This is a piece written last summer with the intention of debuting it in our “A Sacred Christmas” program at our church. We had to cut it from the program at the last minute and, subsequent to the disappointment of losing the performance, it has been languishing on the dusty shelves of my hard drive since. After pulling it out again last week while experimenting with a new virtual instrument library I remembered what a nice piece it is and resolved to expose it to the public’s ears here. It mixes the melodies from two classic Christmas carols, What Child Is This? And Sing We Now of Christmas. The idea for combining the two melodies into one piece comes from several parallels, both musical and thematic, between the two carols. Both are commonly set in e-minor modes with resemblant melodic contours and comparable ranges. The topics of both pieces, the incarnation of Christ, are the same. But, most importantly, in reading through the lyrics it occurred to me that the questions and answers expressed in What Child Is This? find eloquent reverberation in Sing We Now of Christmas.
The musical setting is one of contrast. There are quiet murmurs amid sparse textures punctuated with heavy percussive accents and blaring, dissonant brass chords, culminating in a full-throated orchestral tutti. This symphonic environment is inspired by the simplicity, poverty, and desperation of the Christ child’s birth expressed in the questions, “What child is this who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping? Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?” juxtaposed against the resounding answer that this is the Messiah, the King of Creation, in lyrics from both hymns such as, “This, this, is Christ the King,” and “Sing we noel, the king is born, noel!”
So, listen, enjoy and contemplate the deep mysteries of the child in the manger in, What Child We Sing?