Holidays a cappella

December 2013

Program Notes


16th c. Swedish, arr. Brian Kay

Über's Gebirg Maria geht

Johannes Eccard (Germany, 1553-1611)

Star in the East

Early American, arr. Jonathan Miller


Daniel Read ( New England,1757-1836)

In the Bleak Midwinter

Christopher Hutchings (Scotland, b. 1979)

We Three Kings

J. H. Hopkins, arr. Darmon Meader

Niño de rosas

Steven Sametz (USA, b. 1954)

Behold That Star

spiritual, arr. R. Isaac

Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

spiritual, arr. Roland Carter


Lo V'Chayil (Not By Might)

Elliot Levine (b. 1948)

Hodie Christus natus est

William Mathias (Wales, 1934-1992)

O magnum mysterium

Ivo Antognini (Switzerland, b. 1963)

Coventry Carol

traditional, arr. Linda Kachelmeier

Splendid shines the morning star

James Lowry (early American, fl. ca. 1825),

arr. Anne Heider

Convidando está la noche

Juan García de Zéspedes (Mexico, 1619-1678)


"Matisyahu" (Matthew Paul Miller, b. 1979),

arr. Patrick Sinozich

Poor Little Jesus

spiritual, arr. Anne Heider

Sistah Mary

spiritual, arr. Rollo Dilworth

From the Artistic Director

December gives us an opportunity to be grateful. Traditions from many countries and faiths remind us of this. They tell us that our increasingly short and cold days need not completely dampen our spirits. Rather, we can build on the Thanksgiving holiday just behind us. We can affirm what is good all around us, even with joy. We can declare that, amidst so much human misery and tragedy, life is worth living and even worth celebrating. We can create hope that things will get better. Christmas and Chanukah alike are wonderful sources of inspiration; each is a reminder of the divine spark that lives in each of us, an occasion on which we give ourselves permission to simply stand in wonder and awe at creation. Light the lights and sing up!

For me, writing this introduction to Holidays a cappella has become a personal tradition on its own. I relish the occasion to take a deep breath and remember what blessings have surrounded me over the past year. At Chicago a cappella, we have much for which to be thankful: a wonderful roster of singers that includes longtime members and new ones alike; a growing and dedicated board of directors; a superb staff, chief among them the tireless Matt Greenberg; Susan Schober and the mighty High School Intern ensemble; subscribers and donors who keep us doing what we love to do; and everyone who supports us in some way, from the Saints who hand you this program book to those who sell our CDs in the lobby.

This year is also, for me, a time to give thanks for colleagues who have been in the choral field with me literally for decades, who have been my mentors and inspiration and guiding lights. It was thirty years ago this month that I gave my first performance with John Nygro and the Harwood Early Music Ensemble, a group that would become my most significant musical “home” for ten years. And it was almost thirty-two years ago that I joined the amazing professional choir of sixteen singers at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, where—right there in the alto section—was Anne Heider. She and I were soon to be part of the intrepid group of nine singers that formed the starting roster for His Majestie’s Clerkes (now Bella Voce), which Anne directed with distinction for many years. In 1993, of course, several of the singers from those groups helped to form the initial core of Chicago a cappella.

Working under Anne Heider’s direction has given me some of my most treasured moments as a singer. Anne is a superb all-around musician, and I am delighted to have had her as a colleague once again in her role as Guest Music Director for this program. It was fun to create the final selection of songs together with her—and a joy to step back and let her create the final program order and decide exactly how all the pieces will work. Since I did not attend any of the rehearsals (by design, as I prefer to let the Guest Music Directors work their magic without me in the room), I am as eager as you to hear this concert.

I give thanks for everyone who comes to hear us at the holidays. It is you who create Chicago a cappella’s holiday tradition by choosing to be here. Without you, there is no tradition.

Let us all use the inspiration that we get from today’s concert to go out and do something to heal the world. Whatever it is for you, I invite you to just do it. If we all do this, then indeed will we be worthy stewards of that same inspiration, and together we will come one step closer to building the world we all dream of. Have a blessed and joyous holiday season.

Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

From the Guest Music Director

Jonathan Miller and I were choral colleagues in the early 1980’s at Holy Name Cathedral. We were also founding singers of His Majestie’s Clerkes, now Bella Voce, the a cappella ensemble started by countertenor Richard Childress, who also sang at Holy Name. In fact, Jonathan was a founding board member, demonstrating early on his understanding that a good performing ensemble needs good administrative back-up.

Some ten years later he started his own group, Chicago a cappella. I invited them to be a guest ensemble on His Majestie’s Clerkes’ concert programs in 1994 and again in 1996, and both collaborations were artistically very exciting. Both ensembles have thrived and grown into Chicago-area institutions treasured by their audiences and supporters. Thus it’s an honor and a pleasure to me that in Bella Voce’s 30th season I’ve been invited to serve as one of Chicago a cappella’s guest music directors in their 20th season. Round numbers are always a good reason for a party.

