Daniel Pinkham titled his opus “Christmas Cantata,” but it conveys the feel of Advent. Jesus is coming into the world, but did the shepherds, their neighbors, or even Mary have questions about what this would mean for them? Read our director’s note below.
A brass choir will complement our expanded choir for “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” plus Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata. Scripture readings and prayers will complete this unique worship service.
Please invite your friends and family members to this special worship service at 10 am on Sunday, December 11th. There will be no early morning worship service this Sunday.
Daniel Pinkham’s “Christmas Cantata” is divided into three distinct movements, each with their own story to tell. This work challenges the listener with its unusual harmonies and uneven rhythmic ideas. The composer also uses a technique called text painting to create images and layers of sound that try to portray the lyrics. To best enjoy the music, the listener must put themselves in the position of the characters in the Christmas story and what it must have been like to hear the good news told to them.
The first movement begins with a call to action from the choir, asking the shepherds to share what they have heard. In the same movement, the choir transitions into the role of the nervous shepherds who repeat the same rhythmic idea–“Born, for us, was Christ Jesus.” Although they are excited to share the good news, there is an inherent uneasiness in the composition which symbolizes the chaotic energy that must have existed. Even the brass parts feel somewhat frantic and disjunct. Wouldn’t you also feel excited and uneasy if a choir of heavenly angels descended upon you?
The second movement uses the “O magnum mysterium” text, depicting the wonder of the manger scene with Jesus Christ lying next to cows, sheep, and goats. The text also praises the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. This tribute to the mother is signified by the female soloist who begins the movement. The melody that she sings and the harmony used once the choir enters, is made up of unusual chords that move in and out of tonality. These harmonies, and the overlapping text by the different parts of the choir, create that mysterious quality that the lyrics are referring to. Again nothing is quite settled or resolved, and the movement ends on a bit of a question mark which is somewhat fitting for a Virgin birth.
The final movement represents the joy that all Christians feel during this time of year. We finally have resolved harmonies in major keys set to the text of “Gloria in excelsis deo.” It begins softly and slowly builds to the end, painting a perfect picture of Christ’s coming. The soloists interject with bouncing and celebratory verses and further add to the joyful atmosphere.
The whole work takes the listener on a journey through all of the emotions that would have been felt in Bethlehem that night. They range from bewilderment, to joy, to fear, to nervousness, to praise, and everything in between.