Holidays a cappella 2005

December 2005

Program Notes

 Il est né, le divin Enfant

trad. French,  arr. J. David Moore

 I Wonder as I Wander

John Jacob Niles,  arr. Steve Pilkington

* * * * *

 Kristallen den fina

trad. Swedish, arr. Gunnar Eriksson

 Roun’ de Glory Manger

spiritual, arr. W.L. James

* * * * *

 Hymn: A solis ortus cardine

G. P. da Palestrina (1525-1594)

 Nyathi onyuol

Enrico Oweggi

* * * * *

 Ave Maria

César Alejandro Carrillo (b. 1957)

 Ikh bin a kleyner dreydl

Mikhl Gelbart (1889-1966), arr. Mark Zuckerman (b. 1948)

* * * * *

Lo! How A Rose E’er Blooming

Chorale Motet from The Christmas Story, Op. 10

Hugo Distler (1908-1942)

* * * * *

 Mary had a baby

arr. Parker/Shaw

 Jingle a cappella

James S. Pierpont, arr. James E. Clemens


 I Believe This is Jesus

spiritual, arr. Robert L. Morris

 Haneirot Hallalu

Robert Applebaum

* * * * *

 Wexford Lullaby

trad., arr. John Renbourn

 Poor Little Jesus

spiritual, arr. Anne Heider

 * * * * *

 Splendid Jewel

Stephen Paulus

 Christmas Spiritual Medley

arr. Joseph Jennings

    Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow


    Behold That Star


    Sweet Little Jesus Boy


    Poor Little Jesus


    What Month Was Jesus Born In?


    Children, Go Where I Send Thee


    Go Tell It On The Mountain




In America, at the December holidays, the qualities that typically dwell in the background of our lives come prancing to the foreground. We never seem to have enough time; we channel our desires for intimacy into purchasing things; we scurry to get everything “just right” . . . and we don’t quite know what to do with ourselves in the stillness that follows the final present’s opening. Such is life in America; such is the virtually ingrained inability to be still; such are the overwhelming cultural forces that make it so difficult to reflect.

And yet, in December, what do people want to hear as music, year after year? A choir. And what is a choir? It’s a human ensemble: people doing something together, making words at the same time—something beautiful, something unified. On the surface, it appears that choral singing has no “practical” purpose. But we must need it, or we wouldn’t sing in a choir, or we wouldn’t go to the trouble to bring ourselves to hear one as you have done today. A choir warms our hearts, fills our ears with beauty, and helps us to feel more fully human. At the holidays, a choir reminds us of our traditions and history, connects us to something hopefully more glorious and more fragile than we let ourselves feel most of the time. I’m inundated with choral music 24/7, and even I feel the same way. One of my greatest joys of the year (if I’m not too busy) is hearing the BBC’s broadcast of Christmas Eve lessons and carols from King’s College, Cambridge. Those analytical parts of me that worked so hard for that PhD in musicology take a big comfy back seat, while I get all melty inside. I feel that I’m connecting to a treasure-trove of tradition, and I am routinely brought to tears.

Bob Applebaum’s new piece is wonderful because it tells us exactly what we seek. Whether we celebrate Chanukah or not, we can take comfort in the words of Haneirot Hallalu: “Throughout the eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred and we are not permitted to use them in ordinary ways, but only to look at them, in order to offer our gratitude…” The tragedy of human life is that so rarely do we actually look at things or people like that; it takes a deliberate act of will to be that conscious. Would that our lives were filled every day with that sort of attentiveness, and that all of our relationships were so filled with presence of mind and gratitude of heart.

I too will be at these concerts with a new sort of presence. For the first time in thirteen seasons, I will be in the audience with you. Just for this concert, I decided to take my role as artistic director in a different direction, one where my sole responsibility is to choose and shape the music, listening in rehearsal unencumbered by the act of singing. It has been greatly enlightening and worthwhile, and I’m happy with the results. I also am excited to get to attend a concert by Chicago a cappella for the first time!

May your holiday season be blessed with times of the true connectedness for which all of us yearn; may this be the year when you find that which you most earnestly seek; and may our concert be a place where our deepest humanity is shared. Thank you from all of us at Chicago a cappella for bringing yourself here. Have a wonderful holiday season.

           ---Jonathan Miller


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.

