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Christmas Singing Suggestions

Having trouble planning your Christmas concert? Look no further! Here are a few suggestions of works and collections we think might go down well.

Blake: Walking in the Air - Chester, $3.28

(click here to view both versions)

The famous song from Howard Blake’s magical soundtrack to the animated film of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman needs no introduction – the film has become a part of British and international Christmas culture since its release in 1982. First popularised by the boy treble Aled Jones (now, of course, a popular television presenter and baritone), it is a delightful depiction of the midnight flight of the boy and his snowman friend across the world to meet Father Christmas at the North Pole. Two arrangements are available – for SA and Piano, and for SATB and Piano. Both were produced in 2011 by the composer. 

Chilcott: On Christmas Night - OUP, $13.12
(click here to view)

A musical celebration of the Christmas story, displaying an impressive array of styles and moods – from comforting and reflective to jubilant, swinging and folksy. The collection can be performed liturgically or in concert, as a whole or as separate items. Combining tradition and invention, On Christmas Night is a versatile and enchanting addition to the choral repertory. Also well worth a look are Chilcott’s exuberant setting of The Twelve Days of Christmas for SATB, piano and percussion (OUP, $11.96) and his collections of Carols (OUP, $14.02) - click here for Volume 1 or here for Volume 2. 

Dering: Quem vidistis, pastores? - Novello, $3.28
(click here to view)

This Latin setting of a Christmas text (in which the poet, portrayed by the sopranos and altos, enquires of the shepherds what they have seen, and they recount through the tenors and basses the news of the baby Jesus and the angel-choir) is part of a wide-ranging new set of Tudor anthems published by Novello and edited by Lionel Pike. Twelve others are available separately as sheets, including Gibbons’ glorious O Clap Your Hands Together (Novello, $3.28) and Tallis’ haunting In Ieiunio et Fletu (Novello, $3.28) – and a collection of fifty, entitled simply Tudor Anthems, has recently been published (Novello, $24.67). 

Christmas at King’s College - Novello, $24.67
(click here to view)

For many people in the English-speaking world, the candlelit ceremony of the “Carols from King’s” service is an integral part of the celebration of Christmas. This collection of “carols, hymns and seasonal anthems” is edited by the current Director of Music at King’s, Stephen Cleobury, and contains a wide range of Christmas music; carols new and old appear, many in vivid new arrangements specially commissioned for King’s College Choir from composers such as John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, Judith Weir, Lennox Berkeley, Richard Rodney Bennett, Bob Chilcott and Jonathan Dove. 

Top 5 Christmas Anthologies - cost-effective collections that will take the worry out of planning your Christmas programmes for years to come!

The "Bible": Carols for Choirs 1 and 2 (OUP, $23.02)
(click here to view CC1 or here to view CC2)

The enduringly popular Carols for Choirs 1 & 2 have formed the bedrock of the majority of choral Christmas celebrations since their publication several decades ago. For most choirmasters/directors, they are indispensable cores around which Christmas is built. More recently, selections from both volumes have been combined the cost-effective 100 Carols for Choirs (OUP, $27.97), which is becoming a staple of choir libraries in its own right.

The practical choice: The Faber Essential Carol Singer (Faber, $5.77)
(click here to view)

What a great idea this is! Faber have set out to produce a book that suits the buskers, the small a cappella choirs and of course the carol singers of the world, with this collection of thirty simple, unaccompanied SATB arrangements of popular Christmas carols. The book is light, and each carol is on a single page – all in all it is a well-thought-out solution to a long-standing problem, and very reasonably priced too!

The new kid on the block: Carols for Choirs 5 (OUP, $23.02)
(click here to view)

Released last July, Carols for Choirs 5 was conceived as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first book in OUP’s supremely successful Christmas series. Featuring fresh new arrangements of beloved classics by Alan Bullard, Bob Chilcott, Will Todd and many others, it looks set to become a welcome addition to choirs’ Christmas repertoires.

The "Help, I've only got one tenor!" solution: The Oxford Book of Flexible Carols (OUP, $21.37)
(click here to view)

Running a small choir, and selecting music to perform, can be a nerve-wracking experience. If you only have a few singers on each part, an unfortunate coincidence of absences can really upset the balance of the choir. That’s why the flexible arrangements in this book are so useful; each carol is clearly labelled with the different combinations of voices that can be used to perform it, and of course all the versions are mutually compatible so last-minute changes can be made fairly painlessly! OUP also offer a year-round collection of Flexible Anthems at the same price.

"And now for something completely different": Christmas in Blue (Boosey & Hawkes, $16.48)
(click here to view)

As its title suggests, this is a somewhat more adventurous take on the Christmas classics. Described as “festive fare for a Christmas of close harmony”, it contains “a collection of familiar and not-so-familiar festive songs” arranged by, among others, former members of the King’s Singers and the Swingle Singers. In a similar vein, choirs looking to broaden their horizons a little this Christmas should also take a look at World Carols for Choirs (OUP, $23.02) and Christmas Spirituals for Choirs (OUP, $16.91).