Christmas Music Matters: Some Wonderful Christmas Albums

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Dear Friends,

On this New Year’s eve, there are probably post-Christmas sales going on, and so I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Christmas Albums! Perhaps you’ll like one or more of them!

Of course, I love all of the Wyndham Hilly type of New Age Christmas Albums, Celtic Christmas series, and the like. I have a whole CD rack of them. What I am giving here is albums with something very special in them.

From Canyon Records

One pre-Christmas favorite is Canyon Records’ Our Lady of the Roses, a musical version of the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, produced by my High School Classmate and best friend, Robert Doyle:

I highly recommend the album, which is beautiful, poignant, moving, and has a refreshing take on the whole story! They have now also staged a new version as an Opera in the Valley of the Sun! Congratulations Robert and Canyon!

Also from Canyon, one of my all-time favorites is R. Carlos Nakai’s and William Eaton’s Christmas album, Winter Dreams. This is a masterpiece! It’s a must have! Here’s a sample:

Joan Baez

Joan Baez created a Christmas Album with Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach), Noël, in 1966. Here is Wikipedia’s completely accurate summary:

Working with arranger-conductor Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach), Baez, for the first time, recorded an album outside the standard guitar-based folk format. She would go on to work with Schickele on her next two albums, both of which also featured classical orchestration.

Unlike holiday albums by many other popular artists, Baez included mostly traditional material, avoiding more lighthearted or commercial fare in favor of a somber, understated tone. She included both familiar (“The Little Drummer Boy”) and more obscure (“Down in Yon Forest”) material. The album also contains several brief instrumental selections arranged by Schickele.

Here are two tidbits to interest you:

“I Wonder as I Wander”:

…and a truly Mystical, “Down in Yon Forest”:

Loreena McKennitt

One of my all-time favorite musicians is Loreena McKennitt, from Canada. She has created to Enchanting Christmas albums:

  • To Drive the Cold Winter Away
  • A Midwinter’s Night Dream

McKennitt imparts mystery and magic to every piece she renders. Here’s some of the marvels you’ll encounter:

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” with Eastern hints:

“Noël Nouvelet” with a North African flavor:

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews has recorded many Christmas Albums, but her first, A Christmas Treasure (1968) is not only her finest, but it is an amazing partnership with André Previn which features many carols unknown to most Americans. The source material came mainly from British Hymnals. If you are a fan of the full, lush orchestrations of late 1960s movie music, as I am, this is a rare treat for Christmas!

Here’s a beautiful “Angels From the Realm of Glory”:

“The Bells of Christmas” with the unmistakable Previn orchestration:

“The Irish Carol”:

Bruce Cockburn

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (pronounced “Co-burn”), created his Christmas album in 1993 with international Christmas music, including, as we have already seen, the Huron Carol.

Here is “Ríu Riu Chíu,” a 16th Century Spanish villancico:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

“[With a cry of] Ríu, ríu, chíu, the kingfisher, God kept the wolf from our Lamb [Mary, spared of the original sin at birth].”

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder
Mas Dios Poderoso la supo defender
Quíso la hacer que no pudiese pecar
Ni aun original esta virgen no tuviera.

“The raging wolf sought to bite her, but God Almighty knew to defend her; He chose to make her so that she could not sin; no original sin was found in that virgin.”

Éste que es nacido es el Gran Monarca
Cristo Patriarca de carne vestido
Ha nos redimido con se hacer chiquito
Aunque era infinito finito se hiciera.

“This one that is born is the Great King, Christ the Patriarch clothed in flesh. He redeemed us when He made himself small, though He was Infinite He would make himself finite.”

Yo vi mil Garzones que andavan cantando
Por aqui volando haciendo mil sones
Diciendo a gascones Gloria sea en el Cielo
Y paz en el suelo pues Jesús nasciera.

“I saw a thousand boys (angels) go singing, here making a thousand voices while flying, telling the shepherds of glory in the heavens, and peace to the world since Jesus has been born”

Here is his French version of the carol we know of as “Angels we have Heard on High.” It was composed in  Languedoc, my favorite magical region of France, and has been translated into many languages. I presume the original was in Occitan, the language of Languedoc.