Jonathan selected most of the repertoire for “Holidays a cappella,” but, happily, he was pleased to include a work of mine (Splendid Shines the Morning Star). It would be hard to exaggerate the pleasure of hearing these singers perform one’s work! They are alert, accomplished vocal artists; they’re open to repertoire of all sorts; they love getting the details right; and they nourish one another with their energy and zest for performing.

“The holidays” are a multi-faceted gem in our cultural calendars: religious, social and commercial traditions have become inextricably tangled. But I believe the unique sparkle comes from the fact that it’s a time of year when people sing together—even people who say “I can’t sing”—and singing, especially with others, makes you healthier and happier. So enjoy the program! We hope you’ll leave humming.

Anne Heider
Guest Music Director

Notes on the music


16th c. Swedish, arr. Brian Kay: Gaudete

The Renaissance song collection Piae Cantiones (Holy Songs) contains this wonderfully energetic four-part song. It hit the British pop charts in the 1970s when the folk-rock group Steeleye Span released it on their album Below the Salt. Maddy Prior’s infectious vocals, with a rougher version of Emma Kirkby’s famous vibrato-less sound, made a new generation of early-music fans. This setting by former King’s Singer Brian Kay enhances the original texture and has become a staple of the current generation’s repertoire.

For the record: Brian Kay’s “Gaudete” appears on our CD Holidays a cappella Live.

Johannes Eccard: Über’s Gebirg Maria geht

Johannes Eccard grew up in Thuringia, studied with the internationally renowned composer Orlando Lassus, and eventually became Kapellmeister at Königsberg. This lovely song of praise achieved a lasting place in the choral repertoire thanks to Clara Schumann, who hand-copied it (there was no other way!) from an early source and gave it to Johannes Brahms. Brahms was a keen student of the contrapuntal techniques of earlier masters, and programmed works by Eccard, Byrd, Palestrina, Gabrieli, J.S. Bach and others in concerts he conducted with the Hamburg Frauenchor and the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde.

Early American, arr. Jonathan Miller
(and original Southern Harmony version): Star in the East

You’ll hear two versions of the anonymous “Star in the East” in our performance: as it appeared in The American Vocalist (1869) (stanzas 1 and 3) with mid-Victorian, conventional minor-mode harmonies, and (stanza 2) as it appeared in The Southern Harmony (1835). The earlier version has much starker harmonies—lots of open fifths—and sharp ears will catch the Appalachian performance practice of occasionally raising the 6th degree of the scale, converting minor to Dorian mode.

Daniel Read: Sherburne

Daniel Read’s “Sherburne” exemplifies the fuging tune of colonial New England, written for singing schools and volunteer church choirs. The brief fugue section gives each of the four parts a moment to shine, but the contrapuntal demands on the singers are not excessive. The rhythmic energy of fuging tunes was complemented by a sturdy, nofrills choral style inherited from the 18th-century west-gallery music of English parish churches and kept alive right to the present by American shape-note singers.

Christopher Hutchings: In the Bleak Midwinter

A young composer from Scotland, Chris Hutchings has received awards and commissions from choirs and agencies in the UK, and his Requiem will be released on CD shortly. This setting of the famous Christina Rossetti poem is perfectly understated, causing us to pause and wonder at the blessings of the touchingly described scene.

J.H. Hopkins, arr. Darmon Meader: We Three Kings

This is just one of the coolest recent carol settings ever. Darmon Meader is one of the creative forces behind New York Voices. He brings this setting a number of twists and turns, from subtle rhythmic shifts to a lively opportunity for vocal percussion. African-inspired background syllables at the end hearken to a Lion King feeling.

Steven Sametz: Niño de Rosas (from “Three Mystical Choruses”)

Composer Steven Sametz chose an unusual cycle of sacred poetry for his choral triptych, for which he was awarded the 2011 Brock Commission from the American Choral Directors Association. This first movement is a setting of a poem by the Ecuadorian Jesuit priest, Jacinto de Evia (b. c. 1629). The poem is a dramatic scena of sorts, in which a gypsy girl examines the hands of the infant Jesus and, in so doing, both tells of his future and finds her own savior. The mezzo-soprano soloist, taking the role of the gypsy girl, is given a glorious, lyrical line, over which the accompanying voices create a gentle, undulating refrain that gives both structure and tension to the movement. It is a composition of unusual beauty and grace.

spiritual, arr. R. Isaac: Behold That Star

This spiritual uses classic voicings and texture, with a slightly “walking” bass line, to provide joyful energy. The song was a staple of the Chicago Children’s Choir’s holiday repertoire in the 1970s and can be heard on that group’s iconic (vinyl) recording of the same name.

spiritual, arr. Roland Carter: Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

Roland Carter is Holmberg Professor of American Music at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A former president of the National Association of Negro Musicians, he is the arranger of the most commonly-heard version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Prof. Carter has been honored to participate musically in every possible setting, from working in the smallest church to conducting at presidential inaugurations in Washington. An outstanding musician, he has conducted opera as well as choral music nationwide and has been involved in radio and television broadcasts in his role as a preservationist of African-American music.

