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.