctive “Celtic-ness” can still be detected. The name ‘Celt’ comes from the Greek Keltos, which means “barbarian.” Similarly, the Roman name for a Celt, Gallus (later Gaul), also means “barbarian.” Both the Greeks and the Romans saw the Celts as warring tribes, and unfortunately, Roman victories caused much ancient Celtic culture to disappear. However, while Latin is now considered a dead language, several variants of Celtic languages are still spoken today. Celtic culture survived primarily through the widespread growth of Christianity. The Celtic tribes were heavily inspired by early Christianity and became passionate missionaries for their newfound religion. They migrated and settled in multiple areas of Europe, sharing the gospel to far-reaching lands. Today several regions are considered Celtic because of their language, traditions, culture, and music: Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Manx Island, Wales, Brittany, and Spanish Galicia (Basque and Catalan regions), with some pockets of Celts having moved into Iceland, Canada, and America. Celtic music is now a worldwide phenomenon, having been spread by such groups as the Chieftains, Riverdance, Celtic Women, and Anúna. Christmas music is often at the heart of the Celts’ well-loved tunes, and we are happy to share these ancient and traditional carols with you tonight. 


 Balulalow, Medieval Scottish

Balulalow has a varied history. Martin Luther wrote the Christmas Eve carol Von Himmel Hoch, da Komm ich Her, published in the 1535 volume Geistliche Lieder. An English translation version of the carol, called I come from Hevin to tell, appeared in a 1567 publication by the Scottish Wedderburn brothers called Ane Compendious Buik of Godly and Spirituall Sangis. Now the tune is known as Balulalow, the Scottish term for the word “Lullaby.” The ancient carol has been set and passed down with a number of variants of melody, most famous being the rendition by Benjamin Britten in his Ceremony of Carols. Tonight we present the oldest published version of the Scottish medieval melody, alongside a similar but more modern version.

Jerusalem, Our Happy Home, Medieval Scottish

This Scottish Christmas chant is historically sung at the first Mass on Twelfth Day. The original version of the song is attributed to Friar Richard Shann’s transcription. The song was published in the year 1611 in The Commonplace Book, which is now housed in the British Museum. There is evidence that a Father Beenet, a Franciscan martyr and prisoner during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth century, originally wrote Jerusalem, Our Happy Home. The carol can also be found in the book The Kilmore Carols.

Suantraí ár Slánaitheora, Scottish Christmas Carol, arr. F. O’Carroll

In the Celtic tradition of singing a cradlesong (or sleeping song), mothers sing of brighter futures and loftier dreams than the circumstances in which they currently live. Often these lullabies will beseech the love and protection of Mother Mary as a way to comfort the mothers and the child who sleeps. In this Christmas lullaby, Mary herself sings to her Babe of the adoration she has for Him, and how she will be there with Him in His holy journey. Originally from Wexford and Waterford, Ireland, composer Fiontán Ó Cearbhaill worked as a railway clerk in Ireland for twenty-seven years before earning his degree in music through evening courses at Trinity College Dublin. Most of his compositions encompassed sacred music for the Roman Catholic Church. He took this traditional Scottish Christmas carol, Suantraí ár Slánaitheora (The Savior’s Lullaby), a lullaby from Mary to her child, and created a haunting arrangement for unaccompanied choir and soprano solo.

O Sing a Song of Bethlehem (Dives and Lazarus), Ancient Celtic Carol

Utilized as the tune for Dives and Lazarus, Kingsfold, and Star of the County Down, this old song has had a number of renditions, including an orchestral version by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Christmas version of this carol is called O Sing a Song of Bethlehem. The tune could come from Worcestershire, Norfolk, or Ireland, although many claim Scotland as its origin. Celtic musicians now perform the tune regularly as a gorgeous addition to Christmas programs and albums. Enjoy our guest, Danielle Franlkin, as she shares her rendition of this ancient melody on her beloved harp, an instrument highly valued in Celtic music.


Sans Day Carol, Thomas Beard

St. Day, also called Sans Day, is the name of a city in Gwennap parish, Cornwall. The city, St. Day, was named after a venerated Breton saint who came to the region from Brittany. Historically, there have always been close ties between Brittany and Cornwall. Legend says that this Cornish carol comes from a nineteenth-century villager, Thomas Beard, who sang the tune and lyrics in celebration of Christmas. The lyrics are quite similar to the more familiar The Holly and the Ivy, and is likely related in melody and poetry. The text illuminates the medieval custom of decorating for the Mid-Winter Festival with evergreen plants. The tradition may come from a much older time, perhaps even reaching the ancient Celtic tribal era of pre-Saxon Yule celebrations.

