Christmas Past and Future!

Music in Worship
Massachusetts ACDA

Tom Berryman, Massachusetts Music in Worship R&S Chair
January 2013

Christmas Present is now Christmas Past and it’s perhaps a good time to consider some choral music choices for Christmas Future. The offerings below represent music I’ve just done with the St. Mark’s School Choir for our Lessons and Carols or with the First Parish Choir in Framingham. Sorry, not a British tune or composer in the bunch.


Hallelu – Stephen Paulus
Two part with keyboard
European American EA511
This original Stephen Paulus setting of the traditional text “Down in a valley…Mary had a baby…What did she name Him…” is accessible, flexible in voicing and charming. The two vocal lines may be sung by men, women, soloists or mixed voices. The piano part is independent of the vocal lines. For a beautiful recording, download the Dale Warland Singers’ Christmas Echoes, Vol 1.

Take Joy! – George Emlen
SATB with piano
Redwing Press
Published on demand, contact the composer at
George Emlen, Music Director for Revels, sets the text of Fra Giovanni’s famous Christmas prayer (“I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not…”) with original music for mixed choir and keyboard. Four-part writing in rhythmic unison challenges the choir to allow the text to flow naturally and clearly. The key changes are refreshing and enlivened by modal elements. Independent of the choral parts, the keyboard provides a sense of forward motion and support. This is an effective, accessible composition on a beautiful, timeless text. Contact George Emlen directly for printed copies.

Ave Maria – Javier Busto
SATB with organ (a cappella)
Walton Music Publishers 122
Javier Busto is a contemporary Spanish composer, conductor and medical doctor. Ave Maria works especially well as an a cappella work, without the published organ part. As in his “Ave Maris Stella,” Busto employs divisi with contrasting male/female responding chorus writing. Tonal writing with some extended and surprising harmonies and an overiding sensitivity for natural text accent are key elements to the success of this music. Listen to a fine performance on iTunes of “Ave Maria” with Busto conducting his own group, Hondarribia Ametsetan.

Thou Shalt Know Him When He Comes – Mark Sirett
SATB, a cappella
Augsburg Fortress (AU.9780800655204)
Canadian composer Mark Sirett sets this anonymous 15th century text in a fresh, expressive way. Tuning the extended and sometimes unexpected harmonies presents the primary challenge for singers. This was an especially appealing discovery for me and proved to be satisfying to the choir and the listeners. The Stetson University Concert Choir’s A Candlelight Tradition on iTunes provides a good sense of the music.

Lo, How a Rose/The Rose – arr. Craig Hella Johnson
SATB, with keyboard
G. Schirmer HL 50486409
Craig Hella Johnson’s interest in bridging the secular/sacred music divide shines in this successful combination of two well-known tunes. Unison singing can be challenging, but offers an opportunity to work on numbers of vocal issues in an efficient, focused way.
Brady Allred’s University of Utah Chamber Singers offer a very satisfying performance,

Sound Over All Waters – Paul Halley
SATB, alto solo, with piano
E. Henry David (PR.392025160)
John Greenleaf Whittier’s text serves as the inspiration for this gospel-style original composition by Paul Halley. A performance requires a confident alto soloist, comfortable with the style, and a divided choir backing up the solo singer. I had my whole choir learn and sing the solo line for the second verse. For a Paul Winter Solstice Live performance try or the substantial cut available to preview on iTunes.

Don Oíche Úd I mBeithil – arr. David Mooney
SATB with soprano solo and harp or keyboard
ECS Publishing (EC.5962)
It takes some doing, but if you have a capable and willing soprano, a Gaelic coach and a good harpist, this setting by David Mooney is a real winner. The choir sings “ooh” and “ah” while the soloist does the heavy language lifting. ECS Publishing has a beautiful recording, Cór, with this and other Irish settings by arranger David Mooney. Or write to me and I’ll send you a very respectable recording of a recent St. Mark’s School Choir performance.