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Behold this Heavenly Night/VocalEssence, Brunelle
Behold this Heavenly Night/VocalEssence

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Program and Notes Reviews
Behold this Heavenly Night
VocalEssence Ensemble Singers and Chorus
Sigrid Johnson, associate conductor
Philip Brunelle, conductor

In 1998, VocalEssence and the American Composers Forum joined forces to offer an annual contest encouraging the composition of new carols. Over the years hundreds of worthy carols have been submitted.

“Behold This Heavenly Night” presents the world premiere of some of these contest-winning carols alongside outstanding arrangements of more familiar melodies. Also included is the U.S. premiere of John Rutter’s new “Carol of the Magi” and a unique arrangement of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” translated into Latin by Philip Brunelle and his son Christopher.

Ding Dong! Merrily on High
arr by Malcolm Williamson
What Child
Paul W Lohman
The Piping Carol *
James Sclater
Un Nacimento (A Nativity Scene) *
Diego Luzuriaga
A Mother’s Carol *
Scott Ethier
I Wonder as I Wander
John Jacob Niles, arr Martin Neary
Sweet Was the Song *
Matthew Brown
Night of Silence
Daniel Kantor, arr John Ferguson
See Amid the Winter Snow *
Robert Sieving
In the Bleak Midwinter *
Alan J Higbee
The Shepherd and the King *
Brian Holmes
Carol of the Magi
John Rutter
Calm on the Listening Ear *
John Christian Rommereim
The Darkest Midnight in December *
Stephen Main
Jingle Bells
James Lord Pierpont, arr J David Moore
Welcome the King *
Michael Glasgow
The Virgin’s Cradle Hymn *
Richard E Voorhaar
Behold the Dark and Bitter Night *
Thomas Fielding
It Fell Upon the High Midnight *
Paul Gibson
Rudolphus Rubrinasus *
Johnny Marks, arr Philip Brunelle

* World premiere recording
Program Notes

Ding Dong! Merrily on High—French carol, arr. Malcolm Williamson

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Ding dong merrily on high,

In heav’n the bells are ringing:

Ding dong! verily the sky

Is riv’n with angels singing.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

E’en so here below, below,

Let steeple bells be swungen,

And “Io, io, io!”

By priest and people sungen.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Pray you, dutifully prime

Your matin chime, ye ringers;

May you beautifully rime

Your evetime song, ye singers.

Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

—G.R. Woodward (1848-1934)

What Child
—Paul W. Lohman

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Philip Brunelle, organ; Sigrid Johnson, conductor

What child is this, who, laid to rest,

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the son of Mary!

Why lies he in such mean estate

Where ox and ass are feeding?

Good Christians, fear; for sinners here

The silent Word is pleading.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh;

Come peasant, king to own him.

The King of Kings salvation brings;

Let loving hearts enthrone him.

—William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)

The Piping CarolJames Sclater

(2004 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers & Chorus (recorded in concert)

David Livingston, alto recorder

Shepherds, oh shepherds, shepherds,

Gather your pipes to play a fine tune.

Gather your pipes to fill the air with sweet melody.

Go where the babe lies restless and cold;

Where the oxen shaggy and bold

Feed in the stable near his bed.

Shepherds, oh shepherds, shepherds,

Gather your pipes and play a bright air.

Gather your pipes to warm the night with sweetest song.

Go where the angels hover around,

Go where the Magi kneel in praise,

Where chaste Mary sits amazed,

Wrapped in the love of God profound.

Shepherds, oh shepherds, shepherds,

Gather your sheep to witness this sight,

Pipe now your songs of joy and peace.

Of love and sweet delight.

–James Sclater (b. 1943)

Un Nacimento (A Nativity Scene)Diego Luzuriaga

(2006 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers (recorded in concert)

Lori Lewis and Krista Palmquist, soloists; Christopher Kachian, guitar

Estrellita, estrella fugaz, que vas del mar a la sierra,

decí, decí, en dónde estará el que ha nacido en la era.

Llegá, llegá, lucero del sur, anuncia la noche buena,

llegá, llegá, niñito Jesús, con tu manito de cera.

