Holidays a cappella 2004

December 2004

Program Notes

 Alleluia: Dominus dixit ad me

plainchant, tone 8
 O magnum mysterium

Morten Lauridsen

 Il est né, le divin Enfant

trad. French, arr. J. David Moore

*   *   *   *   *

 A Cradle Song

Nestor Taylor (Greece)

 Luo spiritual: Nyathi onyuol

Enrico Oweggi (Kenya)

*   *   *   *   *

 Young Jesus Sweit

Robert Convery (b. 1954)

 Old Brenton Carol

arr. W. Michael Bultman

*   *   *   *   *

 O, ir kleyne likhtelekh

trad., arr. Mark Zuckerman

 Children, go where I send thee

spiritual, arr. Robert L. Morris

*   *   *   *   *

 Oh, hush thee

Anne Kilstofte

 Ave maris stella

Javier Busto

*   *   *   *   *

 Christmas Eve Carol

Stephen Paulus
 Jingle a cappella

arr. James L. Clemens


 O lux beatissima

Howard Helvey

 Glory to the newborn King

spiritual, arr. Robert L. Morris

*   *   *   *   *

 The Christ-Child’s lullaby

Gwyneth Walker

 God rest ye merry, gentlemen

arr. Paul Ayres

*   *   *   *  

 Funky Dreidl

arr. Bob Applebaum


arr. Brian Kay


plainchant: Alleluia: Dominus dixit ad me (tone 8)

For many people, midnight Mass on Christmas marks the true beginning of the holiday. This is the Alleluia prayer from that service, chanted just before the Gospel reading. After the call-and-response opening phrases, the soloist enjoys a long, florid passage before the group finishes together. In addition to its lovely melismas—passages in which the singer has many notes for a single syllable—the chant also has some beautiful inflections of pitch. The overall effect is one of great comfort and repose.

Morten Lauridsen: O magnum mysterium

This piece first came to Chicago a cappella’s office in the spring of 1995, when it was a relatively unknown work. Chicago a cappella gave the piece its local premiere in Quigley Chapel that December; our Holidays a cappella Live album features that performance. Catching on like musical wildfire, Lauridsen’s score went on to become the best-selling choral work of the entire decade of the 1990s. There is good reason for this success. The music has its own sound-world, dominated by harmonies called “inversions,” where the lowest note is not the root of the chord but rather the third or sometimes the fifth. Voicing the chords in this way makes the harmonies sound more spacious; they sound familiar and unusual at the same time, suspended slightly above the earth yet still grounded on it. The Latin text comes from the Divine Office, chanted every day in monastic orders; this is the fifth respond at matins on Christmas Day.  

Arr. J. David Moore: Il est né, le divin Enfant

This popular French carol has found a lively setting in the hands of J. David Moore, a St.Paul-based musician who makes his living as a choral conductor, singer, composer, arranger, and music copyist. He holds degrees in conducting and composition from Florida State University and the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Moore has also done many settings for Dare to Breathe, a Twin Cities-based vocal ensemble which he founded. When living in Cincinnati he founded the Village Waytes, a vocal ensemble for which he created this arrangement.

Nestor Taylor: A Cradle Song

Nestor Taylor lives in Greece, where he is a lecturer in composition at the Aristotelian University in Thessaloniki. He worked before that as a freelance composer in Athens. He trained as a musician in both Greece and England. Mr. Taylor notes that when he lived in England he spent much of his time singing music with Greek influences, since he knows the language and style of Greek Orthodox liturgy. Interestingly, this piece, on a poem by William Blake, sounds decidedly English! A Cradle Song was completed in Athens on Christmas Day 2003. It is the first of Two William Blake Songs, which Chicago a cappella recorded privately for Mr. Taylor in the spring of 2004. We are honored to give this lovely piece its world-premiere live performance.

Enrico Oweggi: Nyathi Onyuol

This is a spiritual, composed by Enrico Oweggi, in the Luo language from the Nyanza province in western Kenya. The Luo are the second-largest tribe in Kenya, after the Kikuyu. The Luo people traditionally live on the shores of Lake Victoria, which they believe to be sacred. Many of Kenya’s scientists and doctors come from the Luo tribe, as they place a high value on education.

This piece has been made famous by Muungano, the national choir of Kenya, founded by Boniface Mganga to be an ecumenical, pan-Christian, multi-ethnic choir with singers from all the tribes and linguistic traditions of his country. “Muungano” means “unity” in Kiswahili. Staying true to our own traditions, Chicago a cappella features our versatile vocal percussionist covering the drum part.

