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Our Fall 2011 Concert...
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
8:00pm, TCC Turner Auditorium
- El Cielo Canta Alegria – arr. Ed Henderson
- Carols and Lullabies – Conrad Susa
- What Sweeter Music – Michael Fink
- Cradle Song
- Sing Hallelu! – Stephen Paulus
- Coventry Carol – arr. Darmon Meader
- O Be Joyful – Jeffrey Van
- Snowfall-It’s A Winter Wonderland – arr. Jacques Rizzo
- The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Jennifer Barnes
- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – Jim Taylor
- The First Noel – Dan Forrest
- Carol of the Drum – Katherine K. Davis
- The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy – arr. Don Besig
- Noche de Paz – Franz Gruber/arr. Cesar Alejandro Carrillo
Conrad Susa earned a B.F.A from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and an M.S. from The Juilliard School, where he studied with William Bergsma, Vincent Persichetti, and (so he claims) PDQ Bach. He currently serves as chair of the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The featured work on tonight’s program, Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest was commissioned by and dedicated to Philip Brunelle and the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota (eventually re-named the VocalEssence ensemble). The first performance was given on December 6, 1992, at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
The composer himself provides the following background information in the choral score:
Four or five years ago, Philip Brunelle suggested I write him a companion to Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. . . . [A] friend, Gary Holt [Director of the San Diego Men’s Chorus], showed me a collection of traditional Spanish carols he had sung as a boy in Arizona. Excited, I juggled them around to form a narrative. I noted their many connections with Renaissance music along with their homey, artful simplicity. Finally, the overriding image of a Southwestern piñata party for the new baby led me to add guitar and marimba to Britten’s harp and to compose connective music and totally re-conceive the carols.
While all of the texts are in Spanish, the historical, regional, and dialectal variations are numerous: Castilian, Biscayan, Catalonian, Andalusian, Mexican, and Puerto Rican. Variety is also common in performing these languages: conductors often opt for presenting some of the carols (or portions thereof) in English, as is the case this evening. The texts provided below are English translations by Conrad Susa and Paul Guttry.
I. ¡Oh, mi Belén! (Oh, My Bethlehem!)
This quiet lullaby opens with alto and eventually tenor soli, perhaps representing the voices of Mary and Joseph as they travel on their way toward Bethlehem. But the lyric also holds the possibility that we all are the pilgrims being guided by the holy light. Especially the surprising B major chord at the end of the movement suggests that the pilgrimage is far from complete, but rather is just beginning.
Oh, my Bethlehem! Your beloved hour has arrived! The light you shine so unceasingly Is like a beacon that guides us On our way, night and day. Oh, my Bethlehem!
II. El Desembre Congelat (In Frozen December) (sung in English)
A tune now found in many church hymnals with the title words “Cold December Flies Away,” this is a lively Catalán carol juxtaposing winter’s cold with springtime fecundity and darkness with light. Its three verses may be an implicit anticipation of the soon-to-be three members of the new Holy Family.
In frozen December, our confusion vanishes. April is crowned with flowers, and all the world adores. For in this garden, love bears a divine flower. It’s a beautiful rose, fruitful and fragrant. The first Father made the dark night, So that sleep might calm our troubled eyes. But on this midnight, a sun shines without end. With its beautiful light, heaven itself falls in love. May blooms here, though far away. A lily white and gentle, of rarest fragrance Which all the world will enjoy forever. All His Sweetness! The fragrance!—And our great good fortune!
III. Alegría (Joy) (sung in Puerto Rican)
Extended passages in a minor key (C# minor) open this carol, featuring two baritone soloists. After the minor-key introduction--the first prominent use of a minor key in the Susa collection--the joyful refrain is made all the more effective when it enters in bright A and E major chords, their exuberance reinforced by the fact that these keys are highly idiomatic for the guitar.
Walking slowly unto Bethlehem, Holy Mary and her husband, Traveling with them, though in secret, Is the Savior of all nations. Refrain: Joy and pleasure! For the Virgin passes by us with her husband to Bethlehem. When to Bethlehem they had travelled, They were searching for a haven. All the innkeepers refused them, Dressed so poor and heavy laden. (Refrain) As they see Mary and Joseph, All the songbirds of the forest Serenade them with their singing; Precious gifts come from the poorest. (Refrain)
IV. A la Nanita Nana (sung in Spanish and English)
“the title phrase, a cooing sound from mother to baby, has no translatable meaning.”)
This gentle lullaby is a counterpart to “Bulalalow” in the Britten carols that helped inspire Susa.
A la nanita nana, nanita ea, Blessed be my child Jesus! Now you must sleep! Crystal fountain resounding clearly and brightly, Nightingale in the forest, weeping so sweetly, Hush! Now the child is sleeping, laid in a cradle. A la nanita nana, nanita ea bandito sea, nanita ea.
