Conductor · Organist · Educator · Scholar · Composer
Joyeux NöelTheChoir of St. John the Beloved · Summerville, South Carolina
Sopranos Valerie Ackerman Kathleen Knaak Mary Lewis Jill Terhaar Lewis Mary Jo Martin Jennifer Roland Gail Weiss
Altos Jamie Barnaby Paula Belken Barbara Chapman Connie Cosgrove Lois Grooms Shelby Krallman Sarah Kuhl Elizabeth Mazell Connie Moak
Tenors Maurice Burgess Stephen Gunter Andrew Hebert Jeffrey Mayer Justin Watkins
Basses Jim Cosgrove Bill Deck Kurt Hebert Konrad Knaak Carl Lundquist Adam Parker Matt Pedelty David Richardson
No. 2: Paula Belken, alto; Matt Pedelty, baritone; Nos. 3, 5, 9 & 13: Jessica Miller, English horn/Oboe; No. 4: Jennifer Roland, soprano & Stephen Gunter, tenor; No. 7: Kathleen Knaak, soprano; No. 11: Micah Gangwer, violin; Nos. 7 & 14: Adam Ray & Brandon Brooks, percussion; No. 14: Jennifer Roland & Jill Terhaar Lewis, sopranos Recorded January 7 and 14, 2017 in Summerville, SC. Engineered by John Barry and Resound Media Group, LLC.
JOYEUX NÖEL (2017) The Choir of St. John the Beloved Summerville, South Carolina
The Choir of St. John the Beloved
Composer James Kirkby has given us a fun and rollicking setting of I Saw Three Ships—replete with hints of a sea-going chantey. Arranged for choir and organ, it evokes the joy of the birth of Jesus in its lively rhythms and clear, traditional lyrics. Sprightly—and with a wicked organ part—it reminds us that not all Christmas carols are lullabies.
One of the most beautiful poems that describe the Nativity scene is the always-popular Away in a Manger. Written by Clifford Brock, it is a newly composed, beautifully lush setting of this much-loved Christmas lullaby. Brock effectively showcases the beauty of the alto and baritone tessituras with solos that contrast nicely with the more chordal structure of the end.
Robert Cohen's luxurious setting of the poem Before the Paling of the Stars by Christina Rossetti uses close harmonies, and contracted melodies. The English Horn brings a warmth of timbre that contrasts nicely with some of the mild dissonances used in the organ and the accompanying choral parts beneath the soprano part. The crescendo at the end using tonal clusters that lead to a high C in the soprano and full organ underneath is an unusual, but highly effective conclusion to Rossetti's poignant text.
Christina Rosetti’s haunting text, In the Bleak Mid-winter, is set by Vernon Hoyle in a style that alternates between tenor and soprano solos and chordal textures sung by the full choir. The simple melody complements the moving poetry, giving us an aural glimpse of the bitterly cold night that welcomed the baby Jesus into the world.
Paul Gibson’s Noel, Noel, Noel, in a jaunty 6/8, sets a traditional English text that spans all the way from the Annunciation to the Epiphany. Men’s voices sound wonderful paired with a solo English horn, and the minor/modal feel gives the whole piece a sort of Medieval spin that suits the words exactly and adds to their enjoyment.
Written in 1958, Norman Luboff’s exquisite anthem, Still, still, still, sets a familiar Austrian carol to music that gently lulls the infant Jesus—and us as well—into a mindset of calm and meditative wonder. The simple piano part mimics the sounds of bells and enhances the choral parts, which are masterfully written choral harmonies that take nothing away from the arpeggio and touching melody.
Fraser Wilson has made a wonderful, fresh, and exciting setting of the old English tune The Sussex Carol for SATB choir and drum. Sopranos open the anthem like vocal trumpets, announcing the birth of the King of Kings in this fast-paced setting of the familiar melody—sung so quickly that it sounds more like a rolling duple meter than a measure with six beats.
Canadian composer Healey Willan was an insurance salesman in his “day job” and wrote music for the church during his daily commute into his Toronto office. Among his most beautiful choral anthems is his setting of the 17th-century French text, What is This Lovely Fragrance. Written with boy trebles in mind, the wafting melody soars above the lush organ accompaniment that perfectly underpins first the sopranos, then a baritone solo, then the full choir. Willan is a master of text painting, and this wonderful anthem is no exception.
Paul Gibson’s Star of Heavenly Grace is the familiar text, “What star is this which beams so bright, more lovely than the noonday light.” The music, however, is original, unusual, and sublime. An introspective chant melody weaves its way through the text as the English horn (the sole accompaniment) dialogue, foreshadows, and comments. Starting with unison, then two part, and then a rich TTBB texture, the vocal writing is stunning.
John Rutter’s Candlelight Carol, in his own words, “With music, Christmas can be absolutely perfect.” Indeed, Rutter has nearly achieved perfection with Candlelight Carol. In 1985, he wrote both the music and the words for this gentle, luminous piece celebrating Mary and the birth of Jesus. The first verse sets the mood for the remainder of the piece: “How do you capture the wind on the water? / How do you count all the stars in the sky? / How can you measure the love of a mother, / or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?”
The Italian-American Pietro Yon was known primarily as a virtuoso organist. He held positions at the Vatican and later served as organist and choir director at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for nearly twenty years. His most famous work, the lovely carol Gesù Bambino, resembles an old Italian pastoral carol, with its long melodic line, dotted rhythms and triple meter. And it borrows the refrain from Adeste fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful), also transformed into triple meter. The gently lulling melody cradles us in musical wonder as the solo violin sings above the lilting melody and simple harmonies in the choir.
A setting of a traditional English carol collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams, This is the Truth Sent From Above by James Kirkby is set in an unusual meter: 5/4, which has five beats per measure, mostly divided into 3 + 2. In a minor key, the haunting melody alternates between unison men and chordal harmonies sung by the full choir and unison women, building to an exciting and satisfying full organ climax.
One of today’s more prolific and accomplished composers, Malcolm Archer’s setting of The Desert Shall Rejoice, is perhaps our choir’s favorite anthem on this CD. The lush, warm accompaniment in the organ part is echoed in the choral parts, along with a melody that transcends the ordinary and leads us all to a musical zenith that then slowly returns to the humble and touching mood of the beginning. This is truly a masterpiece of choral writing, and Archer at his best.
The Virgin Mary Had-A One Son is a catchy Calypso rhythmic carol by Nashville composer George Mabry. The accented melody is punctuated by congas and finger cymbals. Its pure, Caribbean feel, gives us a new take on the Christmas story in a clime where December 25 is still t-shirt and flip flop weather.