11 Christmas pieces guaranteed to bring something special to your festive programme
1. Deck the Hall – Mark Armstrong
On hearing the first handful of notes in the traditional carol ‘Deck the Hall’ there is no mistaking the time of year! Mark Armstrong’s amazing arrangement is brimming with joviality and humour. The piece is expertly crafted, its vocal lines being set within very comfortable ranges, making it a piece equally suited to experienced and beginner ensembles.
2. O Holy Night – Eoin Conway
Eoin Conway’s arrangement of this famous work is nothing short of spectacular. The piece begins with a feeling of tranquility, evoking the atmosphere of Christmas nights, both past and present. The music intensifies, the harmony becoming ever more rich, creating new sonic worlds and rousing strong emotional reactions. The effect of a soprano solo, soaring above the choir at key moments, is breath-taking. A must-have for all collegiate and experienced choirs.
3. A Nywe Werk – Seán Doherty
Described as ‘stupendous’ by The Times, Seán Doherty’s ‘A Nywe Werk’ is a choral juggernaut! Medieval text and musical idioms are drawn into the 21st century and crafted in such a way to provide a piece of boundless energy and excitement. A showcase work to crown off any Christmas performance!
4. In the Bleak Midwinter – Alex Ryan
It feels like words are not enough to describe the beauty of this piece. Picture a candlelit concert and that one piece that makes everyone hold their breath to hear each and every moment. Evocative, luscious, perfectly paced with a miraculous climax. Stunning!
5. Carol of the Field-Mice – Eoghan Desmond
This piece just radiates Christmas spirit! Folk-like tunes, beautiful lyrics, unison sections for the male voices to be heartily sung, a dazzling organ part, luscious harmonies entwined amidst superb choral writing and a finale sure to warm the heart of one and all – what more could one want!
6. The Huron Carol – Bernard Sexton
The backstory, text and tune of ‘The Huron Carol’ have made it a firm favourite amongst choirs worldwide. This new arrangement by Bernard Sexton hits all the right notes. The piano part is atmospheric and while independent, cleverly guides the singers throughout. The choral writing simply but beautifully enhances the melody, all the while keeping the school or amateur singer in mind. Superb!
7. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – Ephrem Feeley
Available in a wide variety of voicings, ranging from unison to SAB, Ephrem Feeley has the wonderful ability of composing accessible music with a great deal of sophistication. This famous Robert Frost poem is given careful consideration in the setting with word-painting communicated in both the vocal and the piano parts. The plodding of the horse through the snow and the ringing of its harness bells are subtly detailed in the piano with the musings of the winter wanderer communicated through intimate and expressive vocal lines. Highly atmospheric winter music!
8. Hodie! – Laura Sheils
Full of vitality and cheer and such fun to sing, Laura Sheils gives us a fantastic new setting of ‘Hodie Christus Natus est’ (Today Christ is Born). Sections of warm harmonic richness are juxtaposed with playful dance-like moments. Sheils uses the qualities of the text itself to great effect, the colour of the words adding to the drive and momentum of the piece, before a surprise drop in the dynamic level towards the end signals a flurry of ‘Alleluias’ which build to a grand finale.
9. Carúl na nDéise – Greg Scanlon
Such is the quality of this piece it could equally suit a small church choir right through to a massed choral ensemble. The structure sees the choir repeat its music verse by verse through a mixture of text and hums with two soloists adding extra colour to an already beautiful harmonic framework. The piano part ripples alongside the singers providing lovely touches of modality before all the forces come together for a special coda section to cap off the piece.
10. Blessed be that Maid Marie – Seán Doherty
Winner of the Choir & Organ International Composition Competition, Seán Doherty works his magic again on this amazing piece. Beautiful melodies, engaging choral textures and intriguing use of rhythm make this piece a joy for choirs to sing and a delight for festive audiences.
11. Rejoice and be Merry – Bernard Sexton
Bernard Sexton sprinkles happiness and joy into every aspect of this festive piece. Catchy melodic lines, accessible and effective harmonies, a toe-tapping 7/8 metre and an accompaniment that constantly drives the piece forward all make this a joy for both choir and audience. A real Christmas cracker!