V. Las Posadas (The Inns) (sung in Spanish)
The Posada is an important custom in Spanish-speaking countries in which during the period December 16-24 candlelight processions travel from house to house, the visitors singing the parts of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter and the householders singing the parts of the innkeeper, at first with the “no vacancy” message but eventually with the welcome.
Susa’s setting of this carol mainly for male voices emphasizes the role and viewpoint of Joseph (as well, perhaps, as of the assumed-male innkeepers), as the earthly father of the newborn infant—who paradoxically is also Joseph’s “Father, . . . God, . . . and Savior.”
Shall I have them open the stable before you? Shall I bring the shepherds to praise and adore you? Hush, hush now, my darling; see the boy is almost sleeping. My beloved Father, my God and my Savior, Happily you sleep through the harshness of winter. Hush, hush now, my darling; see the boy is almost sleeping.
VI. Campana sobre Campana (Bell after Bell) (sung in English)
The voices in this exuberant piece clearly imitate bells ringing out the news of the Birth. Even the earliest of Christmas legends depicted the shepherds as bringing their own humble gifts to the Christ Child, paralleling the wealthier gifts of the Magi. In this charming carol the gifts are cheese, wine, and butter.
Bell after bell is heard, gathering all who are able! Come to the window and hear the word, you’ll see a child in a cradle. Refrain: Ding, dong! Oh, ring the bells of Bethlehem, What are the angels singing, what news do they bring? Now that all your flock is gathered, tell me shepherd, what’s the matter? We shall carry to the manger cheese and wine and sweetest butter. (Refrain) Stars in the heavens are shining, shepherd, where will you go tonight? Run, quickly run to the baby. Watch him slumber so sweetly. (Refrain)
VII. En Belén Tocan A Fuego (There’s a Fire in Bethlehem)
There’s a fire in Bethlehem, In the stable see the flames! For they say that born of a Virgin From heaven to earth He came! Refrain: Fish in the river are glistening and dancing, Dancing and leaping to celebrate his birthday. In Bethlehem’s humble stable There’s a lovely white carnation, It will grow into a purple Lily. Greet the Savior of the nations! (Refrain) Virgin Mary, by the river Hangs the swaddling clothes of Jesus, All the birds around her are singing And the river flows rejoicing! (Refrain)
VIII. El Noi de la Mare (The Child of the Mother) (sung in English)
This tender carol is the most homophonic (chord-like) in the collection. The humble images convey an arresting irony: the poor gifts to a poor Christ Child are still those he “richly deserves.”
What shall we give to the Child of the Mother? What can we bring that will give him delight? Bring to him raisins in kingly abundance, Bring him the off’rings he richly deserves.
The title word is probably a variant of chiquero, meaning “stable,” manger,” or “sty,” thus, Ay del chiquirriquitín probably means “Oh, in the manger!”)
Much of the charm of this carol lies in the contrast between the lively, almost sound-effect-like “chiquirriquitín” refrains and the much more stately, declamatory, homophonic verses.
Refrain: In the manger! He is laid in a manger bed. Follow us to the manger. Find them all through the doorway, There in the stable, Mary Joseph, and Jesus, their holy baby. Ox and mule are His guardians sleeping beside Him, In the poorest of stables humbly abiding.
X. El Rorro.
El Rorro means “the baby,” but is not used in the text of the song. A la rurru is another nonsense sound to lull the baby to sleep.)
Offering further information about the transition from the preceding carol into El Rorro, Conrad Susa adds, “In an often overlooked detail in the Christmas story, the New Baby bawls loudly as the shepherds leave in the final bars of Chiquirriquitín. (You may hear him in your mind.) His parents now must dandle and soothe him to sleep. Tired themselves, they drift off as the angels hover about them in protective adoration.”
Like previous movements VII and VIII, this lullaby charmingly surprises with its imagery.
A La rurru, my precious baby, please go to sleep now, my tiny Jesus. The buzzing bee and elephants that lumber; be silent now, do not disturb His slumber. Come, oh night of blessing, night of great rejoicing. We gather to bless the sweet and holy Virgin. Choirs in heaven, raise your voices now to praise Him, Sing for joy the blessings that this night has given!
In a beautifully fitting ending not only to this carol but to the entire collection, the chorus sings “Oo,” “ah!,” and finally a dying-away hum, growing progressively quieter and moving through interpretive indications in the score such as “calmly flowing,” “full of wonder and love,” and “spaciously, mysteriously.” Some listeners may think this almost inaudible, minor-key ending to be anticlimactic. However, Susa’s decision to finish in near-silence is deliberate. His musical and theological understanding of such a profound mystery like the Incarnation clarifies the pursuit for hope and wonder within our own lives.
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