Les anges dans nos campagnes
Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux,
Et l’écho de nos montagnes
Redit ce chant mélodieux

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Bergers, pour qui cette fête ?
Quel est l’objet de tous ces chants ?
Quel vainqueur, quelle conquête
Mérite ces cris triomphants :

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Ils annoncent la naissance
Du libérateur d’Israël
Et pleins de reconnaissance
Chantent en ce jour solennel

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Cherchons tous l’heureux village
Qui l’a vu naître sous ses toits
Offrons-lui le tendre hommage
Et de nos cœurs et de nos voix

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Bergers, quittez vos retraites,
Unissez-vous à leurs concerts,
Et que vos tendres musettes
Fassent retentir les airs

Gloria in excelsis Deo (Bis)

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strain


Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be?
Which inspire your heavenly songs?


Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.


See Him in a manger laid,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
With us sing our Savior’s birth.


The Christmas Revels

Any recording from The Christmas Revels is a gem! These local productions across the Nation are a seasonal treat, and they have published many albums. You can find them here. I have enjoyed these since I first discovered them in High School.

Here just a couple of examples:

You can find many, many of these on YouTube!

Orthodox Hymns of Christmas

St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood NY, a seminary of the Orthodox Church in America publishes wonderful recordings of Byzantine Liturgical Music. Their Album for Christmas is marvelous!

Here is a selection from the Matins Canon for Christmas from this recording. Awesome!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: A Gift from Ukraine

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Today, let’s listen to something a bit light and fluffy!

A Ukrainian pre-Christian folk carol for New Years (which used to be in the Spring), gave birth to today’s carol. Here is the ancient Ukrainian original:

Ukrainian lyrics to Shchedryk Transliteration (BGN/PCGN) English translation
Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка,
стала собi щебетати,
господаря викликати:
“Вийди, вийди, господарю,
подивися на кошару,
там овечки покотились,
а ягнички народились.
В тебе товар весь хороший,
будеш мати мiрку грошей,
В тебе товар весь хороший,
будеш мати мiрку грошей,
хоч не грошей, то полова:
в тебе жiнка чорноброва.”
Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка.
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka,
stala sobi shchebetaty,
hospodarya vyklykaty:
“Vyydy, vyydy, hospodaryu,
podyvysya na kosharu,
tam ovechky pokotylys’,
a yahnychky narodylys’.
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku hroshey,
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku hroshey,
khoch ne hroshey, to polova:
v tebe zhinka chornobrova.”
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka.
Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka [New Year’s carol];
A little swallow flew [into the household]
and started to twitter,
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master [of the household],
look at the sheep pen,
there the ewes are nestling
and the lambkin have been born
Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money, [by selling them]if not money, then chaff: [from all the grain you will harvest]
you have a dark-eyebrowed [beautiful] wife.”
Shchedryk, shchedryk, a shchedrivka,
A little swallow flew.

In 1904, Ukrainian Composer  Mykola Leontovych arranged the music, and in the 1930s, Peter Wilhousky created the Christmas version of the lyrics, since the melody and arrangement reminded him of shimmering bells. Here is their version in a couple of covers:

Naturally, a tune as catchy as this is going to get parody versions, and here is my favorite, a Lovecraftian take that is hilarious!

Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars are now right.
Eons have passed: now then at last
Prison walls break, Old Ones awake!
They will return: mankind will learn
New kinds of fear when they are here.
They will reclaim all in their name;
Hopes turn to black when they come back.
Ignorant fools, mankind now rules
Where they ruled then: it’s theirs again

Stars brightly burning, boiling and churning
Bode a returning season of doom

Scary scary scary scary solstice
Very very very scary solstice

Up from the sea, from underground
Down from the sky, they’re all around
They will return: mankind will learn
New kinds of fear when they are here

Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars are now right.
Eons have passed: now then at last
Prison walls break, Old Ones awake!
Madness will reign, terror and pain
Woes without end where they extend.
Ignorant fools, mankind now rules
Where they ruled then: it’s theirs again

Stars brightly burning, boiling and churning
Bode a returning season of doom

Scary scary scary scary solstice
Very very very scary solstice

Up from the sea, from underground
Down from the sky, they’re all around.


(Look to the sky, way up on high
There in the night stars now are right)

They will return.


Parody aside, here is a rocking version for your ongoing Christmas joy!

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: The Huron Carol

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Today, I’d like to listen to a Christmas song that has a long history in Canada.

In or about 1642, St. Jean de Brébeuf, S.J. wrote a Christmas Hymn in the Wyandot language (Huron) at the Mission station at  Sainte-Marie. The French Jesuits worked among the First Nations on what is today both sides of the Canadian/US border. He used a French folk carol, Une Jeune Pucelle (1557) for the melody:

Une jeune pucelle de noble coeur priant en sa chambrette
Son createur, l’ange du ciel, descendit sur la terre
Lui conta le mystere de notre salvateur,
ce Dieu si redoutable est homme comme toi,
est homme comme toi.
Entend ma voix fidelle, pasteur, suis moi.
Viens témoigner ton zèle au divin Roi;
Ce Dieu si grand est né dans une étable,
Ce Dieu si redoutable est homme comme toi.
est homme comme toi.