John Jacob Niles, arr. Steve Pilkington: I Wonder as I Wander

This much-loved tune is partly traditional and partly composed. The “original” melody for this carol was pieced together by John Jacob Niles from three lines which he cajoled out of a young girl in 1933, in Murphy, North Carolina (the mountainous far west of the state, in the Appalachians). Niles paid Annie Morgan twenty-five cents per performance; after eight tries, he notes, “I had only three lines of verse, a garbled fragment of melodic material—and a magnificent idea.” He fleshed out the melody and wrote additional verses, first recording the song in 1938 on a 78-rpm disc for RCA Red Seal. The melody has found an exquisite home in this a cappella choral setting by Steve Pilkington, who is associate professor and chair of the conducting, organ, and sacred-music faculties at Westminster Choir College (Rider University) in Princeton, New Jersey.

arr. Gunnar Eriksson: Kristallen den fina

Gunnar Eriksson teaches choir and ensemble conducting at the State College of Music and the State Opera College at the University of Göteborg, in Sweden’s second-largest city. He founded and directs the Rilke Ensemble, a twelve-voice mixed ensemble named “Choir of the Year” in 2004 by the Swedish Choral Centre. Gunnar Eriksson is also the leader of the Göteborg Chamber Choir, which has existed for over 25 years and has recorded some 20 albums and made several tours around the world. He spends most of his spare time traveling around the world conducting and teaching choirs and their leaders.

Eriksson’s magical setting of Kristallen den fina weaves together not just two, but three old Swedish Christmas melodies. “Kristallen den fina” is medieval in the way it expresses love for the virgin Mary with sensate, passionate images. While the sopranos sing it in a rocking 6/8 meter, the tenors reply with the old Lutheran chorale, “Världens Frälsare kom här,” better known in the USA as “Nun komm der heiden Heiland.” The basses provide a lush harmonic underpinning to the whole thing, which blooms and swells like a lily opening, and closes gently like the same lily at the end of the day. The second time through, the altos round out the texture with an old Gregorian melody known as “Christe, qui lux est et dies,” sung here in Swedish as “O Kriste, du som ljüset är.”

spiritual, arr. W. L. James: Roun’ de Glory Manger

Willis Laurence James taught at Spelman College in Atlanta from 1933 until his death in 1966. He started collecting black folksongs at age 22 while teaching in Louisiana. During the 1940s he was affiliated with the Library of Congress as a Recording Fellow. He gained wide attention for his theory that “the cry” (called the “moan” by others) was the most distinctive feature of black American folksong, a notion supported recently in Samuel Floyd's The Power of Black Music. Mr. James appeared as a lecturer at the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals and at Tanglewood, as well as on college campuses and before professional societies.

G. P da Palestrina: A solus ortus cardine (Hymn)

Palestrina was a successful and prolific composer, writing more than 100 masses and 250 motets. His melodies fit easily to the human voice, as is the case with the work of so many Renaissance composers who began their careers as professional choral singers. His work has been held up by music theorists for centuries as a model of proper preparation and resolution of dissonance. This “office hymn” is based on chant from the Liturgy of the Hours for Christmas Day. We follow the alternatim practice common in the 1500s, where a verse of polyphony is followed by a verse of plainchant. Palestrina did not compose music for the even-numbered verses, evidence that he had this practice in mind.

Enrico Oweggi: Nyathi Onyuol

This is a spiritual in the Luo language from the Nyanza province in western Kenya. The Luo are the second-largest and second-wealthiest tribe in Kenya. They 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; that choir’s songs, like many contemporary African arts, fuse traditional and neo-traditional African tunes with exuberant and intense quasi-Western harmonic style. Staying true to our own traditions, Chicago a cappella features our versatile vocal percussionist covering the drum part.

César Alejandro Carrillo: Ave Maria

César Carrillo conducts several university choirs in Caracas, Venezuela, as well as his own chamber choir. This remarkable miniature sets to music, for four women’s voices, the Catholic Church’s beloved petition to the Virgin Mary. Carrillo combines an undulating, atmospheric prayerfulness with just enough harmonic variety to give a clear sense of transition from the opening blessings to the emotional high point, ora pro nobis peccatoribus (“pray for us sinners”).

Mikhl Gelbart, arr. Mark Zuckerman: Ikh bin a kleyner dreydl

The traditional Chanukah melody finds a playful setting at the hands of acclaimed composer Mark Zuckerman. Mikhl Gelbart’s original Yiddish remains intact here, with a small amount of English added for contrast by Mark Zuckerman, whose Yiddish choral arrangements has been performed internationally. The four letters on each side of a dreydl are taken from the first letters of the four words “Nes gadol hayah sham,” meaning “A great miracle happened there.” The letters themselves are nun, shin, hey, and gimel, so Zuckerman cleverly uses these letters as the words for the basses and tenors to sing at the start of the song.

