Piece of the Week 47 – ‘Star of Wonder’

While the Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems was being put together in 2007 we discovered, somewhat at the last minute, that we really needed a new and easy Epiphany anthem, and this task fell to me to provide.  I decided to set some very well-known words to a new tune.

Many of us were introduced to John Henry Hopkins’ carol ‘We three Kings of Orient are’ at primary school, and it has probably stuck with us ever since. Although the gently flowing modally flavoured verse with its folky 6/8 rhythm can convey a slightly ‘oriental’ feel, especially with the little organ interlude with which it is sometimes adorned, the resolute major key chorus (‘Oh, star of wonder…) can easily become somewhat riotous. Traditionally the second, third, and fourth verses are sung by the three kings in turn, with all singing the first and last verses, giving opportunity for a variety of ‘kings’ as the carol unfolds, and for some cheerful singing for all in the chorus.

For my setting of these words, Star of Wonder, I used the same verse-chorus pattern, with minor key verses with opportunity for soloists, and a major key chorus – but the mood and rhythm is rather more march-like, and the change from minor to major is more pronounced.  My aim was to provide a good strong tune, easy to learn, bearing in mind that there isn’t much rehearsal opportunity for Epiphany anthems as Christmas is only just over. I made just one small alteration to the words: the original Heaven sings Alleluia, Alleluia the earth replies is replaced with Alleluia, alleluia, Heaven sings and earth replies – this makes the lines of equal length, and gave me the opportunity for a loud Alleluia followed by a quiet one, as if it were echoing from heaven to earth. Throughout, the verses are in unison and the chorus in harmony, with an optional descant in the final bars.

The original version, in The Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems, is flexibly scored in three parts for SABar; here the lower two parts are optional and the whole thing can be sung in unison. There is also a version for SATB here, and an SABar version is also published separately. (All the above links are to Forwoods ScoreStore who offer a 20% discount on OUP publications in January 2024). These two versions are also available as digital pdf downloads from www.chimesmusicdigital.com (UK) and Sheet Music Plus (USA).  For all versions the accompaniment is organ or piano, and an orchestral accompaniment is also available on hire from OUP.

Here are some recordings:
This one on YouTube, from The Church of the Epiphany, Qatar
This one on Soundcloud, from All Saints Hockerill, Bishops Stortford, UK
And this is The Oxford Choir on Spotify

Hope you had a lovely Christmas Day, and a fruitful period of relaxation as we move towards the New Year.