A young maiden of noble heart was praying in her little chamber
Her creator, the heavenly angel descended to earth
Recounting to heer the mystery of our Salvation,
The God so redoubtable is a man like you,
A man like you.

Listen to my faithful voice, Shepherd, follow me.
Come and testify to your zeal to the Divine King;
God so Great is born in a stable,
God so redoubtable is a man like you.
A man like you.

De Brébeuf adapted the melody, and wrote lyrics to explain the circumstances of Christ’s birth in imagery he believed would be culturally adapted for the Native peoples. Here is the carol in its original Wyandot version:

Ehstehn yayau deh tsaun we yisus ahattonnia
O na wateh wado:kwi nonnwa ‘ndasqua entai
ehnau sherskwa trivota nonnwa ‘ndi yaun rashata
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Ayoki onki hm-ashe eran yayeh raunnaun
yauntaun kanntatya hm-deh ‘ndyaun sehnsatoa ronnyaun
Waria hnawakweh tond Yosehf sataunn haronnyaun
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Asheh kaunnta horraskwa deh ha tirri gwames
Tishyaun ayau ha’ndeh ta aun hwa ashya a ha trreh
aundata:kwa Tishyaun yayaun yaun n-dehta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Dau yishyeh sta atyaun errdautau ‘ndi Yisus
avwa tateh dn-deh Tishyaun stanshi teya wennyau
aha yaunna torrehntehn yataun katsyaun skehnn
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.

Eyeh kwata tehnaunnte aheh kwashyehn ayehn
kiyeh kwanaun aukwayaun dehtsaun we ‘ndeh adeh
tarrya diskwann aunkwe yishyehr eya ke naun sta
Iesus Ahattonnia, Ahattonnia, Iesus Ahattonnia.
Have courage, you who are human beings: Jesus, he is born
The okie spirit who enslaved us has fled
Don’t listen to him for he corrupts the spirits of our thoughts
Jesus, he is born

The okie spirits who live in the sky are coming with a message
They’re coming to say, “Rejoice!
Mary has given birth. Rejoice!”
Jesus, he is born

Three men of great authority have left for the place of his birth
Tiscient, the star appearing over the horizon leads them there
That star will walk first on the bath to guide them
Jesus, he is born

The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born
Having found the place it said,
“Come this way”
Jesus, he is born

As they entered and saw Jesus they praised his name
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head
with the oil of the sunflower
Jesus, he is born

They say, “Let us place his name in a position of honour
Let us act reverently towards him for he comes to show us mercy
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family
Jesus, he is born

Here is Bruce Cockburn’s version sung in Wyandot:

There is English version which is not a translation of the original, but rather a 20th century reworking of the material. It’s not great textually, since it mixes Algonquin terminology with Huron, and could be seen to be patronizing, but some First Nations still use it. Here is a rather elaborate version by the Canadian Tenors:

Here’s another, more serene version by our own, San Francisco, Chanticleer:

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Words: Jean de Brebeuf, ca. 1643; redone by Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926
Music: French Canadian melody (tune name: Jesous Ahatonhia)

Finally, here’s a nice, meditative instrumental of the original melody, from one of my favorites, Loreena McKennitt:

Enjoy the meditations of the Season!

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: The Rose

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Today, December 28, we’ll have something of a departure. “The Rose,” by Bette Midler, is not usually thought of as a Christmas song. However, I believe it fits the bill.

It is clearly a song of the Winter, and about Love, which is born at this time, and none too soon, in our Darkest Hour. Then too, It sings of the Multifoliate Rose, the symbol of our unfolding soul personalities, and the sign of Sacred Mysteries, “sub rosa.” Dat Rosa Mel Apibus Robert Fludd teaches us: The Rose gives Honey to the Bees.

The song was written by Amanda McBroom in 1977 or 1978, and made famous by Bette Midler in her 1979 film The Rose, loosely based on the life of Janice Joplin.

I therefor share with you a piece that has been very important in my life: Bette Midler’s  rendition of “The Rose.”


Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.

Some say love, it is a hunger
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower
and you its only seed.

It’s the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance,
It’s the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken,
who cannot seem to give
and the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong.

Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun’s love
in the spring
becomes the rose.

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: Good King Wenceslas

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Now that we have both St. Stephen’s Days (Western: Dec 26 and Eastern Dec 27) with us, it’s time to turn to that wonderful carol, Good King Wenceslas!

As we know the carol is set on the Feast of St. Stephen, and the King’s Charity is manifested miraculously. We are bidden to imitate him in philanthropia: active love of our sisters and brothers.

We’ll get to the text in a minute. Both the melody and the poem have a fascinating history, fit for a big mug of egg nog!

John Mason Neale, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Belmore, wrote the lyrics in 1853. It is based on the mediaeval legends of the Duke St. Wenceslas (Václav) of Bohemia (907–935 or 929). There is some evidence that Neale translated an older text by Czech writer Václav Alois Svoboda.

Duke Wenceslas

Wenceslas was indeed a man to be emulated. His life and martyrdom formed one of the bases, on the Continent and in Britain, of the type of the rex justus, the just King. A 12th century preacher said of him:

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Supportive of the poor, he was also even-handed to his Catholic and Orthodox subjects alike.

The Melody

The melody chosen for the Neale text was from a 13th Century Spring Carole first publish in Finland, “Tempus adest floridum” (The Time is here for Flowering). The lyrics of the original have nothing to do with the Wenceslas legend. Rather, they begin in a similar way to “Tempus adest floridum”of the Carmina Burana 1582, however, the Carmina text becomes much more earthy.

Neale’s “Good King Wenceslas” (1853) “Tempus adest floridum” (Piae Cantiones, PC 74) English translation of PC 74 by Percy Dearmer(1867–1936) “Tempus adest floridum” (Carmina Burana, CB 142) English translation of CB 142 by John Addington Symonds (1884)
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.
Tempus adest floridum, surgunt namque flores
Vernales in omnibus, imitantur mores
Hoc quod frigus laeserat, reparant calores
Cernimus hoc fieri, per multos labores.
Spring has now unwrapped the flowers, day is fast reviving,
Life in all her growing powers towards the light is striving:
Gone the iron touch of cold, winter time and frost time,
Seedlings, working through the mould, now make up for lost time.
Tempus adest floridum, surgunt namque flores
vernales mox; in omnibus immutantur mores.
Hoc, quod frigus laeserat, reparant calores;
Cernimus hoc fieri per multos colores.
Now comes the time of flowers, and the blossoms appear;
now in all things comes the transformation of Spring.
What the cold harmed, the warmth repairs,
as we see by all these colors.
“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
Sunt prata plena floribus, iucunda aspectu
Ubi iuvat cernere, herbas cum delectu
Gramina et plantae hyeme quiescunt
Vernali in tempore virent et accrescunt.
Herb and plant that, winter long, slumbered at their leisure,
Now bestirring, green and strong, find in growth their pleasure;
All the world with beauty fills, gold the green enhancing,
Flowers make glee among the hills, set the meadows dancing
Stant prata plena floribus, in quibus nos ludamus!
Virgines cum clericis simul procedamus,
Per amorem Veneris ludum faciamus,
ceteris virginibus ut hoc referamus!
The fields in which we play are full of flowers.
Maidens and clerks, let us go out together,
let us play for the love of Venus,
that we may teach the other maidens.
“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither. ”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.
Haec vobis pulchre monstrant Deum creatorem
Quem quoque nos credimus omnium factorem
O tempus ergo hilare, quo laetari libet
Renovato nam mundo, nos novari decet.
Through each wonder of fair days God Himself expresses;
Beauty follows all His ways, as the world He blesses:
So, as He renews the earth, Artist without rival,
In His grace of glad new birth we must seek revival.
«O dilecta domina, cur sic alienaris?
An nescis, o carissima, quod sic adamaris?
Si tu esses Helena, vellem esse Paris!
Tamen potest fieri noster amor talis.»
«O my chosen one, why dost thou shun me?
Dost thou not know, dearest, how much thou art loved?
If thou wert Helen, I would be Paris.
So great is our love that it can be so.»
“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”
Terra ornatur floribus et multo decore
Nos honestis moribus et vero amore
Gaudeamus igitur tempore iucundo
Laudemusque Dominum pectoris ex fundo.
Earth puts on her dress of glee; flowers and grasses hide her;
We go forth in charity—brothers all beside her;
For, as man this glory sees in th’awakening season,
Reason learns the heart’s decrees, hearts are led by reason
In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Here’s the original 13th Century Spring Carol. It’s actual mystical:

So then Neale and Belmore lifted the tune (“The tune has also been used for the Christmas hymn Mary Gently Laid Her Child, by Joseph S. Cook (1859—1933)) and “Good King Wenceslas” was born: “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing,” a lesson very much needed today!

