This song is one I only associate with Advent because of Sufjan Stevens’ amazing Christmas Collection, but this arrangement is something special. The lyrics belong to Robert Robinson, English Baptist Preacher, written in 1757. The last verse is one that stays with me:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
I was particularly taken with this one, Prolis Eterne Genitor.
The text is something we would recognize in spirit, but the latinate is taken from local scripts from Hungary, in a period from which few documents survive, mostly relating to the Turkish incursion in the 16th century. The Turks, being devout Muslims, burned much of the existing Catholic history, its music included, to the ground.
I can’t imagine what Advent would have been like for the surviving Hungarians during those 150 years, when their faith earned them second class status.
I do find in this music a sense of peace and of patience. So take a moment from your busy day, pause and wait, and let the spirit of the season take hold.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of the songs I think about for the first Sunday of Advent. Advent’s first week is about the Wait. One of the phrases from my youth’s faith tradition that I love is “we wait in joyful hope”. This arrangement, by the inimitable Punch Brothers, brings a seasonal joy to this otherwise minor-keyed carol.
O Come, O Come is the 19th century translation of the 8th or 12th century chant, and its original chant tones have influenced Kodály and Respighi alike. The lyrics of the first verse are quite innocuous, but by the middle, it’s almost a bit apocalyptic? Anyhow, it’s waiting in joyful hope, and that state, more than any other we’re exhorted to feel during the faith year, is what infects this Advent season.
This is one of my favorite recent discoveries, Michael Head’s arrangement of The Little Road to Bethlehem. Though this version of his arrangement is piano and solo voice, there is a phenomenal choir arrangement to go with it.
The lullaby song is one of Advent’s strongest suits, and something that you don’t often get with festival church music generally speaking. Thankfully there is plenty of contemplative to balance out the bombast. This is just one beautiful example.
Though Advent does not begin until Sunday, the season is upon us again. This carol has old roots, dating back to the 16th century. Praetorius’ harmonies date from 1609 and remain often unchanged four hundred years later, though there are those who have built upon it. Brahms’ Christmas works often start with the same structures.
This is one of my favorite arrangements of any simple church piece, for its harmonies are close and tight, its dissonances resolved, and those fabulous hemiola which just move the piece off its standard stock 4/4 pacing. The lilt jars the listener just slightly, and it’s a lovely effect.
Jimmy Fallon, Mariah Carey & The Roots: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (w/ Classroom Instruments) (by latenight)
I had no particular use for this song until it was so pivotal in “Love Actually.” And now the Jimmy Fallon version is making me really happy.
This gave me my first real smile of a particularly terrible day.
The best music for Christmas is the music that turns a bad day around.
Thank you, Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, Mariah Carey, and the kids in the awesome hats.
If you don’t own Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas Album, it might just be my favorite. Unique - and very American - instrumentation, and very heartfelt singing. There’s nothing inauthentic about this music, as there often is with popular takes on sacred originals.
Today marks the first week of Advent, a week spent on Waiting. Next week, we Prepare, the following week, we Rejoice, and the final week we Hope. But this week is about Waiting.
This is not I tend to associate with Advent season, but seems to be a perfect fit.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it Prone to leave the God I love Here’s my heart, O take and seal it Seal it for Thy courts above
When I was smaller, my mom bought a Christmas music boxset somewhere, probably Costco. It became our Christmas music Holy Grail. We still trot it out each yeah, though the CDs are dying. It has a little bit of everything: Bing and Frank dueting, half of Handel’s Messiah, a rockin’ 90s “Feliz Navidad,” the Beach Boys’ “We Three Kings,” a dash of holiday novelty songs, and this: the King Singers doing “Deck the Hall.” If you know the King Singers, you know them as incredibly talented performers of old English Madrigals. There were some eye rolls the first time we heard this—it sounds like an a capella madrigal group doing Christmas. And the thing that’s so wonderful about this song is that for the first half of it, that’s what it is. But then they change it up, in a way that makes me laugh every time I hear it. I hope it makes you laugh, too!
Everytime I hear this song in my memory, I am singing it. It is in St. Francis Church in Sacramento, California, and every cubic inch of the space is full of song. There’s a holiday concert there every year that my family would attend in the week before Christmas, and our good friend - he was always Uncle Jack - was singing in the choir.
This was the finale of the concert, and the audience was invited to sing along with something complementary. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
This may just be my favourite version of O Holy Night ever, unfortunately I’ve now lost my mp3 of it (without any spoken word over the top) as it was on my stolen laptop. Thank goodness for youtube.