A few hours along Route 69 North from Houston is Nacogdoches. The oldest town in Texas, the town where the Marx Brothers became a comedy act instead of a singing group, and so much more. Fred had a great time in the afternoon working with the very good choral group, and we enjoyed performing in the William M. Turner Auditorium, where we hadn’t been in so long that nobody quite remembered how long ago it was. Glad to be back. The cold wave which shut down much of Texas on Tuesday ( and eliminated our concerty in Corpus Christi) seems to be over. Austin tomorrow.
After an uneventful run up to Sonoma State University to appear in the Green Music Center on a lovely Friday evening, we set out for Corpus Christi, Texas by way of Houston to begin our winter tour of Texas, Florida, and Oregon - usually places to stay out of winter weather. We had no sooner set our sights on Corpus Christi then United cancelled our flight there from Houston. Resourceful, as ever, we got into cars in Houston for the four hour drive there. Fortunately we were barely out of Houston when the University in Corpus Christi cancelled everything there ( including our performance) because of cold and ice. We backed up to Houston where our hotel happily could take us early, and waited out Tuesday where you couldn’t even get a cup of coffee. Absolutely everything was closed. We’re trying not to read anything into this beginning of 2018. The day in Houston was fine today, if unusually very cold. Gerrod, Alan, and Tim went to the High School of Performing and Visual Arts ( which counts Beyonce as an alum) and worked with Shannon Carter’s Chorale for an hour. A pleasure, as it was two years ago when we all went there. Tonight we performed in the wonderful Stude Concert Hall at Rice University. Our two U of Houston grads, Gerrod and Matt Mazzola were very enthusiastically greeted, as was Heart of a Soldier. Tomorrow, Nacogdoches.
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.
The last concert of Christmas 2017 in St. Ignatius was extra special in a number of ways. It was the last of 23 concerts which all went very well, the trees around the altar were illuminated, and it was Eric's last ever Christmas concert, including his last Biebl Ave Maria. He estimates that he's sung around 2,000 of those in his Chanticleer career - bound to be a world record. Eric's now going to spend Christmas at home with his wife Dorothee and daughters Mia and Clara, and his Dorothee's parents here from Germany. We were very happy tonight to see original Chanticleer singer Rob Bell in the audience. He often comes to concerts , but today he had been released from the hospital after a successfu surgery at noon, so it was amazing of him to come. It was around Rob's dining room table that Chanticleer was formed, in l978. We're all off now for our respective Christmas breaks - sending you all best wishes for happy holidays, and all the best to come in the new year.
Last Christmas - Wham!
Because it’s not really Christmas without sad love.
All I want for Xmas - Mariah
Sometimes Santa doesn’t always bring you what you want.
Silent Night - K Clarkson
The night might be silent, but this rendition is a baby-waker!
In the bleak... - Chanticleer
My favorite Christmas song to sing with Chanticleer.
Sweeter Still - Chanticleer
My favorite Christmas song I’ve recorded with Chanticleer.
Rockin around the Xmas tree - Lee Parry’s
I played this at my first Christmas piano recital.
Have yourself a merry little... -Judy Garland
Sometimes you just need to cry on Christmas.
Happy Xmas - Yoko Ono
Christmas is about peace and freedom.
Santa Baby - Eartha Kitt
Once again, have you been good this year? No? Well...
Blue Christmas - Elvis
This song was sung by Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline in the film “Sweet Dreams”.
Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix
Basically Little Beatboxing Boy
This Christmas - Chris Brown
Of course nothing beats Patti LaBelle live at the 1996 National Tree Lighting.