Deck the Hall
: Welsh traditional arranged by June Clark
This carol is a jolly romp celebrating the secular side of Christmas. The melody is treated to some extrovert ‘Fa-la-la-ing’ whilst the accompaniment trips along in jaunty manner. The final verse blows a little colder at ‘heedless of the wind and weather’, but soon livens up again, culminating in a triumphant ‘Warlock’ style ending.
Bereite dich, Zion: The Christmas Oratorio by Bach (1685-1750)
An aria from ‘The Christmas Oratorio’, this is a magnificent example of Bach’s clever writing, with its brilliant counterpoint in the accompaniment. ‘Prepare thyself Zion, in sweet expectation; the purest, the fairest soon comes to his bride. You must show Him that your heart, with love o’er-flowing, welcomes the Bridegroom who brings your salvation.’
The Truth from above: Words by W. Jenkins, tune by Ella Leather, arranged by R.VaughanWilliams (1872-1958)
Because of its modal setting and choice of five beats to the bar, this carol evokes a timeless quality. It is simple in its conception, keeping to the same treatment, a quiet chordal accompaniment for verses 1-4, which expands quite quickly into a majestic final verse.
How beautiful are the feet: Oratorio ‘Messiah’ by Handel (1685-1758) Words from Isaiah 52 v7
Although this aria is often sung by a soprano this transposed version by Watkins Shaw is also accepted as standard for counter tenor. It is one of the most poignant and telling arias of the oratorio and needs little introduction.
How far is it to Bethlehem?: Words by Frances Chesterton, English traditional carol arranged by June Clark
The simple melody begins with unaccompanied voice. It seems that we are asking the question, maybe from our far off country. The piano adds a rocking accompaniment, first anchored to a pedal bass note, which then expands to richer harmonies as we approach the stable. The pedal note reappears at the end as we reach our destination.
Let us light a candle (solo version 2005) Words and music by June Clark
During a Nine Lessons and Carols Service in St.Albans Cathedral in 1965 this carol was inspired by a fanciful vision of the red-cassocked choirboys with their lighted candles processing beyond the door of the cathedral and continuing on and on until they reached the stable in Bethlehem. ‘Let us light a candle to the Christ Child, that its light may guide us to Bethlehem’. The carol was completed during the small hours of the following morning.
The little road to Bethlehem: Words by Margaret Rose and music by Michael Head (1900-1976)
Though inspired by lambs in a field in Essex at sunset, these words take us to sunset over Bethlehem. The setting by Michael Head is calm and peaceful on the outer verses, blossoming into a wonderful golden glow in the verse ‘Your Star of gold is shining in the sky’. The piano accompaniment provides a gentle rocking lullaby beneath.
Away in a Manger: Traditional Normandy tune arranged by June Clark
This well-known tune has been given a new dressing with the addition of a flowing countermelody in the accompaniment for the first and third verses, whilst the middle verse is given new harmonies.
Of these four letters :Words by G.R.Woodward, arranged by June Clark
The traditional English melody of this little known carol, is known also as Johnny Faa, or Gypsy Laddie. The song begins by quoting each letter M.A.R.Y. and then tells the story of Mary, the Annunciation and the birth of her Son. Each English phrase is interspersed with Latin text.
I saw three ships : Words and tune English traditional, arranged by June Clark
Six verses of the original nine have been included. The three ships of the desert, the undulating camels, are suggested by the rhythm of the piano accompaniment, with the addition of a sharpened 4th for discomfort. Towards the end the Christmas bells appear in the piano accompaniment, and the voice expands to give a bravura ending.
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing? :Traditional French, words translated by A.B.Ramsay, arranged by June Clark
The translation has been most sensitively achieved, and the evocative French tune lends itself to a rich transcription with lush harmonies, in this somewhat romantic conception. Only three of the original four verses have been set (the fourth in praise seeming superfluous) in order to preserve the quiet sense of awe until the end of the piece.
Simple Gifts: Tune and words composed by Joseph Brackett (1797-1882)
The Shaker Community began in Manchester in 1747, eventually reaching America in 1774. The song shows an element of the dance, as do many Shaker tunes, and begins with solo voice, with the accompaniment evolving into a simple counter melody at the third verse. Its inclusion in the season of Christmas identifies with the gift of God in the birth of his Son.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky :Traditional Appalachian carol, arranged by June Clark
It begins as if the singer were ‘out under the sky’ and all alone on the quiet Mountains. The accompaniment steals in softly at verse 2, blossoming into verse 3, with a big climax at ‘’cause he was the King’. The carol ends as it began, the singer alone with his thoughts drifting away to the far horizon.
The Coventry Carol: Original tune 1591, words by Robert Croo (1534)
This tune appeared in the Coventry Miracle plays in about 1584. It is the song of the Innocents, sung by the women of Bethlehem, just before the slaughter of their children by Herod’s soldiers. It begins and ends with the solo voice singing the refrain, while verses 1 and 3 have a bare accompaniment, and chords support the middle verse. There is a poignant clash between the melody and the harmony on ‘By by’, intensifying the pain of the Innocents.
Silent Night: Music by Franz Gruber: words by Joseph Mohr, arranged by June Clark
Gruber, whilst deputy organist in 1818 at St.Nicola’s Church in Oberndorf, composed the carol ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht’ for Christmas Eve. It has since been translated into over three hundred languages and its message of heavenly peace continues to encircle the globe. This new arrangement highlights this message with its quiet stillness at the opening and the ending, whilst blossoming into joy in the centre.
Cantique de Noel (O Holy Night): Words by Placide Clappeau (translated from French by J. Sullivan Dwight) music by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856)
The words of this famous Christmas song were composed during a journey from Roquemaure to Paris, and the finished carol was first sung at the Christmas Eve Mass in Roquemaure in 1847. Since then its appeal has spread worldwide. Romantic in its conception it is quite a ‘tour de force’ for the singer. Two out of its three long verses have been used.
Ding Dong Merrily on high: Words by G.R.Woodward, arranged by June Clark
The sixteenth century French tune is given a new lease of life. It begins with some bell ringing (on the piano), assisted by the voice. The bells then become the basis for the accompaniment, taking the form of chimes and peals, yet also using syncopation to good effect.
We wish you a Merry Christmas :Traditional West Country Carol, arranged by June Clark
Not quite a Viennese waltz, this new arrangement dances along at great pace. Spiced up with some chromatic harmonies, the voice resorts to a counter melody in verse 4, driving on to final unrestrained jollity, almost daring us not to have a Merry Christmas.
The Christmas Song: Words and music by Robert Wells & Mel Torme (1925-1999)
Mel Torme was himself a singer and this ever-popular song from the big-band era of the 1940s is a gem of the period, bringing to life a picture of a traditional Christmas celebration. ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose’ says the lyric.
White Christmas: Music and words by Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
Composed originally for the film ‘Holiday Inn’ this Christmas song became famous not only amongst the film going public but also with soldiers serving in the forces during the Second World War. The song was also featured in a later film called ‘White Christmas’ when many can remember those wonderful red velvet costumes
with white fur trimmings.