Robert Convery: Young Jesus Sweit

Robert Convery expresses his music in a distinctly personal voice of lyricism which is transparent, clean and unadorned in its rhythmic, harmonic, and textural fields. He has composed works of every description including twenty-two cantatas, five operas, ten song cycles, motets, chamber works and orchestral works. He has received commissioning grants from many sources including The Rockefeller Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, National Endowment for the Arts, and Opera America. He travels regularly for composer residencies at colleges and universities throughout the country. His studies were at Westminster Choir College, The Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School where he received his doctorate. His principal teachers have been David Diamond, Richard Hundley, Vincent Persichetti and Ned Rorem. Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1954, he was raised in California and now resides in New York.

Young Jesus Sweitwas written as a gift for soprano Cynthia Richards-Hewes. In 1993, toward the end of the time during which Robert Convery had been living in Montreal, the soprano was going to sing a work that he had written. Convery notes, “I remember the exact day: it was a Sunday afternoon, and I wanted to do something to thank her for singing my music. The whole piece wrote itself in two and a half hours that Sunday.” The motet’s folk-like tenderness is meant to conjure the same gentleness with which a rose unfolds to reveal its heart.

arr. W. Michael Bultman: Old Brenton Carol

Michael Bultman is the Choral Music Director at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox, IL, where he directs four curricular choirs as well as madrigal, vocal-jazz, and pop groups. He holds music degrees from Northwestern University and Michigan State University. Three of his compositions, all written for the Lincoln-Way Central Madrigal Singers, are being prepared for publication by Boosey & Hawkes (including Old Brenton Carol).  Mr. Bultman also sings in the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

The composer writes: “I first heard the tune, Come, Ye Lofty, as part of the Gustav Holst Christmas Day suite. I had never heard it before and found it to be a simple yet very engaging melody. Some time later, I was looking for an up-tempo carol for the madrigal choir at school, but I didn't want to program another ‘traditional’ tune, so I put this arrangement together for them. I have never been a fan of multi-verse carols that have no variation between the verses other than new words, so each verse is set a bit differently. The first verse presents the tune in a traditional way; the second is for women's voices; the third features some counterpoint with the melody in the tenors; and the fourth, after a key change, builds to the finish with some harmonic variation.”

arr. Mark Zuckerman: O, ir kleyne likhtelekh

This piece beautifully combines the European and American Jewish experiences. The traditional Chanukah melody meets a poignant Yiddish text and a skillful a cappella choral arrangement. The Yiddish poem is by Morris Rosenfeld (1862-1923), who was born in Lithuania and wrote poetry from the age of fifteen. He published in socialist and anarchist Yiddish periodicals, earning a living as a sweatshop tailor and a reputation as a sweatshop bard. He emigrated to London in 1882 and to New York in 1886, but he remained obscure until his poems were translated into English in 1898.

The traditional tune finds a superb setting in the hands of Mark Zuckerman (b. 1948), whose accomplishments in the field of Yiddish song are significant. His collection of Yiddish choral arrangements has been performed internationally by choruses in Toronto, Amsterdam, Buenos Aires and Istanbul as well as in the USA by the Gregg Smith Singers, the Goldene Keyt Singers, and many other ensembles. Zuckerman studied at Juilliard Preparatory Division, the University of Michigan, Bard College, and Princeton University, where he received his Ph.D. in composition; his teachers included Milton Babbitt, Elie Yarden, and J. K. Randall. Mr. Zuckerman’s work has been recorded on Centaur Records, Phoenix USA, Living Artists, CRI, DGK Records, and YIVO.

O, ir kleyne likhtelekhasks the Chanukah candles themselves to recount Jewish history. Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees’ victory against the invading Syrians. In rededicating the Temple, which the Syrians had defaced, one day’s lamp oil miraculously burned for eight days, commemorated since by lighting candles on each of the festival’s eight days. The Yiddish poem evokes parallels between the ancient Chanukah story and the oppression of Jews under Czar Alexander III of Russia.

spiritual, arr. Robert L. Morris: Children, go where I send the

Robert L. Morris serves on the choral-music faculty of Macalester College in Minneapolis and as the founding director of the Leigh Morris Chorale. He is active as a lecturer and conductor and is a skillful and sensitive composer and arranger. He arranged for Duke Ellington and has given presentations at Poland’s national choral festival, Legnica Cantat.

A passionate advocate for the spiritual, Morris is also a learned scholar of its roots and background. He writes as follows about Children, go where I send thee:

Freedom and learning to read, write and count were the things most fervently desired by slaves. Any overt action toward freedom was almost always punishable by death. . . . Using characters from both the Old and New Testaments was an effective ploy to hide the fact that in this song the central freedom figure was Jesus, the Christ, though never mentioned by name.

Jesus represented a freedom figure to slaves. Slave owners thought the knowledge of a person born in such lowly circumstances who could change the world was filled with dangerous hope for slaves who wanted freedom. Because of this, we find that the repertory of Christmas spirituals is quite small when compared with those on other subjects (religion, faith, death, etc.) Those same characters from the Bible provide the immediate purpose of the song—learning the number system forwards and backwards. The backward count returns to the freedom figure (“he was born in Bethlehem”). The code of this song, hidden under apparent “joy,” may well be that knowledge leads to freedom.

