Holidays a cappella 2021

Program Notes

Program Notes

December 2021

FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR 

What a lot we have all been through over the past year and a half.  If we didn’t know how important music was to all of us before the pandemic, we certainly know now!  What a powerful experience it has been for me over this past 20+ months to meet so many of you in Zoom rooms, on the phone, and through messages of support and commiseration. Through it all, there has been a strong sense of lament, mixed with deferred hope and a constant longing. 

What do we long for?  We can barely put words to it, because what we are missing so deeply is not words at all.  It is something more like presence.  Being together to experience something rare, precious, undeniable. An unutterably shattering moment of beauty, a profound connection to our true selves, the recognition of our shared humanity.  Soaring voices, sobering truths, really good jokes.  Being for one another.  A shared experience with the potential for transformation, even transcendence.    
Thank you for being with us over the past two years, and for joining us today.  It’s good to be together again. 
—John William Trotter 

Program Song List

O Come All Ye Faithful

John Francis Wade, arr. Scott Hoyring, Mitch Grassi

Sistah Mary

traditional, arr. Rollo Dilworth

Corpus Christi Carol

Trond Kverno

Nesciens Mater

Jean Mouton

Lo V’Chayil

Elliot Levine

Haneirot Halalu

Robert Applebaum

Oh Chanukah/Y’mei Hachanukah

traditional, arr. Robert Applebaum

Coventry Carol

traditional, arr. Paul Langford

We Three Kings

John Henry Hopkins Jr., arr. Deke Sharon

Intermission

Rorate Caeli

plainchant

Magnificat

Arvo Pärt

Ts’alenjikhe Alilo

trad. Georgian

Kakhetian Alilo

trad. Georgian

Najswietsza Panienka

trad. Polish, arr. Jacek Sykulski

Jingle Bells

James Pierpont, arr. Gordon Langford

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Walter Kent and Kim Gannon, arr. Joe Labozetta

Si no me dan de beber lloro

Puerto Rican carol, arr. Jonathan Miller

encore:  Happy Hanukkah

Matisyahu, arr. Joe Labozetta

Notes on the Music

by Joe Labozetta

O Come All Ye Faithful

John Francis Wade (1711-1786) arr. Scott Hoyring and Mitch Grassi

There is plenty of splendid holiday material in the Pentatonix catalogue, but their rendition of O Come, All Ye Faithful heaves with infectious rhythms and thick vocal textures. This makes it a perfect opener to our Holidays concert program: inviting and exuberant. Welcome!

Lo V’Chayil

Elliot Levine (b. 1948)

This text from the book of Zechariah is chanted as the haftarah on the Shabbat of Chanukah. Elliot Levine, a founding member of the vocal ensemble Western Wind, created this beautiful arrangement to be a lilting meditation on the message of peace.

Nesciens Mater

Jean Mouton (c. 1459-1522)

Jean Mouton served as magister capellae to Queen Anne of Brittany at the turn of the 16th century, and he eventually became the principal composer of the French court. We are fortunate that much of his work survives, including the impressive motet Nesciens Mater. One can pick apart the compositional brilliance of successfully setting a quadruple canon at the interval of a fifth. Or one can simply sit back and bask in the richly-textured tour de force of a Renaissance master.

Sistah Mary

Traditional arr. Rollo Dilworth (b. 1970)

A Chicago a cappella favorite, this traditional Christmas spiritual, arranged by friend of the ensemble Rollo Dilworth, can be found on the Bound for Glory CD.

Magnificat

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935)

Arvo Pärt, famous for his minimalist compositional style, calls his technique “tintinnabuli” – like the ringing of bells. Characterized by simple harmonies of triads or tone clusters, the slow, meditative Magnificat seems at times to achieve a feeling of stasis. More often performed with a larger ensemble of many dozens of voices, this poses unique challenges to a smaller ensemble. After all, one must breathe!

Haneroit Halalu

Robert Applebaum (b. 1941)

Not only an accomplished composer and jazz pianist, Bob Applebaum taught physics and chemistry at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL, for 35 years.

Applebaum notes that this Hebrew prayer, sung after the Chanukah candles are blessed and kindled, emphasizes “that the candles are not to be used for any ordinary purposes, but only to be looked at.” This is rendered in the relevant part of the text, “and we just watch them burn.”

Oh Chanukah / Y’mei Hachanukah from Three Pieces for Chanukah

Robert Applebaum (b. 1941)

The composer writes: “Many will be more familiar with the first line in English reading: ‘Oh Chanukah, O Chanukah, come light the menorah.’ Technically, the menorah is different from the candelabrum used for Chanukah. The correct term for the Chanukah candelabrum is chanukiah, as reflected in the words in this setting. ‘Sevonim’ refers to spinning tops, or dreidls. ‘Levivot’ refers to traditional pancakes made during the Chanukah holiday.”

Coventry Carol

Traditional, arr. Paul Langford (b. 1966)

A haunting tune that comes from 16th-century Coventry in England, this carol refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, a story in the Gospel of Matthew in which Herod ordered all the male infants in the Bethlehem region to be killed. The carol takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children. Paul Langford’s compelling arrangement was first performed by Chicago a cappella in 2017.

