Advent Calendar Day 24: The Holly and the Ivy (Trad. Arranged Shaw)

The Holly and the Ivy has been one of my favourite Christmas Carols since I was quite young – I think I first heard it when my family stayed for a few months in England when I was six, and I rather imprinted on it because there was *actual holly* near where we lived and that was pretty exciting.  Australia doesn’t really run much to holly, especially around Christmas.

This is one of those carols which tends to show its Pagan roots, while simultaneously being very very Christian and going, ‘no, really, the holly is totally all about being a symbol of Christ’s passion and has nothing to do with Yule, honest!’.  So it always sits just a little oddly with me, even though I love both the melody and the words, with their vivid visual imagery.  There are a lot of arrangements doing the rounds – I’m also fond of the Mediaeval Baebes version, and if you ever wondered what Annie Lennox does with it, wonder no longer!  I especially like her jazz harmonies in the later verses.  Gorgeous.

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Advent Calendar Day 19: Carol of the Birds (James Wheeler)

After all the sad and contemplative carols of the last few days, I thought we deserved something cheerful.  But what?  I was sort of tempted by Masters in this Hall, an old favourite of mine, but it’s kind of terrible, as even I have to admit (I love it, but it so easily turns into a pub song).  And I thought about For Unto Us a Child Is Born, but we already did Handel, so that’s no good..

So then I thought that we are probably about due for an Australian Carol.  Which is why we’ve ended up with a Catalan one… No.  No we haven’t.  Though there is a Catalan Carol of the Birds too, and it’s fairly gorgeous.  I recommend giving it a listen.

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Advent Calendar Day 21 – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Tonight’s carol is not the one I originally planned. I was tossing up between some Mendelssohn or some Orlando de Lassus, but getting home from choir practice tonight I was so tired that I just couldn’t face listening to lush harmonies or polyphony. Which is really strange, actually – I had no idea that I could find certain kinds of music – my favourite kinds, even – exhausting to listen to. And I definitely couldn’t cope with new melodies, either. I’ve never had this weirdly over-sensitive reaction to tiredness before, and it’s something I’ll have to ponder sometime when I’m less tired.

So I went looking for Gregorian chant in general and O Come O Come Emmanuel in particular.

And I couldn’t find it.

That is, I found O Come O Come Emmanuel in a variety of languages and voicings and arrangements, but they were all far too lush, far too over-instrumented, far too harmonic (actually, there was one arrangement that I would have absolutely adored in another mood, but all that elaborate harmony and polyphony was just too much right now). And the solo versions were not right, either. And apparently all-female versions were right out, or at least, the ones I listened to were.

Basically, I wanted the sound of monks practicing their evensong chant as I heard it once with my friend Anna at a monastery by a volcanic lake in Germany, and apparently I can’t have that no matter how tired I am right now.

But this arrangement is close. The first verse, at least, has the sound I want, and the unison I want, and the pictures are so beautiful they reconcile me to the harmony, which is not *too* overwhelming even in my current state, except sometimes in the chorus. I think I’ll like this even more after a good night’s sleep.

I hope you like it now.