Yes, it is a bit absurd that I’m posting a free Christmas piece on August 17, but leaders of choral organizations all over the musical world need to plan their repertoire far ahead of time. They have to choose music far in advance to plan thematic programmes, to provide material for press releases, to order music in time to rehearse and perform concerts and church services. I’m giving you “Portinari Nativity” four months ahead of time since I figure it will not be published, and you can really only sing it once a year, and I want you to have it. Just go to the “compositions” tab on my website and click on the featured piece for the PDF.
This piece was commissioned last year by Ex Cathedra, an accomplished British chamber choir directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. I love this group because they are not only able to maintain the highest standards of a cappella performance, but also produce larger works with orchestra, reach out to young people with their “singing playgrounds” project, and provide well-researched, intelligent and provocative programming. I went to London to hear the premiere at St. John’s Smith Square last December, and was fortunate enough to have two dear friends with me (Renee Young and Janet Nahabedian) and bumped into another Canadian on holiday (Jean Nichols!) Ex Cathedra of course sang the piece absolutely beautifully.
My piece “The Portinary Nativity” is based on a poem by Cori Martin. (You can read the whole poem in an old blog of mine from December last year.) Her poem in turn is based on the gorgeous altarpiece by the Belgian artist Hugo van der Goes painted around 1475. Jeffrey Skidmore told me it was “deceptively difficult.” I’m honestly not sure what that means, but I hope the music illuminates the poem, and in turn the painting.
This year I have a commission a little closer to home. Peter Nikiforuk conducts Menno Singers of Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario who will include this work on their December 8 concert. This new piece is commissioned in memory of Mary Martin who sang in the choir for many years. The text will be an excerpt from Tennyson’s long poem In Memoriam: “Ring out wild bells to the wild sky.”
Pax Christi Chorale also picks up one of my Christmas pieces this December. Legend of the Bird was commissioned last year by Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, B.C. and is published by Cypress Choral Music.
If you are a choir conductor, board member, administrator or volunteer, I wish you all the best as you do all the advance planning needed for this new season of choral music.