Un caballito de madera corre que corre sin respirar,

el San José y la Maria miran al niño sin parpadear.

Un espejito es el agua, pajas y musgos son el corral,

los Reyes Magos son de balsa, y la sonrisa es de verdad.

Bright little star, bright shining star, traveling from mountain to bay;

Tell us, tell us where could He be, He who was born on the hay.

Come in, come in, oh Southern star, to herald the heavenly night;

Come close, come close child Jesus, with your little hands of wax.

A little horse carved out of pine trots and trots without a sound,

Joseph and Mary watch the child without a blink.

A fragment of mirror makes the pond, straw, leaves and moss make the stable,

The three kings are of balsa wood, and our smile is a real one.

—Diego Luzuriaga (b. 1955); translation by Clare Doherty

A Mother’s Carol—Scott Ethier

(2008 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers (recorded in concert)

Charles Hodgson, French horn

Her breath returned after pain of birth,

She awkwardly rests him on her knee.

An angel told her of peace on earth;

This new mother’s song could only be:


Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

On wings of praise my soul flies free.”

A mother’s carol, a baby’s cry:

What sorrow and joy they both express.

If she had known how her son would die,

Would Mary have said so firm a “Yes”?


Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

Let all creation say no less.

For each of us comes a time of choice —

To answer the call or turn away.

And if today you may hear that voice,

May you find the grace to boldly say,


Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

May peace be born through me today.”

Clay Zambo

I Wonder as I Wander
John Jacob Niles, arr. Martin Neary
VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Savior did come for to die

For people, just people like you and like I;

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall

With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all;

But high from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall

And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing–

A star in the sky or a bird on the wing

Or all of God’s angels in heaven to sing

He surely could have it, for he was the King.

—Appalachian carol

Sweet Was the Song
Matthew Brown

(2007 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers (recorded in concert)

Charles Kemper, celesta

Sweet was the song the Virgin sang,

When she to Bethlem Juda came

And was delivered of a Son,

That blessed Jesus hath to name:

“Lulla, lulla, lulla-bye,

Sweet Babe,” sang she,

And rocked him sweetly on her knee.

“Sweet Babe,” sang she, “my son,

And eke a Savior born,

Who hath vouchsafed from on high

To visit us that were forlorn:

“Lulla, lulla, lulla-bye,

Sweet Babe,” sang she,

And rocked him sweetly on her knee.

—Anonymous (ca. 1590)

Night of Silence
Daniel Kantor , arr. John Ferguson

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Charles Kemper, piano; Philip Brunelle, organ; Sigrid Johnson, conductor

Cold are the people, winter of life,

We tremble in shadows this cold endless night,

Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping,

Flowers that will echo the sunrise,

Fire of hope is our only warmth,

Weary, its flame will be dying soon.

Voice in the distance, call in the night,

On wind you enfold us, you speak of the light,

Gentle on the ear you whisper softly,

Rumors of a dawn so embracing,

Breathless love awaits darkened souls,

Soon will we know of the morning.

Spirit among us, shine like the star,

Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar,

Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely,

Rising in the warmth of your Son’s love,

Star unknowing of night and day,

Spirit, we wait for your loving Son.

—Daniel Kantor (b. 1950)

Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright

Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.

Holy Infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Joseph Mohr (1792-1848); trans. by John F. Young

See Amid the Winter SnowRobert Sieving

(2009 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers & Chorus (recorded in concert)

Charles Gray, viola

See amid the winter’s snow,

Born for us on earth below,

See the tender Lamb appears,

Promised from eternal years.


Hail, thou ever-blessed morn!

Hail, redemption’s happy dawn!

Sing through all Jerusalem,

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

As we watched at dead of night,

Lo, we saw a wondrous light;

Angels singing, “Peace on earth,”

Did tell us of the Savior’s birth.
—Edward Caswall (1814-1878)

In the Bleak Midwinter
Alan J. Higbee

(2003 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Chorus (recorded in concert)

Marilyn Ford, oboe

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.

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty,

Jesus Christ.

Heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When He comes to reign.

