Christmas Music Matters: Twelfth Night

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Welcome to the 12th Day of Christmas: The Holy Theophany and Epiphany of Christ.

Since the Christian Day, like the Jewish Day, begins at sundown, last night was Twelfth Night!

Christmas is not only on December 25. Here’s the story:

Originally, most Christians had one feast for all of the Revelations of Christ: The Expectation of Christ’s Birth, The Nativity, the visit of the Magi, the Circumcision and Naming, the Baptism, and the Encounter with Simeon and Anna in the Temple. All celebrated at once, usually around January 6.

Gradually, in a kind of Liturgical “Big Bang,” different Churches began to distribute these Feasts over several months. To make a long story short, here is how they ended up in the Roman (Western) Tradition, which includes Anglicans and many Protestant Christians, on the one hand, and in the Byzantine Greek Tradition:


  • Four Weeks of Preparation: Advent
  • The Nativity: Christmas Day: December 25
  • The Circumcision: January 1 (no longer on the Roman Calendar)
  • The Visit of the Magi: Epiphany: January 6 (now the nearest Sunday for RCs). Twelfth Night
  • The Baptism: January 13 (or nearest Sunday)
  • The Presentation in the Temple (February 2)


  • 40 Days of Preparation: The Christmas Lent (begins November 15)
  • The Nativity & the Visit of the Magi: Christmas Day: December 25
  • The Circumcision: January 1
  • The Baptism of Christ: Theophany: January 6
  • The Encounter with Simeon and Anna in the Temple (February 2)

It should be noted that Dec 25 corresponds to the Winter Solstice, the Birth of the New Light, and February 1-2 is the ancient Fire Festival of Imbolc, at which the Goddess Bridget becomes the nursemaid for the New Light born at the Solstice. It is therefore most natural that the ancient observances would shine through both these Christian calendars. The Feast of St. Bridget is also on Feb 2!

The Christmas Season of celebration, therefore, has its core at December 25-January 6 (The Twelve Days of Christmas), and continues until the formal close with the Feast on February 2.

In Rome, the church Christmas decorations, including the manger scenes, remain until February 2. Try as I might, I can’t convince Chris to leave the Tree up that long! In New Orleans, Twelfth Night (January 5/6) is the beginning of Mardi Gras Season, which runs until midnight between Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.

So…that having been said, how about some appropriate music?

First, let’s listen to the Byzantine Chant for the very important Great Feast of the Theophany:

Russian Tone (English):

Greek Tone (Arabic and English):

The Great Blessing of Water at Theophany in the Orthodox Church of Japan (Russian Tones, sung in Japanese):

Greek Tone (English-Arabic) Great Blessing of Waters in Virginia:

(I hope my point is getting across, that the Byzantine Tradition is not something distant and foreign. It is thoroughly planted all over the world, including here in the U.S.!)

Great Blessing of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers:

Now, on to the reveling!

Shakespeare (whoever he was, he was certainly associated with the Rosicrucian Movement) wrote a play for the end of the Christmas Season (Feb 2), and called it Twelfth Night for the Feast of Jan 5/6. I was lucky enough to be part of a production of the play at Yale years ago with Jim Kramer.

Here are some selections to conclude our musical journey that we have taken together this Christmas:

Twelfth Night begins with this wonderful soliloquy by Duke Orsinio:

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall;
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more;
‘T is not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou!
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute! so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Twelfth Night, Act I Scene 1

And a musical setting by John Gardiner:

The Clown has four songs in Twelfth Night:

Come Away Death:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

    Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

O Mistress Mine:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ‘T is not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

I am gone Sir:

I am gone, sir,
And anon, sir,
I ‘ll be with you again,
In a trice,
Like to the old Vice,
Your need to sustain;
Who, with dagger of lath,
In his rage and his wrath,
Cries, ah, ha! to the devil:
Like a mad lad,
Pare thy nails, dad;
Adieu, goodman devil.

The Play then ends with the Clown singing this ditty:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

     But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, &c.
‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain, &c.

     But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, &c.
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain, &c.

     But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, &c.
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain, &c.

     A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, &c.
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Twelfth Night, ending song. Act IV Scene 3

Here are all four by Garth Baxter:

And a Madrigal setting:

Thus we come to an end of our musical journey. I have shared the music I know. I invite you to share yours!

To end, we’ll take our cue from another of the Bard’s plays, The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

William Shakespeare
From The Tempest, Act 4 Scene 1

Merry Christmas!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Exeunt Omnes.

Christmas Music Matters: Carols at the Symphony: Carol Symphony

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Welcome to the 9th Day of Christmas!

Victor Hely-Hutchinson composed his Carol Symphony in 1927. He was “a British composer, born in Cape TownCape Colony (now in South Africa).”

Wikipedia conveniently gives us the outline of this fun and delightful symphony:

This selection has the symphony itself, complemented by wonderful visuals. You can learn about the visuals here.

All very British, that!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: Carols at the Symphony: Fantasia on Christmas Carols

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Greetings on the 8th Day of Christmas!

Ralph Vaughan Williams published his Fantasia on Christmas Carols in 1912. In musical parlance, a Fantasia is a loose musical form which more closely imitates improvisation.

In this meditative piece, Vaughan Williams uses “English folk carols “The truth sent from above“, “Come all you worthy gentlemen” and “On Christmas night all Christians sing” (i.e. the Sussex Carol), all folk songs collected in southern England by Vaughan Williams and his friend Cecil Sharp a few years earlier. These are interposed with brief orchestral quotations from other carols, such as The First Nowell.”

Enjoy this beautiful meditation on Christmas Carols as the joys of the Season continue!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Christmas Music Matters: Carols at the Symphony: Messe de Minuit

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Dear Readers and Listeners,

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day is the 7th Day of Christmas, in Western Liturgical terms, the Octave of Christmas. In the Christian West nowadays, it is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God among Roman Catholics, and among Anglicans, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. On the Jesuit calendar, it is the name day of the Society of Jesus.

In the Byzantine East, January 1 is the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (and His naming day), as well as the Feast of St. Basil the Great.

Today, while we are still in the 12 Days of Christmas, but a bit removed from the Feast itself, I thought we’d listen to a symphonic piece connected to Christmas.

Around 1694, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, the “maître de musique (music master) to the Jesuits in Paris, working first for their collège of Louis-le-Grand and then for the church of Saint-Louis adjacent to the order’s professed house on the rue Saint-Antoine,” wrote a Midnight Mass for Christmas, based on carols.

The task is quintessentially Jesuit: to use things that are beautiful and familiar to speak to the common people about the Sacred.

In this excellent recording, we first hear the original French Carol, and then how Charpentier uses it in his Mass:

In this more traditional recording, we have the Mass itself without the original carols:

Enjoy, and have a blessed 2016!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

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: 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