We Three Kings

John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868), arr. Deke Sharon

WGN-TV’s own Dan Ponce is a founding member of the a cappella group Straight No Chaser, which came out of Indiana University in the late 1990s. The group released its first holiday album, Christmas Cheers, in 2009, produced by a cappella legend Deke Sharon, who arranged this inventive take on the traditional Christmas carol.

Plainchant: Rorate Caeli

Gregorian chant is the term applied to the vast repertoire of liturgical plainchant assembled over the breadth of many hundreds of years, roughly 700-1300 AD. There are almost 3000 surviving chants in the Gregorian catalogue, with texts specific to each day of the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical year. Rorate caeli (“Drop down dew, ye heavens”) is the Latin Vulgate of Isaiah 45:8 and is used several times throughout Advent, but notably as the Introit on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the final Sunday before the celebration of Christmas. As anticipation builds for the arrival of the Nativity of the Lord, the text becomes expressive of penitence, expectation, and comfort.

Jingle Bells

James Pierpont (1822-1893), arr. Gordon Langford

The King’s Singers, in many ways, represent the best of the British choral tradition. Always consisting of six singers in total, and informed by the serene and precise singing style demanded by Sir David Willcocks, their Director at King’s College, Cambridge, the group has garnered worldwide acclaim since its founding in 1968. This holiday favorite has been whimsically retooled. Off we go!

Corpus Christi Carol

Trond Kverno (b. 1945)

To bring to life a song that has been around for more than half a millennium rewards the singer (and the listener!) with a feeling of the mystical. Echoes of antiquity come down to us in cascading rhymes. The author of the highly allegorical text is anonymous, and it is worth reading in the original Middle English. Here is just a taste of it: And yn þat bed þer lythe a knyght, His wowndis bledyng day & nyght. 

Ts’alenjikhe Alilo

Traditional Georgian

I am fortunate to have been exposed to the rich tradition of Georgian folksong since my time as an undergraduate student at DePaul University under the tutelage of Dr. Clayton Parr. This culminated in several weeks of study in the Republic of Georgia in 2015, working with the masters of the folksong heritage. The Georgian Christmas tradition of singing house to house, congratulating each other on the holiday and the new year, is rightly compared to the English practice of wassailing. They are remarkably similar, if independent, customs.

There are many different Alilos from different regions of the country. This Alilo is named after the town of its origin, Ts’alenjikha, in the western region of Samegrelo. It is suitably boisterous, and features two antiphonal choirs, in a playful back and forth.

Kakhetian Alilo

Traditional Georgian

First performed by Chicago a cappella on the Global Transcendence concert program in October 2014, this Alilo boasts the distinctive singing style of the easter Georgian region of Kakheti. It features two dueling, highly ornamented solo lines doing a choreographed tap-dance over a bass drone held by the rest of the ensemble. This style is typical of the “table song” genre in Kakheti. The embellishments and harmonic characteristics of the style may indicate enduring Persian cultural influence in the eastern part of the country. 

Naiswietsza Panienka

Traditional Polish, arr. Jacek Sykulski (b. 1964)

First performed by Chicago a cappella on the 2016 Holidays program, this magnificent setting of a traditional Polish carol absolutely deserves to be revisited. Arranger Jacek Sykulski writes: “I found this piece at the beginning of the year 2000, as far as I remember in an old carol songbook. Looking for something for my choir I found this melody, with which I fell in love immediately. This theme was different from most other tunes; that’s why it made my interest. Today I know, the melody was notated by Oskar Kolberg, a very famous Polish ethnographer, folklorist, and composer, who lived in the 19th century. It probably was a part of ‘Christmas dramas.’ I wanted to not just arrange, but tell the story about a young Jewish woman, looking for a proper place to give birth to Jesus. Quite a dramatic story. So, in short, this was the idea for this setting.”

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Walter Kent (1911-1994) and Kim Gannon (1900-1974), arr. Joe Labozetta

A huge Bing Crosby hit in the U.S. in 1943, I’ll Be Home for Christmas was originally written to honor the overseas servicemen who longed to be home for the holidays. It touched the hearts of many Americans, soldier and civilian alike, amidst the wartime uncertainty and anxiety. Oddly enough, the song was banned in the UK by the BBC, as management presumed the lyrics would lower morale among their own troops. 

When a satisfying a cappella arrangement is nowhere to be found, it’s a good excuse to write your own. This features a solo for alto voice, but keep one ear open for the tenor “trumpet section” during the bridge!

Si no me dan de beber lloro

Puerto Rican carol, arr. Jonathan Miller

Take a late-night wassailing tradition, multiply the festive imbibing, and add some guitar and Caribbean island rhythms, and you get the parranda, a Puerto Rican custom that often awakens sleeping neighbors in the wee hours of the morning. Out of this holiday mischief, we get the carol Si no me dan de beber lloro (“If you don’t give me a drink, I will cry”). The verses are generally hilarious and absurd, but one gets a special mention because it describes the Three Kings (“Los tres santos reyes”) planting flowers with Santa Claus.