Preview of Solis’ new album (to be released in 2020)

 O Salutaris Hostia – World Premiere, Richard Quesnel

In November 2017, Kira Rugen traveled to Saint-Brieuc, France for the premiere of her Magnificat, sung by the Petits Chanteurs of Saint-Brieuc Cathédrale. During that St. Cecilia concert, the choir also sang O Salutaris Hostia, a hauntingly beautiful unison motet by Richard Quesnel. Dr. Rugen contacted Mr. Quesnel about including this song on tonight’s Celtic Christmas program, and inquired if he had already composed it for SATB (harmony in four parts). While he had not arranged the pieces for SATB, he told her that it was this simple setting of O Salutaris Hostia that has been one of his most sung works. He gladly made a new arrangement for Solis, which we recorded last month for our upcoming album, to be released in 2020. Please enjoy this world premiere, which comes from a Eucharistic hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Evening Hymn – World Premiere, Tom Peterson

Evening Hymn: Lux Aeterna sets to music portion of a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander, an Irish hymn writer whose classics still sung widely include All Things Bright and Beautiful and Once in Royal David’s City. In this piece, a soloist sings of the closing of another day and the onset of another night, while the choir recites the words lux aeterna (eternal light) again and again. The constant repetitions, like waves or breaths, mirror the constant cycle in the poem: of day turning to night, of night turning to day, of year passing into year, and finally, of generation passing into generation. Through all of these beginnings and endings, it is the permanence of the stars – the eternal light – that links parent to child, and night to night. It links the narrator – and  us – to the night of the Nativity. This piece is dedicated to my grandmother, Olga. She has been gone for 19 years now, but I often find her in my thoughts, especially around Christmas. -Written by Tom Peterson, composer of Evening Hymn

Brittany, France

Kanam Nouel, 16th Century Breton Christmas Carol

The original melody of Kanamb Noël is based on an aire taken from a book for Renaissance viols. Historically, Breton children traveled from home to home singing this song as a part of their Christmas tradition. Eventually, the carol became one of the most favored Christmas tunes in the area of Brittany, France.

The Breton Carol – World Premiere, arranged by Goulven Airault

The Breton Carol (Pe Trouz War an Douar) is a very old Breton song, written in 1743 by Father Pierre Noury, a Breton priest. Over the years, it has become a popular carol in Brittany. As a young child, I attended Christmas Mass, and we sang it as a Breton story. I have composed this piece with that story in mind: As the shepherds in the Breton countryside sang the carol, they could hear the song of angels through the words Gloria in Excelsis Deo. However, the Shepherds did not yet understand the meaning of this song of joy. Fearlessly, the Shepherds asked the angels the reason for their jubilation. The angels then joined in the Shepherds’ song, in the Breton language, to explain the story. Behold, their hearts were then filled with great joy! They announced the news to all who would hear, and the angels adapted their glorious melodies to the Shepherds’ song.             -Written by Goulven Airault, composer of The Breton Carol

Spanish Galacia

Fum Fum Fum, 16th Century Villancico

This Catalan carol comes from the sixteenth century, and is made famous by its repeated text of “fum, fum, fum.” There are a number of sources that say the words could just be onomatopoeia, imitating the noise of a rocking cradle, or nonsense syllables that articulate the rhythms a guitar or drum played for certain courtly dances that originate in Catalonia. Still, other sources say that the word “fum” simply refers to the smoke rising from a seasonal fire and seen from a distance. It is now a classic Christmas tune, sung around the world.

El Cant Dels Ocells, Traditional Catalogne, arranged Pablo Casals, Oriol Martorell

This traditional Catalan folk Christmas lullaby literally translates to “Song of the Birds.” The text is similar to the Irish Curoo, Curoo, as it describes the birds’ joy upon learning of Jesus’ birth. The famous exiled Catalonian composer and cellist, Pablo Casals, made this haunting tune famous by playing it fervently at the start of every concert as a show of support for the Spanish Republican government. Casals vowed not to return to his home country until the Republican government returned to power, and he refused to perform in countries that recognized the Francoist Spanish government. Two years after his death, when the Francoist state ended, the Spanish government posthumously honored him for his politically outspoken beliefs on Spanish freedom. The earliest notation of the carol comes from the early seventeenth century, a tune that may be older than the lyrics. Some speculate that it may have come from a Catalan Sephardic origin. 

The Angel Gabriel Came Down, 14th Century, arranged by David Willcocks

This medieval tune may be based on the carol Angelus ad Virginem. The text is about the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the son of God, and comes from a portion of the Magnificat found in Luke 1:26-38. The tunes and words were written on a fourteenth-century minstrel manuscript from the Basque region of Spain, an area founded by Celtic tribes. This Basque carol, known in the native language as Birjina gaztettobat zegoen, was collected by the French teacher and composer, Charles Bordes, in Archives de la tradition Basque (1895). Later, the English Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (the composer of Onward, Christian Soldiers) penned the English text. 

Riu, Riu, Chiu, 16th Century Villancico, Mateo Flecha el Viejo

Attributed to Catalan composer Mateo Fletcha, this sixteenth-century villancico has been a well-loved Christmas favorite for centuries. In the Catalan language, Riu means ‘river’ and Chiu means ‘close’ – directly translated the song title means nearby river. However, the repeated use of the words Riu, Riu, Chiu is meant to sound like the call of a nightingale. The melody is rhythmic and colorful against the antiphonal refrain sung by the chorus. In the text, the white lamb symbolizes the Mother of Christ, while the wolf symbolizes the devil. The hymn tells the story of the role of Mary from the Immaculate Conception to the Incarnation. 


 Curoo, Curoo (Carol of the Birds), Irish Christmas Carol, by Elaine Agnew

Recently made famous the sixties band the Clancy Brothers and the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, Curoo, Curoo actually dates from the eighteenth century. The text of the song translates directly as “the holiday melodies of the birds”, and it tells the story of the many birds that witnessed Jesus’ birth while shepherds knelt to adore Him and angels sang to His glory.

Lute Book Lullaby, Traditional Irish, arranged by Geoffrey Shaw

William Ballet originally wrote this as a solo song with lute accompaniment in the early seventeenth century and called it Lullaby for the Christ Child. The Ballet Lute Book, where the carol was originally published, also included many other famous Irish tunes that date back to the Elizabethan period. The manuscript is now housed at Trinity College Dublin, alongside the Book of Kells. In the 1920s, Geoffrey Shaw found the carol, then transcribed and arranged it for The Oxford Book of Carols. Since then, the piece has been performed multiple times by The Choir of King’s College at Cambridge for their Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Pie Jesu, by Michael McGlynn

Irish composer Michael McGlynn, who founded Anúna, composed this setting of Pie Jesu. The words Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem translate to “Merciful Jesus, grant them everlasting rest.” This simple setting is a worldwide favorite during the holiday season for its simple, unadorned adoration of Jesus Christ and tranquil, moving melodic lines. On Michael McGlynn’s website, he states that the song was “written in memory of those who died in the Troubles of Northern Ireland, this sublime setting of the Requiem text has a soaring and dramatic solo line in its third statement.”

Audience Sing-Along:

Once in Royal David’s City, by Henry Gauntlett/Cecil Alexander

This carol became famous due to Dr. Arthur Henry Mann’s arrangement being sung every year as a part of the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s Chapel in Cambridge, England. However, its origin is Irish in nature. Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, an Irish Anglican bishop’s wife, wrote a collection of poems and hymns in 1848 entitled Hymns for Little Children. Later, English organist Henry Gauntlett wrote the now recognizable melody for Once in Royal David’s City, in which the lyrics illustrate the words of the Apostles’ Creed, an early statement of Christian belief. Sing with us on this noble carol!

Away in a Manger, William Kirkpatrick, arranged by Ola Gjielo

This gentle carol does not come from one of the Celtic regions. Rather, its origin and first publication occurred in the United States. The first printing can be found in a book published in 1885 called Little Children’s Book for Schools and Families. Yet, the history of the carol was mired in obscurity for years, with the song sometimes being attributed to Martin Luther and various American composers. Scholars now believe that the melody you will hear tonight was composed by William Kirkpatrick, who was born in the parish of Errigal, Keerogue, County Tyrone in Ireland. He moved to the United States in 1854, at a time of great immigration from Ireland to the U.S., settling in Pennsylvania to work as a professional musician and composer. Away in a Manger is arguably America’s first Celtic Christmas carol. We invite you to watch the conductor to sing along with Ola Gjielo’s version of this timeless carol!

