Welcome to Griffin Choral Arts’ annual Christmas concert. We offer tonight’s music as our gift for a joyous and peaceful celebration of
Christ’s birth. Merry Christmas!!
First published in 1582 in a collection of ecclesiastical songs Piae Cantiones …Episcopocorum, the lyrics reflect the moderate
nature of Protestantism in Sweden having purged some, but not all, Catholic nuances. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” and hails the
birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary. The carol’s form – four-line verses with a two-line chorus – was a medieval standard and
the tune comes from a hymnbook from Jistebnice in the Czech Republic dating to 1420. The rollicking, syncopated rhythm of the
chorus is great fun to sing.
Alfred Burt was an America jazz musician best known for composing fifteen Christmas carols between 1942 to 1954. In 1922,
Burt’s father, the Reverend Bates G. Burt, began a tradition of composing both words and music for original Christmas carols
to send as Christmas cards every year to family and parishioners. 1942, The Reverend Burt asked Alfred to take on
composing the music for the 1942 card and Alfred wrote the music every year after until his death in 1954. In 1950, Alfred’s wife,
Anne, asked family friend Wihla Hutson to write lyrics for that year’s carol as a lullaby. Hutson collaborated on several of the
annual carols until Alfred’s death. They completed the 1954 carol on 5 February of that year; he died two days later. The family discontinued
the custom of sending these cards with carols after Burt’s death. Beginning in 2001, however, Alfred Burt’s great-niece, Abbie Betinis, revived
the family tradition of sending Christmas cards to include an original carol; she presents these new carols each year on Minnesota Public Radio.
Several of the Alfred Burt Carols have been recorded by well-known musicians: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Fred Waring and the Pennsyl-
vanians, Simon and Garfunkel, Andy Williams, George Winston, Kenny Loggins, Julie Andrews and James Taylor.
So, next year, why not try your hand at designing original Christmas cards and writing the music and lyrics to a new Christmas carol for
your family and friends. It just might appear on a future GCA Christmas concert.
“There is no Rose”
Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1927, John Joubert (rhymes with Colbert) was a well-regarded composer and music academic. He
completed his music education in England and remained there the rest of his life. In 1954, Joubert set the fifteenth century text “There is No Rose”
to a sweetly haunting lullaby. The unaccompanied vocal line builds from a close, relatively simple soprano-alto duet to an ever more complex
four-part form. Concerning the popular reception of his Christmas carols, Joubert recalled that “…[he] had carol-singers come to [his] house singing
it without knowing the composer lived inside.” Joubert wrote over 160 compositions across a variety of forms; his choral works have become classics
of the Anglican repertoire.
(Unfortunately, an America serial killer shares the same name with our composer; that John Joubert was executed in Nebraska in 1996.)
John Rutter is an English composer and conductor. Mainly known for his choral compositions, Rutter has been active internationally for many years.
In 1983, Rutter founded the Cambridge Singers, a professional chamber choir. In addition, he also founded the Collegium record label as the means by
which the Singers could be recorded and have made over fifty recordings on that label.
“Mary’s Lullaby” was written in 1978 for the Clare College choir. One of Rutter’s most popular carols, this gentle, dreamy lullaby atmospherically alternates
between the manger in Bethlehem and Mary crooning to her Baby.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a beloved carol based on Luke 2: 8-15 announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds on the hillside, and to the entire world.
Written by Charles Wesley in 1739, the lyrics first appeared in a book of Christmas hymns and poems. British musician William Cummings adapted a secular piece
of Felix Mendelssohn’s, “Festgesang”, in 1855 and the music from his cantata is the familiar tune we sing today. (Wesley thought it should be sung to the tune
“Llanfair” or “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” Interesting…). In the intervening years, musicians have added descants, different harmonies or new tunes altogether
for both the vocal and instrumental music. (FYI–Google “Hark the Herald meaning” to review an interesting three-column comparison of the lyrics.)
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was written by Phillips Brooks in 1868; the Reverend Brooks is venerated as a saint in the Episcopal Church; his feast day is 23 January.
He was inspired to write this poem after a visit to Bethlehem; the organist of his church in Boston, Lewis Redner, added the music. Neither man imagined the
carol would last beyond Christmas 1868. In North America, we sing this carol to the tune Redner wrote; in the United Kingdom, it is sung to the tune “Forest
Green” as adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” or “Adeste fideles” Variously attributed to several authors, the earliest version of this carol appeared in 1751 in a hymnbook published by
John Francis Wade. The first four verses were translated from Latin into English by Frederick Oakley, an English Catholic priest, in 1841; the French priest John-
Francois Borderies added three additional verses in the late 18th century; these verses were translated into English by William Brooke; these additional verses
are not usually sung because of length. Interestingly, the carol is thought by some academics to have a secret political meaning embedded as a birth ode to Bonnie
Prince Charlie, “Bethlehem” being code for England and angelorum being a pun on Anglorum (England). Meaning…in the eye of the beholder.
“See Amid the Winter’s Snow”
Dan Forrest arranged tonight’s version of this English Christmas carol, with lyrics written by Edward Caswall in 1858 and music composed by John Goss (hymn tune
“Humility”) in 1871. The carol unfolds a dialog between the singers and the shepherds, with images from the created order (starry skies, wondrous light,
highest bliss) unifying heaven and earth by Jesus’ birth. GCA has performed Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living”; he writes music both
requiring sophisticated performers and music accessible to amateur choirs. Forrest attributes his facility for melody to his study with Alice Parker and James Barnes.
“Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest”
Conrad Susa was an American composer. He was composer-in-residence for thirty-five years at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego; he wrote music for
more than two hundred theatre productions. Susa was also widely known for his opera and choral music. From 1988 until his death in 2013, he was professor of
composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. “Carols and Lullabies” premiered in Minneapolis thirty years ago. The work had been commissioned by
Phillip Brunnelle; he suggested to Susa that he “…write a companion to [Benjamin] Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. Struggling for inspiration for several
years, Susa came across a collection of Spanish carols. Noting their madrigal-like simplicity, Susa shaped the carols into a narrative and added guitar and marimba
orchestrations. In addition, the texts are in North American Spanish, Catalan, Biscayan, Puerto Rican, Castilian, and Andalusian with some sections being sung in
“Oh, mi Belen! (Oh, my Bethlehem)” The story begins with the entry of pilgrims into Bethlehem in advance of the Savior’s birth. Initially, Mary and Joseph are the
travelers but we all make our way, also. The final chord introduces an element of tension and anticipation for all who travel to encounter the Christ Child.
“El Desembre Congelat (Frozen December’s Ground)” This spirited Catalan carol contrasts dark December’s cold with spring’s hope and promise. It might be
pointing us toward the promise of life in Jesus.
“Alegria (Joy)” We hear about the entrance of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem in this carol, becoming aware of their subtle secrets and circumstances. The
travelers may be poor, pregnant and alone but birds give their singing as gifts to the Holy Family. Its minor-key introduction gives way to the major-key conclusion
with Mary and Joseph.
“A la Nanita Nana” A lullaby is the next carol in Susa’s suite. Its title has no appreciable translation. Britten’s lullaby “Bulalalow” may
have been Susa’s inspiration for this intimate song Mary croons to Jesus.
“Las Posadas (The Inns)” In Spanish speaking cultures, the posada is a candle-lit procession between December 16-24 in which neighbors go house to house
singing the parts of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem; their neighbors sing the part of the innkeeper. The men’s parts in the carol might represent
either Joseph or the innkeeper, an ambiguity that heightens the singers’ adoration.
“Campana sobre Campana (Bell after Bell)” This joyous, bouncy carol celebrates the gifts brought to the Christ Child by both wealthy wisemen and poor
shepherds. The Magi bring gold frankincense and myrrh; the shepherds cheese, wine and butter. Imitating bells, “ding” and “dong” alternate between voices
to punctuate the exuberance of those gathered in Bethlehem.
“En Belen Tocan A Fuego (There’s a Fire in Bethlehem)” The chorus of this joyful carol celebrates Jesus’ birth with its contagious dance rhythm. The
leaping fish are no more able to remain still than we are. The carol uses unusual, vivid images: the white carnation growing into a purple Lily; a flame representing
Jesus; Mary laundering baby clothes. Baby clothes….do we ever imagine the Son of God wearing diapers?
“El Noi de la Mare (The Child of the Mother)” Like the gifts sung about previously, this carol highlights gifts of raisin and honey, olives, figs and walnuts. The Child
“richly deserves” these gifts that come to him in delight and abundance. The most appropriate and valuable gifts we bring come from our best human selves to
Jesus’ best kingly self.
“Chiquirriquitin” According to the composer, the resonant carol’s title may derive from chiquero meaning “stable or… manger”. The text invites us into the stable
where the Holy Family humbly wait in the presence of the guardian animals. The modest surroundings do not dilute the glory to be found inside.
“El Rorro (The Baby)” The sound from the title never directly occurs in the carol. Suggestively, a la rurru is the mother’s made-up murmur to lull her Baby to
sleep. Again, the text includes animals we don’t generally include in the manger scenes in our homes or churches: bees and elephants. Perhaps Mary is singing a
crying Jesus back to sleep; another image we don’t often imagine of the Christ Child. The final carol in Susa’s collection fades to “ahs” and “oohs” just Jesus drifts off
to sleep to Mary’s “rurrus” and we listeners are left in virtual silence to worship in the presence of the transcendent Savior.
“Festival First Nowell”
In 2013, Westminster Choir College commissioned Dan Forrest to arrange this 18th century English carol. His arrangement begins in unison
and moves in verse two to alternating women’s and men’s voices, finishing with an acapella four-part chorus. The third verse is sung with majesty at significant
volume to acknowledge and rejoice about Jesus’ role in creation and salvation.
This touching carol ends every GCA Christmas concert. Even more significantly, Steve Mulder has ended every Christmas concert in which he has sung or that he has
conducted since 1982 when he was a sophomore in high school with “Peace, Peace”. Its simple, lovely melody intertwines with “Silent Night” in a round-like
structure. Rick and Sylvia Powell wrote the words and lyrics in 1963; they have also written for a number of contemporary Christian performers like the Gaither Trio,
Pat Boone and The Speer Family. Fred Bock arranged the carol; he was a church music director for thirty years and was the owner of several music publishing
companies (Gentry Publishing, his first company, became instantly successful with a choral arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair”). Ending each
GCA Christmas concert with “Peace, Peace” is our way of thanking you for joining us as we begin this year’s celebration of Christ’s birth. We wish you and your
family a Christmas season of joy and love.
Patti Morrow (with many thanks to Bill Pasch)