Frankly, I can do without all of the secular holiday music, or at least most of it. I want something less contrived and commercial. Even Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score wears thin.
I’m not entirely insensitive, though. Here are ten I enjoy singing, especially in a choir.
- People, Look East: this 1928 Advent carol by Eleanor Farjeon is a joyous accompaniment when making preparations ahead of Christmas.
- In the Bleak Midwinter: I want to think of this as a plaintive folksong, but the words are by Christina Rossetti and the music’s by English master Gustav Holst. It catches the blue side of the approaching winter, but also the hope and comfort to be found therein.
- Once in Royal David’s City: If you can, go for the fully celebrative midnight mass with a full pipe organ and all five verses sung in the Anglican style that alternates soft and loud.
- There Are Angels Hovering Round: It’s an old call-and-response hymn that seems to have hundreds of verses, if you want to keep going. There’s no escaping the sense of togetherness when you’re singing.
- Fairest and Brightest (Star of the East): I first heard this in a recording by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie, but it also works in formal arrangements. The text is a protest song befitting the suffering classes of the story.
- Nouvelle Agreable: by Swiss composer Jean-Georges Nageli, the bouncy music almost sounds like Mozart though even Native Americans near the Arctic will sing and dance to it, too. (Check it out on YouTube.)
- La Valse Cadienne de Noel: words and music by Jeannette V. Aguillard. What, you don’t waltz during the Twelve Days of Christmas?
- Traveler’s Carol: A traditional Catalan carol of coming together for the holiday. We use English by Susan Cooper in an arrangement by George Emlen.
- The Coventry Carol: a haunting sense of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and of the crucifixion to come infuse this lullaby.
- The Old Year is Dying: a cheerful Welsh piece to welcome the New Year. Again, New Year’s Day falls in the Twelve Days.
What are your favorites?