“Engaging Mystery: Bethlehem Revisited” (2013)

The music in this collection may be familiar to you or not, depending on your holiday customs and taste. I selected these tunes out of the hundreds written over the centuries because I felt I had something new to consider, discover or explore in engaging each of them. This is actually a very apt description of my approach with them, as I think you will hear from the variety. Some, like The Wexford Carol and Mariä Wiegenlied, are performed without much embellishment of any sort, a tasting of their rich flavors in their raw state. Others, like In the Bleak Midwinter and Ukrainian Bell Carol take liberties with harmonic and textural ‘seasonings’ to discover what their essentially intact melodies may otherwise reveal. Still others fall in the category of known territory newly explored, for example Deck the Hall (in five-quarter meter—surprisingly easy to sing!) and Katherine Davis’ modern classic, Carol of the Drum. Most of these were recorded without prior arranging, just starting to play with the recorder running and blazing a trail. Where something particularly good emerged a second take would sometimes expand on it or sometimes just collapse under the weight of re-creation. There were many transcendent moments, though, a good reason to continue treasuring this music, and a metaphor for creatively reengaging the mysteries of this rich holiday.

A special note about Saw You Never In The Twilight: The tune this diptych begins with, the 15th century French melody, “Chartres”, is still found in hymnals with other texts associated; I beg you, consider this one! The inner tune, “The Wise Men”, written by Berthold Tours in 1881, was last printed in a hymnal in 1940. I wish it might be revived, with this or some other text—I find it quite beautiful.

[Philip Orr, 2013]