Angels and archangels

May have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim

Throngèd the air—

But His mother only

In her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the Belovèd

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.

—Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

The Shepherd and the King
—Brian Holmes

(2000 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Lynne Aspnes, harp

The Shepherd and the King,

The Angel and the Ass,

They heard Sweet Mary sing,

When her joy was come to pass;

They heard Sweet Mary sing

To the Baby on her knee.

Sing again Sweet Mary,

And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!

Heaven, bear a light!

Man, make you merry

On Christmas Night.

The Oxen in the stall,

The Sheep upon the hill,

They are waking all

To hear Sweet Mary still.

The Baby is a Child,

And the Child is running free.

Sing again Sweet Mary…

The People in the land,

So many million strong,

All silently do stand

To hear Sweet Mary’s song.

The Child He is a man,

And the man hangs on a tree.

Sing again Sweet Mary…

The Stars that are so old,

The Grass that is so young,

They listen in the cold

To hear Sweet Mary’s tongue.

The Man’s the Son of God,

And in heaven walketh He.

Sing again Sweet Mary…

—Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

Carol of the Magi—John Rutter

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers & Chorus (recorded in concert)

United States Premiere, December, 2009

String orchestra featuring Dale Newton, cello

We rode all night through fields of darkness,

Our guiding light the Eastern star;

We came to Bethlehem, we all were weary:

We’d traveled far that night, we’d traveled far.

We heard that here we’d find Messiah,

Foretold by seers from days of old;

We looked for palaces and found a stable:

Could it be here, so bare and cold?

We entered in and there we saw him;

It seemed we’d known him from long before:

A child like any child, yet somehow different:

The face of every child in him we saw.

We’d brought him gifts, and now we offered them;

We knelt down low in silent prayer.

With eyes that seemed to know both joy and sadness

The child looked down as we knelt there.

So long ago, yet I remember

That child who lay at Mary’s knee;

How strange that every child seems so much like him:

His is the face I seem to see.

—John Rutter (b. 1945)

Calm on the Listening Ear John Christian Rommereim

(2006 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers (recorded in concert)

Christopher Kachian, guitar

Calm on the listening ear of night

Come heaven’s melodious strains,

Where wild Judea stretches forth

Her silver mantled plains.

Celestial choirs from courts above

Shed sacred glories there,

And angels, with their sparkling lyres,

Make music on the air.

The answering hills of Palestine

Send back the glad reply;

And greet, from all their holy heights,

The Day-Spring from on high.

O’er the blue depths of Galilee

There comes a holier calm,

And Sharon waves, in solemn praise,

Her silent groves of palm.

“Glory to God!” the sounding skies

Loud with their anthems ring,

“Peace to the earth; good will to men,

From heaven’s eternal King!”

Light on thy hills, Jerusalem;

The Savior now is born,

And bright on Bethlehem’s joyous plains

Breaks the first Christmas morn.

—Edmund Sears (1810-1876)

The Darkest Midnight in December—Stephen Main

(2007 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers & Chorus (recorded in concert)

Charles Kemper, celesta

The darkest midnight in December,

No snow nor hail nor winter’s storm

Shall hinder us to remember

The Babe that on this night was born.

’Twas but pure love that from above

Brought Him to save us from all harms;

Then let us sing and welcome Him,

The God of Love in Mary’s arms.

No costly gifts can we present Him,

No gold nor myrrh nor odors sweet;

But if with our hearts we can content Him,

We humbly lay them at His feet.

With shepherds we are come to see

This lovely Infant’s glorious charms;

Born of a maid, as prophets said,

The God of Love in Mary’s arms.
—William Devereux (1696-1771)

Jingle Bells—James Lord Pierpont, arr. J. David Moore

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh,

O’er the fields we go,

Laughing all the way;

Bells on bob-tail ring,

Making spirits bright;

What fun it is to ride and sing

A sleighing song tonight!


Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells,

Jingle all the way!

Oh, what fun it is to ride

In a one-horse open sleigh!

A day or two ago

I thought I’d take a ride,

Soon Miss Fanny Bright

Was seated by my side;

The horse was lean and lank,

Misfortune seemed his lot;

He got into a drifted bank,

And we, we got upsot!

