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PROGRAM

Welcome Yule! – Douglas E. Wagner

Lo, How a Rose – arr. Daniel Gawthrop

O Come, Little Children – Arr. James Fritschel

The Seven Joys of Christmas – arr. Kirke Mechem

The Joy of Song:                               God bless the master of this house
The Joy of Love:                               This is the Truth
The Joy of Bells:                                Din don! merrily on high
The Joy of Mary:                              Joseph dearest, Joseph mine
The Joy of Children:                        Patapan
The Joy of the New Year:               New Year Song
The Joy of Dance:                            Fum, fum, fum!

Es ist das Heil uns kommen her Op. 29 No 1 – Johannes Brahms

Cantate, astra – Cecilia McDowall
Now may we singen– Cecilia McDowall
Of a Rose – Cecilia McDowall

Carol Sing-alongs

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Away in a Manger

Joy to the World

Silent Night – arr. Mark Johnson

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HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Program Notes, Texts and Translations

Welcome Yule! – Douglas E. Wagner

It would be an unusual musician who has not performed at least one work by Douglas Wagner, the prolific American composer whose music encompasses pieces for choir, concert band, orchestra, handbell choirs, organ, piano, and vocal and instrumental solos.  Wagner spent many years as a music educator and administrator in secondary education, but now devotes himself to composition full time.  An ASCAP award-winning composer, his music has been performed or broadcast in more than twenty-six countries, while sales of his music number in the millions.  Welcome, Yule! is first found in a manuscript dating to the reign of Henry VI, now preserved in the British Library, but is presumably of even greater antiquity.  (Another version was recorded by John Audlay, the “blind monk-poet of Haughmond,” who was writing in the 1420s.)  Although the original text encompasses more than Christmas, making references to Stephen, John, Thomas, the Holy Innocents, Twelfth Day, Candlemas (the feast marking Jesus’s presentation at the Temple and Mary’s purification), and the saints, Wagner has set only the first and fifth verses of the poem.

The following two selections were winning suggestions made to the Phoenix Chorale from our Holiday Music contest.  For our contest, we asked our fans to share their favorite holiday song with us and tell us why it’s their favorite.  Their stories follow the program notes.

Lo, How a Rose – arr. Daniel Gawthrop

Daniel Gawthrop is quickly becoming a staple composer in the modern choral repertoire, as his rich harmonic language and limpid melodies are universally appealing.  A native of Indiana, he spent his youth in choirs and also studied trombone, piano, and organ, finally focusing on organ studies for his university degrees.  His career has included three years as Composer-in-Residence to the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra (VA); grants from The Barlow Endowment for Musical Composition; premieres from numerous choral groups and the American Choral Directors Association; and premieres from among such prominent ensembles as The Singing Sergeants  of the United States Air Force, The Gregg Smith Singers, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming is truly one of the venerable hymns of the ancient church, probably dating back to the 15th century.  Its text is a reference to the famous prophecy in Isaiah of Jesus’s lineage, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse . . . .” The tree of Jesse is often depicted as a rose in medieval icons.

“As the airplane approaches Phoenix, I look out the window to see Camelback Mountain–the landmark of Phoenix! My heart feels warmed and it swells with joy to have been such a part of this monumental gift from God. My spirit seems to reach out and embrace it. I have to remind myself that it’s not just MY mountain.  So it is that as I approach the Christmas season, I long to hear “Lo, How a Rose,” as sung by the Phoenix Chorale. No other group has ever performed it so beautifully and movingly. The lovely song is a part of who I am. It embraces me and Christmas has begun! The melody floats ethereally as the other parts fill in to make it rich and soul-stirring.”  – Georgia Frederic

O Come, Little Children – arr. James Fritschel

Very little is known about the origin of the lovely little hymn O Come, Little Children, but its composer, Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, could be considered a sort of “grand-student” of J.S. Bach, as he studied with one of the master’s more prominent students, Johann Philipp Kirnberger (today remembered primarily as a theorist). This arrangement is by James Fritschel, who has retired after long tenures at Wartburg College in Iowa and California Lutheran University. Under his direction, the Wartburg College Choir won the International Trophy Competition in Cork, Ireland, the only American choir to be so honored, and he has received numerous commissions from such eminent groups as Chanticleer, the Norman Luboff Choir, and the Gregg Smith Singers.  He has commented that, having been blessed with good choral groups, he has always been able to compose to their level, and consequently finds that he has a tendency to take something simple and make it complicated! Certainly that is demonstrated in this carol, as the layers of stretto become increasingly contrapuntal, and yet its sophistication never obscures its sweetness.