This arrangement is so good that we have hardly sung a “Holidays a cappella” concert without it since the music first came to us. Robert Morris’s setting of Children, go where I send thee is a gem—inspired, downright funky. Morris is able to achieve remarkable blues harmonies with only a four-voice texture. He draws on the strong tradition of African-American quartet singing, with “special effects” that include surprising dynamic shifts, like the subito piano that occurs when we return to the words, “one for the little bitty baby.” Morris takes pains to explain that while he borrows harmonic progressions from later, more progressive styles of gospel music, these harmonies do not make this a gospel song or give license to perform it with instruments; it is still a spiritual, made for voices alone. The rhythm is a slow groove, never rushed even when it’s going at full throttle.

Anne Kilsofte: Oh, hush thee

Anne Kilstofte was raised in Colorado by a visual artist and structural engineer and was immersed in classical music from an early age. She began piano studies at age 4 and by the age of twelve was performing professionally as a pianist, organist, and singer. Holding the Ph.D. in composition from the University of Minnesota, where she studied with Dominick Argento, Judith Lang Zaimont, and Libby Larsen, Dr. Kilstofte is on the composition faculty at Hamline University in the Twin Cities and is currently in Estonia on a Fulbright fellowship. Her output includes orchestral, chamber, choral and solo works, and she has been commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers, the Stockholm String Quartet, St. John’s University and the Cherry Creek Chorale. Her music is always atmospheric in some way, with sensitive text painting and unusually deft texture and color. She writes: “Art is the essence of change which can profoundly alter one’s perception of the world, at least for a little while—sometimes longer. Music, like other art forms, can also elicit some change, some new dynamic in a listener’s outlook. With each piece I strive to change the perspective of listeners in some way, to stretch their listening parameters provocatively, yet in a subtle and gentle manner.”

Oh, hush thee was written on a text by Eugene Field. The piece fulfills the composer’s claim by indeed stretching very slightly from its harmonic sense of home, perhaps conveying an added sense of tension from which the baby in the poem can have some extra rest. The words “dreaming,” “falling,” and the final “calling” are all altered slightly, giving the already lovely work a gorgeous, vibrant color.

Javier Busto: Ave maris stella

Javier Busto was born in 1949 in Hondarribia, in the Basque Country, and holds a medicine degree from the University of Valladolid. As a musician he is self-taught. He studied choral conducting with Erwin List and directed Coro Erdeki in Valladolid between 1971 and 1976. He founded and directed Coro Eskifaia, in Hondarribia, from 1978 until 1994. Together with Coro Eskifaia he has won competitions across Europe. With his compositions he has won prizes in Bilbao, Tolosa and Lgualada. Javier Busto has taught choral conducting on several occasions and has served on the juries of competitions for choirs and composers, including the international jury for the 1995 Arezzo competition.

Ave maris stella is one of the most popular Marian hymns of the Catholic liturgy. Its composer and poet are unknown; the tune probably originated in the 8th century. Busto retains the traditional text but creates a new melody, which he cloaks in a fetching and unexpected harmonic dress, including small echoes, hums, and open vowels. The entire piece expresses both the heart of the prayer to the Virgin Mary and its grandeur. The poem packs a great deal of symbolism into its short lines. The second stanza in particular is a play on words in Latin. By noting that “AVE” (“Hail”) is the same as “EVA” (“Eve”) in reverse, the poet suggests that the appearance of the angel Gabriel, who brought Mary the message that she was to bear a child, transformed the name of the original (and fallen) woman into a greeting of unprecedented grace through the Annunciation.

Stephen Paulus: Christmas Eve Carol

Composer Stephen Paulus has been hailed as “...a bright, fluent inventor with a ready lyric gift.” (The New Yorker) His prolific output of more than two hundred works is represented by many genres, including music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, solo voice, keyboard and opera. Commissions have been received from the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and many others; among the eminent conductors who have championed his works are Sir Neville Marriner, Kurt Masur, Christoph von Dohanyi, Leonard Slatkin, Yoel Levi, and the late Robert Shaw. As one of today’s pre-eminent composers of opera, Paulus has written eight works for the dramatic stage. The Postman Always Rings Twice was the first American production to be presented at the Edinburgh Festival, and has received nine productions to date. His choral works have been performed and recorded by some of the most distinguished choruses in the United States, including the New York Concert Singers, Dale Warland Singers, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, New Music Group of Philadelphia, Master Chorale of Washington DC, Vocal Arts Ensemble of Cincinnati, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and dozens of other professional, community, church and college choirs. He is one of the most frequently recorded contemporary composers with his music being represented on over fifty recordings. A recipient of both Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, Paulus is also a strong advocate for the music of his colleagues. He is co-founder and a current Board Vice President of the highly esteemed American Composers Forum, the largest composer service organization in the world. Paulus serves on the ASCAP Board of Directors as the Concert Music Representative, a post he has held since 1990.