This setting of “Rise Up, Shepherd” follows mostly traditional voicings and harmonies. The piece is effective in its straightforward simplicity. The final chorus takes off in an energetic ascent, speeding up as it sets up a call-and-response dialogue between men and womenbefore rising to the highest soprano heights for a strong finish.

Elliot Z. Levine: Lo V’Chayil (Not By Might)

Longtime member of the Western Wind vocal ensemble, Elliot Levine is an expert in music of many genres. He is as comfortable in medieval/Renaissance and contemporary music as he is in Jewish music. This song is a setting of a famous Hebrew saying. In contrast to the English-language setting by Debbie Friedman—familiar to generations of camp-attending American Jews—Levine’s setting is a slow triple-time meditation on the idea that “by spirit alone shall all people live in peace.”

William Mathias: Hodie Christus natus est

William Mathias was a Welsh/English church musician who was also a professor at the University of Wales in Bangor. His anthem Let the people praise thee, O God was featured in the 1981 royal wedding between the Prince and Princess of Wales. His setting of the antiphon for Christmas, Hodie Christus natus est, was a highlight of Chicago a cappella’s very first holiday concert in 1994. The harmonies and rhythms have qualities of a bright brass fanfare, and the unusual shifts in color bring a refreshing brightness over and over, ending with a splash.

Ivo Antognini: O magnum mysterium

In recent years, the Swiss composer Ivo Antognini has gathered a significant following. He seems to have been surprised by the success of this modest composition, which he wrote for a choir that his wife was conducting. The piece is one of those gems that feels unusually complete and self-evident.

arr. Linda Kachelmeier: Coventry Carol

This is one of the most powerful, haunting settings of the familiar Coventry Carol to emerge in a long time. A longtime singer with the Rose Ensemble, the Twin Cities-based Linda Kachelmeier divides her time between singing and composing. As a singer, she is compelling on stage. Like the great singers of the Renaissance, she takes her love of great vocal lines and her instinctive feeling for what makes superb counterpoint and puts them into her own compositions.

James Lowry, arr. Anne Heider: Splendid shines the morning star

“Splendid Shines the Morning Star” was commissioned from Anne Heider and premiered by Nancy Menk and the South Bend Chamber Singers in 2006. It is based on a tune by James C. Lowry (fl. 1825), found in The Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (3rd ed., 1826). The anonymous poetry translates the Lutheran chorale Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern by Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) and follows the metric scheme of the German verses exactly. Lowry’s music, however, is quite different from Nicolai’s: instead of the four-square walking rhythm typical of early chorale melodies, Lowry’s music dances in six-eight time. Heider’s arrangement opens with Lowry’s tune sung in unison, and the imitative polyphony that follows partakes of Lowry’s harmonic idiom, with more attention to the melodic integrity of each vocal line than to conventional harmonies. In the second half of the piece, phrases of Nicolai’s chorale float in, and ultimately a synthesis of the two songs emerges.

Juan García de Zéspedes: Convidando está la noche

How can you have more fun than this? The energy of the Mexican Baroque era pours forth in this joyous setting of folk-like texts. The lyrics talk about all the varieties of glory that rain down upon the holy child, using a Renaissance-like contrast of “fire and snow” that is familiar from many Monteverdi madrigals. The composer uses dance rhythms (guaracha and estribillo) in a strophic setting that builds as it goes, culminating in the wonderful sentiment that “Thanks be to God; we’re going to shut up now.”

Matisyahu, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Miracle

“Matisyahu” is the stage name for Matthew Paul Miller, who, despite his recent shift away from orthodoxy, remains the world’s leading Jewish reggae artist. This song joyously celebrates the miracle of Chanukah as well as the more common miracle of faith: “Bound to stumble and fall / but my strength comes not from man at all.” This setting was created for Chicago a cappella by Music Director Emeritus Patrick Sinozich.

spiritual, arr. Anne Heider: Poor Little Jesus

Anne Heider’s arrangement of “Poor little Jesus” (written for His Majestie’s Clerkes in 1989) is based on a song collected in the 1930’s by John and Alan Lomax from the singing of a Texas chain gang. Not church, but hard labor, was the original context. Not surprisingly, the verses dwell on Jesus’s poverty and his destiny to be executed as a criminal.

For the record: Anne Heider’s “Poor Little Jesus” appears on our CD Christmas a cappella.

spiritual, arr. Rollo Dilworth: Sistah Mary

An international star of the choral world, Rollo Dilworth is head of the music-education department at Temple University in Philadelphia and an expert in the history andarranging of spirituals and gospel music. He also will be one of the conductors for Chicago a cappella’s upcoming Youth Choral Festival, and will be Guest Music Director for “The Birth of Gospel” (April 2014). In his arrangements, Prof. Dilworth is careful to research all available variants of the spiritual that he wants to set. Once he has settled upon a version of the text and melody, the arranging process begins. He enjoys arranging tunes that are not the best-known ones, such as this wonderful piece, Sistah Mary, which he arranged for Chicago a cappella in celebration of the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

For the record: Rollo Dilworth’s “Sistah Mary” appears on our CD, Bound for Glory!