Hallelujah Chorus, George Frederic Handel

In 1741, Handel was in significant debt. With his career in dire straits, he feared he would be forced into debtors’ prison. However, Handel received funds from several charities in Dublin, Ireland to compose a new work from a text written by Charles Jennens. That text, which we now know as the words to the Messiah, was based on lessons from the Bible about the life of Jesus Christ. On August 22, 1741, Handel began composing the Messiah, and on September 14, twenty-four days later, he completed the work. When speaking afterward about composing the song Hallelujah, he said: “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.” The premiere of the Messiah occurred in Dublin on April 13, 1742. By tradition, people stand during the Hallelujah chorus. Many say it started because King George II, so moved by the piece, rose to his feet in awe, and so too did the entire audience. However, there the story cannot be proven true, as there is no evidence that the king even attended the concert in Dublin. Nevertheless, it’s a good excuse to stand, stretch your legs and join us in voice for George Frederick Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus!

The Wexford Carol World Premiere, arranged by Kira Z. Rugen

On a rainy Christmas evening in December 2012, Kira Rugen sat down with her musician friend from Northern Ireland, Joel Cathcart, to play through a few tunes for their upcoming concert. On a whim, they scratched out, improvised, and wrote the basic form of this arrangement. With Joel on guitar and Kira singing, they made a simple recording of this famous tune. Kira always loved the simple recording and decided to write a choral octavo based on hers and Joel’s collaboration. The Wexford Carol, also known as the Enniscorthy Carol, is named for Wexford county, Ireland. It is one of the most well known Christmas carols from the Emerald Isle. With a melody in a Mixolydian mode, the haunting Celtic tune was likely passed down through an oral tradition over the centuries, perhaps dating back to the twelfth century. It has long been associated with Bishop Luke Waddings 1684 publication of The Kilmore Carols. In the nineteenth century, writers added the familiar text, “Good people all this Christmas time.” The text tells the story of the Nativity, from Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, through the visitation of wise men, shepherds, and angels.

*Notes written by Kira Z. Rugen

Noël À L’Ancienne: An Ancient French Christmas – Program Notes

Noel A L'Ancienne Final
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
7:30 p.m.
Christ Church of the Ascension
4015 E Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
Ticketing: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-ancient-french-christmas-tickets-9206772705

1- O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Veni Emmanuel)- 8th Century French Chant                            Arranged by Kira Zeeman Rugen

This 8th century chant’s alluring melody stands out as one of the oldest of France’s Christmas melodies. Written by a priest who had a deep understanding of the bible, the Latin verses portray the full story of the birth of the Messiah, originally intended to be sung over the course of seven days, one verse per day. During the 15th Century, the chant appeared in the publication Psalteroium Cantionum Catholicarum intended as a processional in worship. Kira Rugen’s setting combines the familiar chant along side Medieval modal colors, 19th Century and 21st Century harmonies.  This carol, which has survived for over a century, is still beloved today.

2- Maria Matrem – Based on 4th Century Ambrosian Chant/14th Century Catalonian Chant
Arranged by Michael McGlynn

The original Maria Matrem Chant comes from a body of melodies collected by St. Ambrose of Milan between the 4th and 8th centuries. This collection eventually developed into the Ambrosian Rite, the only other Papal divinely accepted chant beyond the Gregorian Rite. A variation of Maria Matrem appeared in Medieval Catalonia (north-eastern Spain and Southern-France) in a collection entitled “Libre Vermell de Montserrat” (The Red Book of Montserrat) named after its red velvet cover. A center for learning and the home of the “Black Virgin” statue, Montserrat was a desirable location for large numbers of pilgrims. The pilgrims often expressed jubilation upon their arrival by singing and dancing in the church area around the shrine. Although the Monks of the Santa Maria de Montserrat Monastery appreciated and understood the pilgrim’s celebratory exultation, the monks felt much of the music was largely secular and unbefitting to such a holy place. Instead, the monks assembled a collection of music befitting to the revered shrine, with sacred texts. Most of the pieces in the book are actually secular melodies of the 14th Century, set with new religious texts. Irish composer and founder of Ireland’s National Choir, Anùna, discovered the melody from the Red Book of Montserrat and composed this setting for female voices.

3- Gaudete – From the 16th Century Piæ Cantiones Arr. by Kira Zeeman Rugen

The University of Paris (founded in 1170) and the Cathedral of Notre Dame occupied the center of Parisian musical activity during the middle ages. This influence infiltrated the development of music in Europe through polyphonic forms, melodic modes, rhythmic modes, composition, and theory. Ties between Nordic countries and Paris were strong. Scandinavian students often studied abroad in Paris and returned home with new melodies, Gaudete, perhaps being one of them.

