Week 18: Friday, July 20, 2018
“Alleluia, Rejoice” arr. J. Edmund Hughes
Chant and liturgical antiphon
SA, handbells (or hand chimes or piano)
This arrangement by J. Edmund Hughes combines two separate holiday melodies – O Come O Come Emmanuel and Hodie Christus natus est – into one beautiful selection. The two melody lines dovetail with each other, but do not interweave in a contrapuntal fashion. They co-exist but are not sung simultaneously. It is as if each song occurs in the breathing space of the other, combining with the handbells to form a lovely aural landscape.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel” is in d minor, while “Hodie Christus natus est” centers around the relative F major. In keeping with the tradition of chant, there are no meter signatures or barlines. The rhythms are text driven (written here in quarter and eighth notes). Both melody lines stay within an octave or a ninth, so there are no concerns regarding tessitura or range. The only harmony within each line is the occasional open-fifth interval. If you are looking to reinforce relative major/minor keys or minor-key solfege (la-based minor is perfect here!), this setting has all the perfect teaching moments. It is also a great way to introduce the unmetered free-rhythm concepts of chant, and to share the background of both these significant historical melodies.
The separate-but-at-the-same-time nature of the work means you can flexibly program this as one choir singing in two parts, or two separate choirs performing together. When I last conducted this piece, my beginning choir sang the more-familiar Veni Emmanuel and my intermediate choir sang the less-familiar Hodie Christus natus est. This allowed me to rehearse a mostly-unison line with each group in their own rehearsals, using teaching techniques suited to each ensemble’s skill level, and then put the song together closer to performance.
The piece would also be a great choice for an intermediate group looking for a first foray into two-parts, or for an advanced group as a ‘quick read.’ As the lines don’t move at the same time, there is less distraction when trying to hold a part. Additionally, the conductor can be there for each group to supportively bring in every entrance.
Another interesting aspect to this piece is the accompaniment. Handbells (or handchimes) play D & A in octaves, at the start of each new phrase. This open chord sets the tonality for the work, and helps keep the singers in pitch, but does not distract from the beautiful melodies. Logistically, the ringers can be members of the singing ensemble, or could be individuals borrowed from another ensemble on the same concert. If you do not have access to handbells or handchimes, the pitches can be played on the piano, one octave higher and lower.
There is one aleatoric section of the piece, in which the opening motive from each melody is repeated for 30-40 seconds. Singers can vary the tempo and entrance time. Bells ring the same pitches as always, but freely and at random. The moment that is created by this compositional design is quite moving.
Finally, this arrangement is a wonderful opportunity to explore sound and space with your ensembles. The nature of the piece (two-songs co-existing in each other’s exhale, as opposed to two songs happening simultaneously) lends itself to a variety of visual and aural performance options: opposite sides of the risers, right and left sides of the stage, a processional with entrances from multiple doors, back of hall vs. stage, and more.
In one performance of this work in our university chapel, one choir was spread out in the front of the performance space, while the other choir was in the back of the chapel in the second-floor choir loft; the melodies met in the middle. The handbells can be spread across all performers (and can be duplicated in multiple octaves), which supports healthy intonation in a large space. Additionally, an advanced group could likely perform this selection with each singer spaced individually throughout the stage and audience, creating an entirely different series of soundscape possibilities.
The teaching moments and performance possibilities for this piece are many. With different ways to divide or combine your choirs, and multiple options for utilizing your performance space, this selection is a great fit for beginner, intermediate, and advanced groups alike. If you are programming for your holiday concert and are looking for a fresh take on a familiar tune, Hughes’ arrangement will not disappoint.
|Source:||chant (Veni Emmanuel)|
and antiphon (Hodie Christus natus est)
|Arranger:||arr. J. Edmund Hughes|
|Date of Arrangement:||2013|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Christmas, winter holiday|
|Language:||English & Latin|
|Voicing Details:||SA, w/ very minimal open-fifth divisi|
|Accompaniment:||Hand bells (or hand chimes or piano)|
|Dedication:||Northern Arizona University Women’s Chorale;|
Ryan Holder, conductor
|Series:||Edith Copley Choral Series|
|Publisher:||Santa Barbara Music Publishing SBMP 1093|
|Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing:|
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.