By Saunder Choi
Still programming for the holidays? I gotchu! Here are 10 Holiday/Winter pieces that might have been out of your radar.
A la media noche – Puerto Rican aguinaldo arr. David Saldaña
A fun, rhythmic arrangement of a Puerto Rican aguinaldo with Afro-Latin rhythms and optional percussion. Its story is centered around the nativity scene and is part of Saldaña’s larger Nochebuena Choral Series: villancicos y aguinaldos hispanoamericanos. If one digs deeper into its musicology, you’ll find that this aguinaldo shares the same melody with the secular Si me dan pasteles, sung by children as they knock from door to door asking for loose change.
Voicing: SATB a cappella + opt. Perc
Completing the Circle – Dale Trumbore
A wistful and nostalgic setting of Barbara Cooker’s poem Advent, where she presents timeless holiday images like pine, berries, wine, chocolate. Dale’s setting is warm and comforting, like a familiar and welcome hug, bringing back holiday memories and completing the circle.
Voicing: SATB, SSAA, or TTBB a cappella
Where the Words Go – Michael Gilbertson
Gilbertson captures the sleeping dream the Magi had of Christ’s birth in this harmonically colorful, contemplative Advent song – a setting of poetry by Kai Hoffman-Krull. The work starts with hollow parallel 5ths, indicating a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Choral effects like thematic stretto, shifting modes, and leaping melodies create a tapestry that musically diffuses the clarity of the dream’s message, as if seeing through an ecstatic sonic haze.
Voicing: SATB div. a cappella
Who is This Boy – Fahad Siadat
A retrospective and questioning look at the nativity scene, Siadat (who wrote the text as well) asks in awe and wonder of what this child might represent. His curiosity is heard through overlapping tritones in the middle thematic material, as the piece navigates modally through different tonal centers. The openness to discovery is apparent through the bright but unsettled final chord of kingdom come. Who is This Boy is probably one of the few Christmas pieces by a Muslim-identifying composer.
Voicing: SATB a cappella
Magnifikat – Ily Matthew Maniano
A traditional Latin setting of the Virgin Mary’s canticle that features a blend of western harmony and southeast asian polyphony, featuring ostinato, rhythmic stratification, and use of vocal ornamentation that is indicative of traditional Philippine vocal chants. Maniano’s writing is very much influenced by his time as singer and resident composer for the Philippine Madrigal Singers. Requires bamboo percussion, but has been substituted for traditional Western percussion in some performances.
Voicing: SATB div. a cappella with sticks and drum
The Angels Came from Heaven High – Kenneth Tay
A work for a cappella mixed choir with divisi telling the nativity scene in a meditative strophic setting, following the form of Sara Teasdale’s poetry. Singaporean composer Tay writes music that takes care not to disturb the reverent setting of the story, lulling out of and back into lush wordless transitions.
Voicing: SATB div. a cappella
Patterns on the Snow – Mari Esabel Valverde
A lush, lyrical work for treble choir and piano setting May Sarton’s poetry, in which Valverde writes onomatopoeic passages sounding like fractals of falling snow. The text invites the listener into a duet danced between the burden of the past and the promise of the future amidst the snowy setting.
Voicing: SSAA with piano
Pastores – Carlos Cordero
A lullaby for the nativity scene accompanied by Venezuelan quatro and piano. The uptempo triple rhythm sweeps the melody into pleading outbursts cuidenlo, pastores (Take care of him, shephards). The verse and chorus flip between picked and strummed rhythms in the quatro as well as between minor and major, adding to the anticipation of the peace that Jesus brings to the world.
Voicing: SATB, SSAA, or TTBB accompanied
The Winter Solstice Song (冬至歌） – arr. Lim Han Quan
A playful and light piece for treble choir that envisions children singing about Chinese holiday traditions around the Winter Solstice. Families gather around the dinner table making the rice balls (for tang yuan), at the same time recounting events of the past year. Consuming the rice balls represents growth of another year. While making the rice balls, elders are usually heard singing this song. This piece is sung in the Fuzhou dialect.
Voicing: SSA with piano
Great Joy II: Around the World Songbook – arr. Joseph Joubert and Michael McElroy
A high-octane collection of carols arranged in the most slappin’, tasty gospel stylings of Broadway veterans Joseph Joubert and Michael McElroy. It’s like Charles Dickens Carolers and Kirk Franklin had a wondrous baby, this is the magnificent creation. It is giving Kanye Sunday Service before Sunday Service was even a thing! True to its title, y’all don’t even have to program this, especially if you don’t have culture bearers in your ensemble; it is simply a great joy to listen to and immerse oneself in.
Voicing: SATB or SAT with band and/or orchestra