In 1582, a collection of sacred and secular songs and chants from around northern Europe was published in Finland/Sweden. The full name, Piae Cantiones Ecclesiasticae et Scholasticae VeterumEepiscorporum (Devout Ecclesiastical and School Songs of the Old Bishops), is known in short as Piæ Cantiones.  This collection includes seventy-four Latin songs from Scandinavia and Central Europe, intended for instruction in Finnish Cathedral schools. Carols could be on any subject, but often they exhibited themes about the Virgin Mary or the Saints of Christmas. Gaudete, follows a standard pattern of that period: Four-line stanzas, each preceded by two-line refrain. The original polyphony displayed a three-voiced setting drawing upon one principle of improvisation known as fauxbourdon.

4- A Solis Ortus/Patapan- Traditional 5th Century Ambrosian Chant/Burgundian Carol

Arr. by Mike Hegeman

“I was drawn to these two melodies, even though one is free Latin (Ambrosian) plainchant and the other a rhythmic march-like dance, not only because they share the Dorian mode (though the Latin hymn ends in the Phrygian mode) and have frequent leaps of a fifth in the melodic line, but also because they counter each other well: one expresses a reverent stillness and the other a raucous celebration. The Middle Ages were alive with such contrasts of the other-worldly and the mundane. Piety and party come together well in the Christmas story that proclaims the union of the Divine and earthly; angelic choirs and shepherd bands arrive on a scene of wonder: the eternal Word made flesh, lying in a manger.”

“A Solis Ortus Cardine, a Latin hymn that was popular in France throughout the Middle Ages, dates from the early 5th century. This current setting uses only the opening stanza, of the original twenty-three, of a poem that celebrates the divine mysteries associated with the birth of Jesus. The hymn was translated by Martin Luther to German in 1524, as Christum wir sollen loben schon,and his setting exists today in Lutheran hymnals. Bach even used Luther’s translation and transcription as the basis of a cantata. Patapan was composed by Bernard de La Monnoye originally in the Burgundian dialect in 1720. Even though it was penned much later than the Middle Ages, it has the feel of a medieval dance and evokes a much more ancient scene. “

~Notes written by Composer, Mike Hegeman

5- Motet: Noel, Noel, Noel By Antoine Busnoys

This Flanders composer made his reputation as a master of melody and rhythm. However, this delicate piece draws from the simplest of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic resources while only uttering a single word.  The word “Noel,” or “Noe,” was an early French word that comes from the Latin word, Natalis, which means birth. However, at that time the word “Noel” was not always associated with Christmas. Instead, it was simply a Christian expression of joy, either shouted or sung.

In the middle ages, Christmas as we understand it did not exist and composers did not write songs specifically for the holiday. A song about Christ’s birth cropped for any time of year and occurred at several different feasts. The music for Epiphany, Easter and Christmas might sound the same, as there was not a defined set of carols connected to a single holiday. Instead, motets covering any topic popped up for any season.

6- Motet: Allon, Gay Bergeres By Guillaume Costeley

A prolific composer of Parisian Chanson, Costeley is recognized for his creative word painting and a forward way of thinking harmonically instead of polyphonically. He was the composer to King Charles IX of France as well as the organist of the court.

Historians believe Costeley’s text in this Christmas Chanson may refer to both the Christ child suckling his mother’s breast, as well as the long held French tradition called “King of the Bean.” In this ancient French ritual, usually held during Epiphany, a bean designated as “the King,” is baked inside a cake. While enjoying the cake, one person might find the lucky bean and must immediately take a drink. At that time, the entire party exclaims “The King Drinks!”  If the lucky “King” takes a drink, he is dubbed “King of the Feast”, but if he does not take a drink, he is covered in black soot. The tradition draws from the story of the Three Wise Men who meet the baby Jesus amidst suckling his mother. One of the Wise Men is thought to have said “The King Drinks!”

7 – Ding Dong Merrily on High Arr. by Charles Wood
French Renaissance Dance Melody

The dance tune, Branle de L’Official, appeared in the 1588 book Orchesographie, a 16th Century study of French dance forms, by Thoinot Arbeau—the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (March 17, 1519 – July 23, 1595). Written for the study of 16th Century French dances, it describes social ballroom behavior between musicians and dancers, gives detailed instructions of various dance forms, and even included various woodcuts of musicians and dancers. The dances highlighted in Branle de L’Official were intended primarily for the commoners’, however, it also found popularity within the aristocracy. In 1924, English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward set the tune to his own archaic-like text, and then Charles Wood harmonized the version for choir beloved today.