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

A perhaps too-familiar tune takes a brilliant 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 J. S. Bach’s Fuga 23, BWV 868, from The Well-Tempered Klavier, volume 1!


spiritual, arr. Robert L. Morris: I Believe This is Jesus

Based in the Twin Cities, Robert L. Morris 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. Morris is also the founding director of the Leigh Morris Chorale, a community chorus preserving African-American choral traditions among other repertoires.

The Christmas spiritual, I believe this is Jesus, is better known in the setting by Undine Smith Moore, which Chicago a cappella has also performed. Robert Morris’s adaptation of the tune is rich and harmonically sophisticated, remarkably evoking big-band textures in the lower voices while he borrows harmonic progressions from more progressive styles of gospel music. The overall effect is reminiscent of William Dawson’s best work, with qualities that are searching and evocative while still remaining celebratory and ecstatic.

Robert Applebaum: Haneirot Hallalu (world premiere)

The thoughtful sensitivity of Bob Applebaum’s choral music has gained him national recognition and increasing exposure through publication. He also has a devoted partner in Chicago a cappella, which regularly performs and records his work. Adept in setting both English and Hebrew, he brings to choral writing his particular gifts of harmony, rhythm, and texture, reflecting his many years’ experience as a jazz pianist.

Haneirot Hallalu is a traditional prayer, read and/or sung just after the Chanukah candle blessings are chanted and the candles kindled. The composer writes: “In the English text that I have composed, I have chosen to emphasize by reiteration (‘And we just watch them burn’) the notion that the candles are not to be used for any ordinary purpose, but only to be looked at.” The song’s new English text serves therefore as a commentary on the Hebrew.

arr. John Renbourn: Wexford Lullaby

The original words to the Wexford Carol tell the story of Jesus’s birth, from the arrival at the ox’s stall to the visits of the wise men and shepherds at the manger. The unusual tune is both angular and heart-warming. Both tune and text were transcribed in the early twentieth century by Dr. William Grattan Flood, choirmaster at St. Aidan’s Cathedral, from a traditional singer in County Wexford, Ireland. The carol’s popularity surely stems from its inclusion in the original Oxford Book of Carols. Here it finds a revised text of unusual warmth and intimacy, penned by folk guitarist John Renbourn, of Pentangle fame. He recorded this setting on the album Traveller’s Prayer (1998); the song was transcribed by folk singer Kate Howard, who generously handed Jonathan Miller her own score after a Village Harmony concert in Vermont five years ago.

arr. Anne Heider: Poor Little Jesus

Anne Heider is Artistic Director Emeritus of Bella Voce, which under her leadership has established an outstanding reputation both in the Chicago area and nationally. She holds degrees from Wellesley College, New York University, and Stanford University. She is Associate Professor of Music and Resident Choral Conductor at Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts, where she teaches courses in music history and conducts one of the choral ensembles. She is active as a choral consultant and guest conductor. Her research in early music has been supported by the Newberry Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Roosevelt University. She has published a number of choral octavos, both early music and folksong arrangements, with GIA (Chicago). She serves on the Board of Chorus America.

Unlike the more playful version in the Jennings medley at the end of our concert, Dr. Heider’s splendid and dramatic setting of this Christmas spiritual emphasizes the more somber aspect of the text, “Wasn’t that a pity and a shame?” The ensemble’s steady responses of “Yes, yes” keep the song grounded in a rhythmic, work-song-like pulse, reminding us in our bones that Jesus was indeed born on the earth.

Stephen Paulus: Splendid Jewel

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. 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, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and dozens of other professional, community, church and college choirs. 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.

Splendid Jewel was composed for The Rose Ensemble, an innovative vocal group based in the Twin Cities, which specializes in early music. The text comes from the Laudi Spirituali found in the 14th-century Florence Laudario manuscript.

arr. Joseph Jennings: Christmas Spiritual Medley

One of the world’s most acclaimed and decorated vocal-ensemble directors, Joseph Jennings joined Chanticleer as a countertenor in 1983, and shortly thereafter assumed his current title of Music Director. Under his direction, Chanticleer has released 25 critically acclaimed recordings (works ranging from Gregorian chant to Renaissance masterworks to jazz), including the Grammy Award-winning Colors of Love and Lamentations and Praises, and has performed at many of the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls. In addition to being Music Director of Chanticleer, Mr. Jennings also leads the Golden Gate Men's Chorus. His compositions and arrangements are published by Oxford University Press, Hinshaw Music of Chapel Hill, NC, and Yelton Rhodes Music of Los Angeles.

This medley of traditional Christmas spirituals runs the gamut from being contained and reverent (“Rise up, shepherd, and follow”) to downright campy (“Sweet little Jesus boy”). Jennings also gives the tempo marking of “Bloozy” for his setting of “Poor little Jesus,” leaving no doubt that loosening up is a good idea.