“Growing up as the daughter of a Congregational minister, I eagerly anticipated each year the special activities associated with the Christmas season.  Sometimes Father read to me thoughtful poetry that he would weave into his Advent sermons. Every autumn Mother labored long and lovingly crafting the children’s Christmas pageant.  Always she managed to design a heart-warming, freshly fashioned re-telling of the nativity story.  She and her enthusiastic co-workers had to select Mary, Joseph, kings, shepherds, angels, and- most certainly- MUSIC.  Mother had studied voice at Oberlin College, so she had a vast repertoire of carols and hymns from which to make her selections.  One of her favorite carols that seemed to be in the pageant year after year was the exquisitely simple “O Come Little Children” (Hir Kinderlein Kommet).  I first heard it as Mother sang it while working around the house. Then I later sang it as a member of the Cherub Choir.  Over the years as our family moved from Iowa to Ohio to Connecticut, we continued sharing the Good News of Christmas through word and music always including that charming German carol.  Now, eight decades later, here in the Arizona desert I relive those precious memories whenever I sing or hear “O Come Little Children.” – M. Dosia Carlson

The Seven Joys of Christmas – Kirke Mechem

Born in Wichita and raised in Topeka, Kirke Mechem’s career took him into the army during WWII, and then to Stanford and Harvard, Vienna, London, and finally to San Francisco, where he still lives.  Although active as a guest composer and conductor, including a position as Composer in Residence at the University of San Francisco, he has been able to devote the majority of his time to composition.  As a child, he often fell asleep listening to his mother, a concert pianist, as she practiced, and consequently has said about his own music:

“And so I readily admit that my own background has conditioned what I look for in a new piece of music, whether my own, or someone else’s. I don’t want to find new music “interesting” in a purely intellectual way; I am impatient with novelty or experimentation for their own sake; I am too old to be taken in by trends or jargon. Been there, heard that. I want to love a piece of music, to be delighted by it, to be moved to tears or laughter or in some way taken out of myself. At the very least I must want to hear the piece again, the sooner the better. We composers are speaking a very old language. The new ways in which we speak must be understood by our contemporaries. Otherwise, we are simply spinning our wheels, and music becomes just another plaything, a hobby, an elitist way of putting down the uninitiated. I prefer it to be the magnificent source of joy, consolation, beauty, ingenuity, and inspiration that it has been for generations, and was in my own family.”

Mechem’s Seven Joys of Christmas is dedicated to his teacher, the beloved Randall Thompson.  God Bless the Master of This House is set to one of England’s most engaging tunes, the Furry Day Carol. This carol was not originally associated with Christmas – “furry” is derived from the Latin “feria” (“holiday”) and/or the Cornish “feur” (“festival”), so a “furry day” came to mean a village fair.  Once this melody has gone romping past a number of times, Mechem builds it into a quodlibet, a term for a piece of music that encompasses several popular tunes working in counterpoint.  (Perhaps the most famous quodlibet is the final movement of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations).  Against the Furry Day melody, Mechem intertwines Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High, Patapan and Din Don! Merrily on High. This Is the Truth Sent From Above, a carol collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Herfordshire in the early 1900s.  (Unfortunately, Mechem’s source drops two rather crucial stanzas after “woman was made with man to dwell” – verses which show us Adam and Eve in Eden, and their disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit – which would prevent “thus we were heirs to endless woes” from being the direct response to woman’s creation!)  The melody for Din don! merrily on High comes from a 16th-century choreography treatise by Jehan Tabourot (written under the pen name “Thoinot Arbeau”) in the old master/pupil dialogue form.  The dance form is a bransle or branle (which in English was often translated – rather oddly to modern eyes – as a “brawl”), and the English words were retrofitted by George Woodward and Charles Wood in the early 20th century.  Joseph lieber, Joseph mein is one of Germany’s most beloved Christmas carols.  The words were first recorded in a 15th-century manuscript, housed in Leipzig University, where it was part of the manger scene of a mystery play intended for church performance.  (The term “mystery play” is somewhat misleading in modern English, however, as in its time it referred to the crafts or trades of the various guilds that produced them – more typically on large pageant wagons in the public streets.)  Patapan is an old Burgundian carol with a text by Bernard de la Monnoye, a French poet and lawyer.  It was one of the carols included in his Les Noëls Bourguinons, published in 1720.  Willie (Guillô in the original) and Robin are stock character names used to represent rustics in Provençal literature, much as we would use Jack and Jill.  Next is the lovely New Year Song, sung to a traditional Japanese melody.  Fum, fum, fum! is one of Spain’s best known carols, with its onomatopoeic Fum! imitating the energetic strumming of a guitar.  It is generally tagged “16th or 17th century,” but it may well be older.