8 – Kanam Nouel Arr. by Kira Zeeman Rugen
Breton Carol based on a Renaissance Viol melody

The original melody of Kanamb Noël is based on an Air taken from a book for Renaissance viols. The carol settled as a familiar tune in the area of Brittan, France. This melody’s history tells that Breton children went from house to house singing this song as a part of their Christmas tradition. Kira Rugen’s polyphonic arrangement is based on a setting by Goulven Airault.

9 – Noel Nouvelet—15th Century French Carol Arr. by Victoria Larley

Noel Nouvelet’s tune originates from the late 15th Century, but its text may date from an earlier period. During the Middle Ages, clergy spoke the mass and scripture exclusively in Latin. As peasants were largely illiterate and spoke only a local language, they often acquired Christian knowledge primarily through the oral tradition of songs and plays. Noël Nouvelet may have begun as a play. The oldest lyrics reveal thirteen verses that tell the Christmas story of Mary, Joseph, the animals, angels and the Three Kings. As the text married with the tune, it is assumed the song was intended to teach children the elements of the Christmas Story, as the lyrics and melody are simple and sweet.

10 – Away in a Manger—Normandy Melody Arr. by Reginald Jacques

There are a number of tunes associated with the text “Away in a Manger.” Some sources claim it was an American melody, while others insist Martin Luther composed it. However, those claims may not be referencing the same melody. The tune of the song is not universal; as over forty different tunes have been placed alongside the lyrics in various hymnals. Richard S. Hill researched the origin of this carol and found that the text may have come from a poem read in 1883 for the 400th anniversary of Luther’s birth. The popular text found pairings with a plethora of melodies. The tune on tonight’s program hails from Normandy, located in Northern France. The melody came from older carol that was adapted to fit with the 19th century “Away in a Manger” text.

11 – Angels we Have Heard on High Arr. by Rev SS. Greathead
(Les Anges dans nos Campagnes)—Old French Carol

“Angels we Have Heard on High” is one of today’s best-loved holiday carols. However, one portion of the carol has been a part of Christian services since before the Roman Empire embraced Christianity. In 130 A.D., Pope Telesphorus mandated that on the day of Christ’s birth all churches would hold evening mass and the congregation should sing “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (Glory to God in the Highest).

The original version of the carol, Les Anges dans nos Campagnes, had its first publication in 1855, in the book Nouveau Recueil de Cantiques. However, church records show the song held popular appeal in mass worship services for at least fifty years preceding the first publication. Historians are unsure who originally penned the tune, however they suspect a Catholic monk or priest who had a scholarly understanding of the bible likely wrote it. The original text combined Latin and French making it Macronic, written with mixed languages.

12- The First Nowell—French/English Carol Arr. by Ola Gjeilo

Both England and France claim “The First Nowell,” or Noël, as originating from their own heritage—Thus the English spelling of “Nowell” and the French spelling of “Noël.” The origins of the tune and text continue to be a point of argument between the fair folk of each country, yet there is no evidence to prove it originated in one land or the other. The French word “Noël” means “Christmas,” and is derived from the Latin word Natalis meaning “Birth.” The French claim that their children often sang it as a round. While the English hold that the spelling “Nowell” originates in Cornwall and that after the Normans captured that part of England those living in the region adopted some French words.  Some historians say the tune may have originated as early as the 13th century, although the earliest printed versions from 16th Century hymnals use the spelling of “Nowell.”

The text in this carol lacks the scholarly language structure of other carols, which led many to speculate that a person with no formal written language training wrote it. The tune may come from an oral tradition of the common people, as the text is strongly associated with the tradition of lighting the Yule log. In the early 1800’s, an English Lawyer by the name of William Sandys published “The First Noel” in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern at a time when the Church of England added folk-like and popular tunes into worship. The version Solis Camerata sings on this program is a charming arrangement by contemporary Norwegian composer, Ola Gjeilo.

13 – Oh Come, All Ye Faithful Arr. by David Willcocks
Composed by French-English Catholic J.F. Wade (c. 1711–1786)

For many years, people believed St. Bonaventure penned Adeste Fideles in the middle ages. However, around the time of World War II, scholars discovered that it was actually written in 1745 by a British-Catholic Priest by the name John Francis Wade, who was teaching at a university in Douai, France. Wade lived during a time where it was not safe to practice Catholicism openly in England. Many Catholics fled to avoid prison and possible death. Wade collected sacred musical manuscripts for preservation as a part of his tasks at the university in France. As he unearthed old scores, he also found inspiration from the research and began composing his own music. He published the Latin song Adeste Fideles in a book entitled Cantus Diversi, and in 1841 Frederrick Oackeley translated the Latin into English and published the more familiar text “O Come All Ye Faithful.” However, Oackeley failed to include the name of the composer, thus causing the mystery as to the origins of the carol.

