Christmas has been something that has consumed a great amount of time and effort during my time in Chanticleer. Over the past 28 years, I have been fortunate to become familiar with and perform an immense number of works that have come to define the Christmas Season to me. Below are a few of my favorite pieces I have been lucky enough to sing and a few others that showed me a new part of Christmas that I have come to love.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas (Chanticleer)
Bill Finnegan was an arranger for Tommy Dorsey back in the day. Toward the end of his life we connected with him and he provided this elegant arrangement for one of our Christmas recordings. Despite the odd scoring of instruments, or perhaps because of it, this arrangement brings up the beauty and melancholy that the holiday can induce. The Clarinet solo nearly brought me to tears during the recording sessions.
Gabriel’s message (Chanticleer)
Chanticleer has long done great arrangements of traditional carols that combine several different arrangements in a progression that has a real sense of destination. This one captures both the darkness and then the light in the emotions surrounding the annunciation.
Huron Carol (Chanticleer)
Joseph Jennings defined the Chanticleer sound for over two decades with his arrangements and compositions custom tailored for the ensemble. This is one of his best, and shows how Catholic missionaries adapted the Christmas story to new cultures.
A Christmas Carol-Ives (Chanticleer)
While know for his more adventurous take on composing, Charles Ives was still able to capture the stillness and beauty of being at the manger with the newborn baby. This is perhaps my favorite Christmas song that Chanticleer recorded.
In the bleak midwinter-Holst (Chanticleer)
Yet another classic by Joe Jennings. His arrangement of the Holst setting has been a staple of our Christmas concerts for years.
Three Kings-Willan (Chanticleer)
I had never heard of Healy Willan before getting this song. He has captured the wonder and mystery of the arrival of the three kings to the manger to worship the baby Jesus.
Here is the Little door-Howells (Chanticleer)
Another wonderful example of finding the mystery and magic of discovering the King of Heaven brought into the world as a lowly child lying in a manger.
Ave Maria-DePrez (Chanticleer)
Sometimes less is more. Josquin’s setting is a masterpiece in demonstrating mastery with a composition that is seemingly simple, but takes immense talent to put together.
Virgen Sancta-Guerrero (Chanticleer)
The Latin part of me responds to the innate mysticism that is inherent in so much of the music of Renaissance Spain. While composed in the Villancico style, this is still a perfect example of embracing the mystery of the birth of Jesus.
Star of Wonder/No Small Wonder-Roche/Edwards (Chanticleer)
Terry Roche creates a scene where a shepherd observes the miracle of the Jesus’ birth from a distance. The simplicity of this setting is what makes it so effective. Coming out of that, Paul Edwards song expands the meaning of what the shepherd observed and gives it meaning, foreshadowing the life of the child that sleeps.
Coventry Carol (Swingle Singers)
Around the fall of 1990, I managed to meet the Swingle singers with a number of other members of Chanticleer. After their concert I was able to spend some time with them and one of them, Jonathan Rathbone, gave me a few CD’s of their most recent recordings. One of them was a Christmas recording that featured an arrangement by the same Mr. Rathbone. I always liked the piece and was thrilled when years later someone thought enough to program it without any input from myself.
Alleluia Nativitas - Perotin (Hilliard Ensemble)
And of course, something from my “desert island” recording. I love the sonorities and demonstrations of the colors and modalities from this period of musical history. The Hilliard Ensemble’s ability to make this music dance still staggers me.