Christmas Eve Carol was commissioned by the First Congregational Church of Minneapolis. It is a finely crafted, deeply expressive work, making superb use of the choir’s ranges to paint a stark, beautiful musical picture of Christmas night. The text is by the American monk and mystic Thomas Merton.

James S. Pierpont, arr. James Clemens: Jingle a cappella

A perhaps too-familiar tune takes a new guise in the hands of composer James Clemens, a skillful writer and arranger who recently moved from the Chicago area to Virginia. This arrangement was written for Chicago a cappella. In addition to giving Pierpont’s tune a jazz-inflected harmonic setting, Clemens takes an innovative turn in the “legit” direction. The middle section is a wild fugue in 7/8 time, based on a fugue from Bach's The Well-Tempered Klavier!


Howard Helvey: O lux beatissima

In addition to serving as Organist / Choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, Howard Helvey maintains a national and international presence as a concert pianist, conductor, composer, arranger and speaker. His choral arrangements of folk-based material have been acclaimed as “engaging” (Choral Journal), "definitive" (Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians), and “magical” (The Hymn). Besides receiving commissions from numerous church and university choirs, Mr. Helvey has recently completed projects for the renowned Turtle Creek Chorale of Dallas and for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir. In 2002, he received a John Ness Beck Foundation Award for his distinguished contribution to sacred choral music. Mr. Helvey holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.

O lux beatissimais an extraordinary work, recalling influences of Howells and Vaughan Williams with an astonishing economy of means. The text is a stanza from the medieval sequence “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”), penned around the year 1200 for Whitsunday (Pentecost) and attributed to Stephan Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Its themes of light, blessing and grace make it fitting for the Nativity holiday as well as Pentecost.

arr. Robert L. Morris: Glory to the newborn King

This deftly arranged Christmas spiritual builds slowly from a simple beginning. The chorus adds a voice part for each new verse, creating blues-tinged harmonies halfway through that remain for the duration of the piece. A high point occurs with the soprano’s exclaiming, “I think I’ll say Emmanuel!”

Gwyneth Walker: The Christ-Child’s Lullaby

Gwyneth Walker is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. She is a proud resident of Vermont, where she lives on a dairy farm in Braintree. She is the recipient of the Year 2000 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Vermont Arts Council. Walker's catalog includes over 130 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles.

The Christ-Child’s Lullaby is a work of unusual beauty, reflecting the composer’s desire to incorporate dramatic elements into choral music. The basic tune, a Hebridean folksong, is a haunting Mixolydian melody (with the flatted 7th scale degree). Walker keeps the harmonies grounded in this Celtic-sounding space for the first part of the piece, but takes a stunning turn toward Lydian (C-major with an F#) during an extended “Alleluia” section. The texture later includes soft tapping by the choir, several solo lines, and an ingenious, semi-free tapering off toward the end, leaving only the initial soloist to close the piece alone, just as a parent will be singing into silence when the baby is finally asleep.

arr. Paul Ayres: God rest ye merry, gentlemen

arr. Bob Applebaum: “Funky Dreidl” (from Three Pieces for Chanukah)

Bob Applebaum, a rising star in the choral-music world, has been composing prolifically in recent years. His gifts of harmony and texture are substantial, infusing new life into traditional Chanukah melodies. Starting with a low riff that resembles a slap-bass funk line, this piece gradually builds over a few minutes to a full-blown groove, in which one can happen to hear the words “made it out of clay.”

Applebaum explains that dreidl’s four faces are inscribed with the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “heh,” and “shin.” In the game, each represents a particular gambling term related to Yiddish words:






nothing (i.e., take nothing)



all (i.e., take all)



half (i.e., take half)



put in (i.e., put two objects into the pot)

However, the letters have been reinterpreted in the context of the holiday as the first letters of the Hebrew words “Neis gadol hayah sham,” or “a great miracle happened there.”

arr. Brian Kay: Gaudete

Who ever would have thought that a 16th-century sacred tune would go gold? It happened with this tune. This song, originally from a Swedish collection from 1582 called Piae Cantiones (Holy Songs), hit the pop charts in the UK in the hands of Steeleye Span, the first British folk-rock group to achieve popular recognition. Found on the album Below The Salt, Steeleye Span’s 1970s hit used clever mixing to simulate church processional and featured the brilliant voice of Maddy Prior on the verses. Brian Kay, a former tenor with the King’s Singers, put the tune into this sprightly six-voice arrangement which does the original justice and gives it extra harmonic richness.