14 – Messe de Minuit pour Noël By Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was a child of France, but had the compositional spirit of an Italian. Due to his studies in Rome with Giacomo Carissimi, Charpentier’s music always espoused a flair closer to the Italian liturgical style of his teacher than to contemporary French composers. His techniques ranged from Renaissance polyphony and Medieval fauxbordon, to counterpoint and the modern concertato style. A difference that marked Charpentier apart from his French peers was his approach to the Mass.

In the late 17th Century, King Louis XIV of France was not in favor of attending High Mass, preferring instead the Low Mass, in which the music comprised of Motets. Due to the King’s dislike of the Mass, very few Mass compositions exist from French composers after 1670. Charpentier is the exception as not only did he compose several Masses, but also he approached the Mass using the same musical language other French composers reserved exclusively for the Motet. He was adept at creating effects of mood by contrasting dark and light. Examples of this occur in Messe de Minuit Pour Noël’s Credo. The word Crucifixus (crucifix) and passus (suffered) are always set in a low, minor key. In opposition, the word resurrexit (resurrection) is painted in major, with joyful melismatic sections. Additionally, Charpentier always musically sets the words descendit and ascendit with downward or upward motion. Messe de Minuit pour Noël was likely written between 1692-1694 for use in the Christmas Midnight Mass of the main Jesuit church in Paris. This Midnight Mass is unique even for Charpentier, as he utilizes the then out of fashion parody technique, basing the composition on a pre-existing melody. Those melodies are the charming feature of the work as the carols came from large repertoire of songs dating from plainchant and folk noels to secular 16th Century Christmas melodies. There are a total of ten Noel melodies in the Mass, and a different carol forms the basis of new material for each new section of the text. The Mass is scored for two violins, two flutes, continuo, chorus and soloists. Within each section, solo, instrumental and choral forces alternate to create a pastiche of Renaissance polyphony juxtaposed against Baroque dances. The folk melodies bestow a pastoral atmosphere through the inclusion of the Baroque flute.

In this era, organists frequently interpolated short compositions between Mass movements during worship. Charpentier acknowledges this tradition by requesting insertion of the original form of three Noels, to illustrate the original melody against the interwoven melody. Those three melodies sound during the Kyrie movement in-between sections of new text: Joseph est Bien Marie, “Or Nous Dites Marie” and “Une Jeune Pucelle.” In addition to the carols that Charpentier suggest for inclusion, tonight we will present three chants routinely sung for Christmas Midnight Mass. The Introit Dominus Dixit before the Kyrie, the Offertory Laetenture Caeli before the Sanctus, and for Communion, In Splendoribus Sanctorum after the Agnus Dei. Messe de Minuit pour Noël‘s charm and simplicity helped retain its survival over four centuries. This work captures a joyous and festive spirit due to the folk-like carols, while maintaining the liturgical function of the Mass. It is this synthesis of the secular and liturgical that creates a celebratory and reminiscent atmosphere, which lends itself to the advent season.

Tis’ the Season

Many of my friends on Facebook have been posting EE user cards (http://www.someecards.com/). The cards are a daily ‘funny’ that can be personally tailored to your own life. I saw one the other day that read: “Hooray it’s December! Oh wait… I’m a musician”.  I laughed and laughed, but to be honest… it hit a little close to home.

For those of you that support us creative/music type at this time of year, you have our eternal gratitude and thanks! We often hear that we move our audiences to tears, bring them joy, hope, love and peace. However, there are occasions that musicians must work very hard at not seeing our concertizing as merely a ‘job’. Often, we have rehearsed the music (both conductors and ensemble members alike) for months. If we are not at a rehearsal, we are in a concert. If we are not in a concert, we are practicing. If we are not practicing we hope we find some time to get some sleep. And for those who conduct/direct, we have the extra jobs of secured venues, contracting musicians, creating posters, making programs, researching translations, holding extra rehearsals for soloists, sorted out concert attire, managing decorations, writing press releases and disseminating marketing etc…. etc…. etc….. The list goes on and on.