Es ist das Heil uns kommen her – Johannes Brahms

Brahms is something of a dichotomy, a Classicist who wrote with a Romantic harmonic language, no doubt due in large part to his intense study of Baroque counterpoint.  His Two Motets, Op. 29, from which today’s motet is extracted, were probably written in 1860, about the time when he and several like-minded musicians signed a “declaration” repudiating the influence and aesthetics of more “modern” composers such as Liszt.  Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (Salvation comes to us) begins with a straightforward setting of Speratus’s hymn of 1523, followed by a vigorous five-voice fugue in which the first basses state the chorale in augmentation.  A devout German priest, Paul Speratus eventually became a champion of Martin Luther and an avid reformer, even, like Luther, taking a wife (a few years prior to Luther’s own marriage, actually).  This, unsurprisingly, especially when coupled with his constant agitation for reform, did not gratify the hierarchy, and Speratus lost his position as dean at Würtzburg, and then his subsequent position as dean at Salzburg.  He proved a popular and compelling itinerant preacher, and eventually became a pastor in Iglau, Moravia, where his continued incitements eventually sent him to prison.  Es ist das Heil uns kommen her was written during his incarceration.  Upon his release, he finally travelled to Wittenberg and was warmly championed by Martin Luther, whose support led to Speratus’s appointment as the first palace chaplain of Königsberg and a further promotion to the bishopric of Marienwerder, Pomerania.

Es ist das Heil uns kommen her Salvation comes to us
Von Gnad und lauter Güten: from grace and simple goodness
Die Werke helfen nimmermehr, no longer will good deeds help us
Sie mögen nicht behüten! They may not protect us!

Der Glaub sieht Jesum Christum an: Faith recognizes that Jesus Christ
Der hat g’nug für uns all getan,
has done enough for all of us;
Er ist der Mittler worden.
He has become our intermediary.

Cantate, astra, Now May We Singen, Of a Rose – Cecilia McDowall

Cecilia McDowall, a native of London, read music at the universities of Edinburgh and London, receiving further training at the renowned Trinity College of Music in London. Her work has met with warm notices in all genres, and she is particularly recognized for her sensitive text setting.  Her music is becoming increasingly prominent, and in addition to other awards, she has been short-listed more than once for the British Composer Awards.  She is composer in residence at Dulwich College, and has been signed by the prestigious Oxford University Press.  She frequently collaborates with author, poet, librettist, dancer, and director Christa Dickason, most recently in a project sponsored by the Soil Association (a charity based in the United Kingdom and devoted to organic land husbandry), resulting in Five Seasons, a celebration of nature as experienced on five very different organic farms throughout Britain.  Cantate, astra (Sing, stars), a setting of Dickason’s poem Messengers (to be sung in the dark turn of the year), was also inspired by her stay at Woodland Farms.  The medieval poem Now May We Singen As dates at least to the 15th century, while the text for Of a Rose (Listen, lordynges, old and yonge) can be traced back to the 14th.

 

Silent Night – arr. Mark Johnson

Many legends and erroneous facts have sprung up about the origin of Silent Night over the years, but the melody’s composer, Franz Xaver Gruber, actually documented its origin at the request of the Royal Prussian Court Orchestra in Berlin, who believed that it had been composed by Michael Haydn.  Gruber, however, using the formal third-person, set the record straight:

On December 24th in the year 1818 the curate of the newly erected parish-church St. Nicola of Oberndorf, Mr. Joseph Mohr handed over a poem to the deputy organist, Franz Gruber (at that time also teacher at Arnsdorf) with the request to compose a suitable melody for two solo voices with choir and the accompaniment of one guitar.

Gruber’s original melody is slightly different than the one so well known today, and the version documented by the Silent Night Association in Oberndorf, Austria (which maintains the “Get It Right!” website) has added neighbor-notes and some slight alterations that create a Ländler-like character, bringing the folksy nature of its beginnings to the forefront.  Mark Johnson’s arrangement of this beloved carol belongs firmly in the 20th century, however, with its subtle counterpoint, gentle syncopation, and generous sprinkling of softly colored jazz chords.

– Kathryn Parke

The program notes for our concerts are written by a great friend of Charles Bruffy and the Chorale, Kathryn Parke.  A soprano who specializes in early music, she taught for many years at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg Kansas.  In addition to performance and research, her musical interests include composition and arranging, and her pieces have been performed by the PSU Choirs, the Early Music Consort of Kansas City, and several District Honor Choirs.  She has written the liner notes for the majority of the Chorale’s recent CDs.