Piece of the Week: A Light in the Stable

The other day, I was listening again to the first performance of A Light in the Stable. (You can listen to that performance here).  When I hear those opening notes it always makes me shiver with cold – this might be due to the snowy weather we are having at the moment, but actually it’s more likely that it reminds me of the circumstances of those first few performances, in snowy Minneapolis and its environs a couple of Decembers ago (though Minnesotans will tell me that it’s often a great deal colder!).  I still remember the joy of coming out of the cold into those lovely large, busy, warm churches, to hear such excellent performances by VocalEssence choir and orchestra, directed by Philip Brunelle.
A Light in the Stable lasts about 35 minutes: it’s for SATB choir accompanied by either piano or organ, or small orchestra or chamber group, and it’s been performed in concerts and also in church services. It tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, using a mixture of quasi-recitative (or spoken text), new settings of familiar poems, choral settings of traditional carols, and carols in which the audience can join in. Much of it is based around fragments of the traditional plainsong melody ‘Of our Father’s (or Maker’s) love begotten, which we hear complete at the beginning and end.  And by happy chance, some carols will fit together quite nicely: the two tunes of ‘Away in a Manger’ fit together; ‘While Shepherd’s Watched’ combines with ‘O Tell it on the Mountain’; ‘The First Nowell’ combines with ‘Of our Father’s love begotten’, and fragments of other well-known carols permeate the music.  The result is that, although there is much that is newly composed, overall there is a slight air of comfortable familiarity which I hope makes it appeal to a wide range of audiences and choirs. It’s such a lovely story to tell: I really enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoy listening to it.

Here are the details on this website, and it’s available from OUP here.

Piece of the Week: O Come, Emmanuel

Advent Greetings to all readers! I wrote ‘O Come, Emmanuel’, a 35-minute cantata based on the plainsong melody of the same name, for Sarah MacDonald and the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, in 2012: they gave it its first performance in a liturgical context and later recorded it for Regent Records. Since then it has been performed by many choirs in several countries, and also a number of movements have been performed separately: just this past weekend I heard a choir sing ‘There is a rose-tree’ in a concert (which I followed with a piano improvisation in which I began by playing the final bars backwards), and on the Sunday morning service at our church, one of the short movements, ‘O Key of David’ was sung as an introit. It’s very flexible: it can be sung complete, of course, but also parts of it can be used in many different ways.
It contains arrangements of traditional Advent carols,  new settings of Advent words, hymns in which the congregation or audience may join the choir, linked by the words of the ‘O Antiphons’ set to fragments of the traditional plainsong melody.
Here is a link to the page on this site giving further details, including links to the publishers, Oxford University Press, and to the recording (Regent Records)
Here is a link to a performance of There is a rose-tree by the Selwyn College Choir