In the the middle of our music bustle, many of us also desire to participate in the fun of the season.  It IS the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” after all! Musicians Christmas shop, cook, wrap, take our kids to see Santa and Christmas lights, decorate our homes and entertain (when there is time!). By the time you see us in a concert venue we are often wiped out from the holiday madness, and exhausted from our music preparations.

I admit, I’ve experienced a holiday ‘burn-out’ this year.  So I’ve been trying to find ways to invigorate the Christmas spirit. My children and I put up the tree, but I wasn’t really in the mood to put up the rest of the decorations. I turned on Christmas music. However, it made me think of the myriad of concerts I was responsible for this season, so I turned it off. I baked the family favorite “Candy Cane Christmas Brownies” and my husband baked Gingerbread Cookies… but who needs a few extra pounds on the scale? Perhaps my problem was the weather? It was an average of 80 degrees here in Phoenix from Thanksgiving until December 13th  … it just didn’t ‘feel’ like Christmas. So I thought to myself… what does Christmas feel like and what exactly am I missing?

In my pondering, I began to think about my childhood and a flood of Christmas memories came to the surface:

  • The glittering lights of my childhood Christmas tree.
  • A house visit from the ‘real’ Santa Claus.
  • How quiet my neighborhood became under a blanket of snow.
  • The smell and feel of cold crisp mountain winter air.
  • A real pine Christmas tree.
  • Endless hours of sledding down tall hills covered with snow.
  • Moon boots!
  • A homemade nativity pageant with my cousins under my grandmothers Christmas tree.
  • Wassail (Utah Style… mostly juice and Christmas spices).
  • An indoor wood-burning fire.
  • The Temple Square lights.
  • Putting our shoes out for Sinterklaas (my father is Dutch, so we celebrated that tradition).
  • Baking Julekake (My mother is Norwegian. It is a Norwegian Christmas bread).
  • My Grandma Stout’s beautiful tree and pretty Nativity set in angel hair.
  • My Grandma Zeeman’s extraordinary cooking in her remote country home.
  • A Christmas moon rising over the Wasatch Mountains at twilight.
  • The magic and mystery of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
  • The long drive back home after a joyful day visiting cousins and grandparents and falling asleep in the car.
  • The unquestioning belief and knowledge of the love my parents and grandparents had for me.
  • A child’s faith in the story of Jesus’ birth.

I’m sure that over time the distance of my childhood diminishes the reality of that time, and frames instead pictures of a cheerful age. My family lived anything but a charmed life, as we were very poor and my father scraped by paycheck to paycheck keeping all eight of his children fed and clothed. However, I’m grateful that I have precious and happy memories of my childhood Christmases, as it’s my path in finding the Christmas Spirit this year.


Christmas as a baby.

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Christmas when I was 16 months old.


Christmas with the cousins


Christmas Pageant with the cousins.


I think I’m about 3 here.

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After a Christmas music program at my church, with my father and sister Julia. 

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Christmas Dinner at Grandma Zeeman’s house with my brother Richard.


One of my dad’s Barbershop quartets.

I have one more set set of childhood memories that cause me to remember Christmases of times past:

  • Church Christmas music programs.
  • Christmas piano recitals.
  • My fathers Barbershop Christmas concerts (and/or gigs).
  • My mother’s Christmas Concerts in the Mormon Tabernacle.
  • Christmas Caroling with my family.
  • School Holiday programs.
  • Performing in the musical ‘A Christmas Carol’.
  • My Christmas concerts with the Salt Lake Children’s Choir

At the discovery of these memories, all I really can do is chuckle. My adult self, suffering with Christmas concert ‘burn out’, is able to find joy, peace and happiness in my childhood memories of… CHRISTMAS CONCERTS!?!? hehe, oh yes, the joke is on me.

As of tonight (two days before Christmas) I have directed and produced eight major Holiday programs (including a Children’s Musical), and have sung in five Christmas Concerts all with six different choirs. Yes, I’m tired. But every one of those concerts held meaning and joy for many people who sought love, joy and peace in a world that often experiences far too much pain. When I analyze the joyful musical experiences I’ve had this season, I realize I live a blessed and fulfilling life. I am grateful that music is a considerable part of the way my family and I celebrate Christmas.

My Christmas wish is that my children too will have happy and lasting musical Christmas memories. Here are just a few musical moments in their lives that I cherish.

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Christmas Eve Services


Allison’s Holiday Dance Program


Allison Attending her first Phoenix Chorale Concert and meeting Charles Bruffy


Benjamin singing in my Cholla Choir

May your 2012 Christmas Season be filled with joy, peace, happy memories, and most of all … Music!

Merry Christmas.