Christmas Music

December 7, 2007 at 6:58 am | Posted in Assignments, Music Education | 2 Comments
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Our Wind Ensemble just played a short Christmas concert in the Chapel today.  In my high school we had a “Winter Concert” every December but the band portion was usually just Christmas music.  I used to love this half of the year.  I loved playing Sleigh Ride every year.  My director also had a set repertoire of Christmas music and all the music was rotated so that we usually played each piece twice if you were in the band for four years.  Now I’m not going to talk about reusing pieces since that is a completely different subject.  Anyways, my sister plays Euphonium in the band now and over Thanksgiving break she commented to me that she likes the second half of band much more because of the music.  She said that the music for the Winter Concert wasn’t hard enough and wasn’t as good as the pieces that would be played in the Spring (e.g. Robert W. Smith’s “The Inferno”, Holst’s “Mars”, John Barnes Chance’s “Incantation and Dance,” etc.)  Well I would say that all of the Christmas music I played in these concerts was definitely challenging and very good music.

Two common examples of good Christmas music are Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride and Christmas Festival.  I would say that these pieces are easy to play badly and take time and hard work to be able to play them well.  Christmas Festival has a lot of transitions and a wide variety of styles.  There are a lot of little stylistic aspects of the piece that when payed attention to can be very effective.  Sleigh Ride is a piece that has to move.  It has to be clear and light and the fact that everyone knows it makes it even harder to play.  We just played Russian Christmas Music in Chapel today and that is by no means an easy work.  In high school, one of my favorite pieces we played one year started with Coventry Carol (gorgeous!) and then went into Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.  I tried to find who the arranger was but couldn’t find it online.  This piece is technically difficult because of what a big, emotional piece is it, but also because it is an endurance piece.  By the end of this arrangement the trumpets are usually exhausted, so you have to be careful where this goes in your program.  These are just some examples of different pieces that I can remember in more depth, but there are others that are just as difficult.

Along with saying that Christmas music isn’t as challenging, I have also heard that this music isn’t “good” music.  So much of this music is beautiful and very moving.  In Christmas Festival during the “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” part there is a gorgeous, soaring countermelody in the Horns.  Alfred Reed’s Greensleeves is also just really good music.  At the beginning the interchange between the clarinet solo, the flutes, and the melodic line is something that I could just listen to over and over.  Near the end of the piece the scoring is much thicker and there are a lot of good countermelodies and accompaniment that make for a very emotional and dramatic take on Greensleeves.  The end then goes back to the flute and clarinet ‘duets’ from the beginning.  The Coventry Carol/Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is another piece that is very beautiful.  To start, I really like Coventry Carol.  It’s just a great melody and I don’t know what is is about it, but I just love it.  The transition from Coventry Carol into Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring is one part of the piecec I always especially enjoyed.  Like Reed’s Greensleeves, this composition has some very emotional moments in both songs that can really draw in the listener. (If anyone knows who the arranger for this work is, let me know, because I would love to find it, but haven’t been able to yet)  I could go on forever about all the different Christmas pieces I have played and what is so great and beautiful about each of them.  I would definitely give the ones I’ve mentioned a listen if you can find them online- they’re all really good!

 Well this is it for this post.  I will mention that I do have my Senior Recital this Saturday afternoon at 2:30 in Pew.  I’ll be playing music by Weber, Marty, Poulenc, and Finzi.  My recital partner, Kayla Carpenter, will be playing horn and singing as well.  I think it’ll be a good recital!  Until my next post!



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  1. Hey Krista,

    I hope the recital went well.

    Having gone through 13 years of Holiday & Christmas programs after reading your post, I wanted to add some selections that I have enjoyed because of the challenge they bring and are not just “fluff”. I will admit, I have one fluff piece below – but when you get into the color of its chords it is really nice.

    The 8th Candle – by Steve Reisteter. A song inspired by Hanukah – it is often thought to actual music of the Jewish Holiday. A gorgeous hymn-like beginning ending with a lively dance that is mostly in 5/8.

    Midnight Sleigh Ride – Tom Wallace. Prokofiev’s famous Troika melody meets the Thundering Herd. One of my student’s called it Sleigh Ride on Steroids. This musical romp is a ton of fun to put together.

    Fantasia on a Hymn by Praetorius – arr. Robert E. Foster. “Lo’ How A Rose” in a Symphonic Setting. A nice series of fanfares separate the fantasias.

    Christmas Fantasy on “Do You Hear What I Hear” – Calvin Custer. Tonal shifts and color shading galour decorate this from one of the best in the business. There are a number of solo opportunities throughout the piece. It is a great contribution and ranks in the grade 4-4.5 neighborhood.

    Fantasy on A Bell Carol – Madden. Not as thunderous as STO’s version, but great for the school band at the grade 4 setting. Driving, rhythmic, and very intense. When you consider it was written over 40 years ago, you come to appreciate its timelessness.

    Enjoyed reading your blog. I am a tremendous fan of Greensleeves (one of the reasons it was a piece I saved when “MY BAND ROOM IS ON FIRE“. I would be interested in getting your feedback on that post at Composing Like Mad. Merry Christmas if I don’t talk to you before then!

  2. I agree that Christmas music can be challenging. In programming my own Christmas programs I try to avoid the cliche medleys of vanilla Christmas Carols but try and program more serious music.

    I conduct a middle school band, but there is still plenty out there that isn’t so bland. This past year I played Curnow’s arrangement of Russian Christmas Music which is much more accessible for younger students (In fact it was recommended to me in person by Dr. Reed at a chance meeting at a post concert reception a few years before he passed. I also performed a Fantasy on Adeste Fideles by Eric Morales that pairs Adeste Fideles with Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze. It’s Joyful and triumphant (in fact that’s the tempo marking at the beginning) to make it feel like Christmas, and also serious enough that you won’t feel silly rehearsing a Christmas tune in October!

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