Now the ground is white.

Go it while you’re young;

Take the girls tonight

And sing a sleighing song;

Just get a bob-tailed nag

Two-forty for his speed,

Then hitch him to an open sleigh

And crack! you’ll take the lead.
—James Pierpont (1822-1893)

Welcome the King—Michael Glasgow

(2009 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest )

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers & Chorus (recorded in concert)

Charles Gray, viola

I will be found by you, and will bring you back from captivity.

Here I wait for you in humble swaddling;

The light of peace sought by all the world is mine.

Here I wait in a lowly stable:

If you earnestly seek Me, you shall find.

Welcome! Welcome! Come to the King.

Nobles and peasants, your finest should bring;

Run to the manger and see the “I AM.”

Bow in His presence and worship the Lamb.

On those walking in the deepest darkness,

And they that dwell in the shadowland of death,

Light will shine as foretold by prophets.

All who earnestly seek Him will find rest.

Can we welcome someone so meek?

How is this Baby the One whom we seek?

Bethlehem yearns for a warrior great;

How can a child be the One we await?

He will trade the swaddling for a scourging;

The angels’ dance will become the Father’s tears.

Sages kneel and bestow their off’rings,

And cannot fathom the gift is truly theirs.

He’ll be welcomed back from the grave!

Born to us now is the One who will save!

Holding together the broken and torn,

Jesus, Messiah, the Savior is born!

—Michael J. Glasgow, incorporating texts

from Jeremiah 29:13-14 and Isaiah 9:2

The Virgin’s Cradle Hymn—Richard E. Voorhaar

(2009 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Dormi Jesu, Mater ridet

Quae dulcem somnum videt

Dormi Jesu, blandule!

Si non dormis, mater plorat

Inter fila cantans orat,

Blande, veni, somnule!

Sleep sweet babe! my cares beguiling;

Mother sits beside thee smiling,

Sleep my darling, tenderly.

If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,

Singing as her wheel she turneth;

Come, soft slumber, balmily!

—Latin carol; English paraphrase by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Behold the Dark and Bitter NightThomas Fielding

(2003 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers

Lynne Aspnes, harp

Behold the dark and bitter night

When shunned by kings, a king is born;

In stable cruel, a tiny light

Brings hope and peace for love forlorn:

Behold, behold this night.

Behold the dark and bitter night

Where bombs yet fall and lives are crushed

And children scorned still raise their plight,

The Christ Child brings his Word of trust:

Behold, behold this night.

Behold a new and blazing morn

That blinds a broken world ensnared

In greed and pow’r; but love is born!

This tiny light of Christ is shared:

And love, love is born.

—Thomas Fielding (b. 1975)

it Fell Upon the High Midnight—Paul Gibson

(2005 Welcome Christmas Carol Contest Winner)

VocalEssence Ensemble Singers (recorded in concert)

Anthony Ross, cello

This night there is a child y-born

That sprang out of Jesse’s thorn;

We must sing and say therefore:

Verbum caro factum est. [The word proceeding from above]

Jesus is the childës name,

And Mary mild is His dame;

All our sorrow is turned to game:

Verbum caro factum est.

It fell upon the high midnight:

The stars they shone both fair and bright;

The angels sang with all their might,

Verbum caro factum est.

Now kneel we down upon our knee,

And pray we to the Trinity

Our help, our succor for to be;

Verbum caro factum est.

—Anonymous (Traditional English, before 1536)

Rudolphus Rubrinasus—Johnny Marks, arr. Philip Brunelle

Charles Kemper, piano

Rudolphus rubrinasus fulgentissimo naso,

Vidisti et si eum dicas quoque candere.

Omnes tarandi ceteri ridebant vocantes nomina;

Non sinebant Rudolphum interessa ludentes.

Olim crassa nocte Christi, Nicolaus it dictum:

“Rudolphe, naso tam claro, agesne traham meam?”

Qui tum tarandis amor conclamantibus eum,

“Rudolphe, rubrinase descendes historia!”

—Translation by Philip Brunelle (b. 1943) and Christopher Brunelle

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