Winter's Night Carol

 
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SATB/SA Children's Choir (or use SA subgroup of main choir) / brass quintet
Sacred texts in English by Thomas Merton
Difficulty rating (1-5): 2.5
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Commissioned by the Nebraska Choral Arts Society, premiered December 2007, directed by Matthew Harden

Winter’s Night Carol was commissioned for the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Nebraska Choral Arts Society based in Omaha, Nebraska. This is a topnotch community choral organization that consists of eight choirs, from youth through adult. 

In fact, part of the commission requirements from the group was that this holiday piece would be for SATB, brass, and the mid to advanced children’s choirs. With theses forces in mind, I felt I should seek out a text whose content would naturally welcome the voice of a child. Fortunately it wasn’t long before I happily stumbled across two poems written by the great Thomas Merton during WWII- and I felt that the few essential lines which could be voiced by the children in these two combined poems would be a wonderfully natural way to incorporate the children’s choirs into the piece.

One thing I have been trying to do in holiday pieces is find texts which are not full of clichés- so even if they do speak of the typical manger scene and other such basic stories so well known to us all, these more artistic texts find a new way to relate it to us and keep it fresh. I also felt that the Merton texts not only gave me the freedom to create magically intimate wintertime Christmas moments but also boldly state in an  excited way the announcing of the arrival of the three Wise Men, with the brass blazing the way. In other words, my goal all along was to write a highly artistic piece with a very special text which would still also be enjoyed on first hearing by any and all in the audience. 

My experience in Omaha working with director Matt Harden and everyone involved was wonderful. Matt and I continue to work closely together on further projects with his top level choir at The University of Nebraska-Omaha.

 


TEXT

The Winter’s Night

When, in the dark, the frost cracks on the window
The children awaken, and whisper.
One says the moonlight grated like a skate
Across the freezing river.
Another hears the starlight breaking like a knifeblade
Upon the silent, steelbright pond.
They say the trees are stiller than the frozen water
From waiting for a shouting light, a heavenly message...

 

Carol

Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers,
In the dry grass of pastures,
And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.

The little towns upon the rocky hills
Look down as meek as children:
Because they have seen come this holy time.

God's glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight
Under the rafters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom's born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.
You shepherds, gather on the hill.
Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings
Are coming through the wintry trees;

While we unnumbered children of the centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men's golden jars.

 

  

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