And I just couldn’t not present you with these handsome Irish Lads having a go at the morality tale! The Irish Rovers seem to be able to interject the energy of the Spring Carol back into the carol, while cavorting in a fashion those of us of Irish heritage know all too well:

Here’s a bit more meditative version:

Meditate on the lesson of the Good King, and go out and help a sister or brother this season!

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant



Christmas Music Matters: In the Bleak Midwinter

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Today, the Day after Christmas, is significant in many ways.

In Western Christianity, it is the second day of Christmas, and the Feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. In countries of British culture, it is Boxing Day, the day for gifts.

In Eastern, Byzantine Greek, Christianity, it is the Synaxis (Commemoration) of the Theotokos, as well as the post-feast of Christmas. Because of the development of the custom of Synaxes, St. Stephen’s Feast is moved one day to December 27.

I thought today it would be pleasant to focus on a less well-known carol, and a beautiful one.

Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was a poet of the English Romantic Period in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Around 1872, she published “In the Bleak Midwinter,” in Scribner’s Monthly

The poem describes the physical circumstances of the birth at Bethlehem, and is based on comparison and contrasts in the physical and spiritual circumstances. Its theology is sophisticated and significant, mirroring the concept of the Platitera, the Theotokos who bears within herself that which all reality cannot contain.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

The poem, whose meter is irregular, was first set as a congregational hymn by Gustav Holst in 1906, with a melody, “Cranham,” which enables a congregation to sing this hymn:

Another, musically more complex setting for choirs was written in 1909 by  Harold Edwin Darke:

Benjamin Britten included a decidedly modern and atmospheric setting in his choral composition, A Boy was Born:

Here is the whole Britten A Boy was Born, a remarkable work for chorus:

“In the Bleak Midwinter” was featured in the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” sung by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins:

And finally, a very meditative rendition of the Holst setting by San Francisco’s own Chanticleer, from their album Sing We Christmas:

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: Troparia: Christ is Born!

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Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Khristos Razhdayetsya! Slavite Yego!

O Christós genniétai! Doxásei ton

Walad Al Massihu! Al Maj dulah!

Now that Christmas is here for those of us on the New Calendar, I wanted to share the theme prayers in chant from the Byzantine and Roman Christian Traditions with you.

First, the Byzantine Tradition:

In the Byzantine Christian Tradition shared by Byzantine Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, the “theme chants” of the day are the Troparion (Tropar) and the Kontakion (Kondak). These carry the essential meaning of the Feast.

I hope that readers/listeners will note that many of these choirs are ordinary local choirs in the U.S. The Byzantine Christian Tradition is flourishing among Americans!

The Pre-Christmas Troparion:

Russian tone 3 (English):

Greek tone 3 (English):

“O House of Ephrata” (Valaam Chant in English):

The Troparion of the Nativity:

In Russian tone 4 (English):

In Arabic tone 4 (Remember, Arabs were Christians 600+ years before Islam, and many still are!):

The Kontakion of the Nativity:

Greek tone 3 (English):

Russian tone 3 (English):

Tropar and Kondak of the Nativity in Russian:

Second, the Roman / Western Tradition:

The “theme prayers” in the Roman Liturgy are among these:

Antiphon for the Magnificat in the Vespers of the Nativity:

Hodie Christus natus est
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt Angeli,
laetantur Archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluja.

Today is Christ born;
today the Savior has appeared;
today the Angels sing,
the Archangels rejoice;
today the righteous rejoice, saying:
Glory to God in the highest.  Alleluia!

This verse is so well known that many composers have written settings for it. Just search YouTube for some. Here are a couple (we already heard Vaughan-William’s version a few days ago):





The list goes on! Enjoy!

The Introit of the Third Mass of Christmas:

Puer natus est nobis et filius datus est nobis: cuius imperium super humerium eius:
et vocabitur nomen eius magni consilii Angelus.
Cantate Domino canticum novum quia mirabilia fecit.

A child is born to us and a Son is given to us:
Whose government is upon His shoulder:
and His Name shall be called, the Angel of Great Counsel
Sing ye to the Lord a new song for he has done wonderful things.

Handel’s version in The Messiah:

I think there is plenty to meditate on in all these magnificent selections!

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant