Glory of Christmas Text and Program Notes

December 8, 2019 

Program Notes written by Nancy Otis Chamness

Lyrics follow the Program Notes

“Angels We Have Heard on High”

This popular Christmas carol came from a traditional French song of unknown origin, “Les Anges dans nos campagnes” (The angels in our countryside). The music as we know it today was adapted and arranged by Edward Shippen Barnes, a talented organist who had studied in France, where he heard the carol. The English lyrics were penned by James Chadwick, a Roman Catholic bishop in England. They tell of shepherds tending their flocks outside Bethlehem on a dark silent night, when suddenly the skies fill with a multitude of angels radiating heavenly light, singing, and praising the newborn child. The most memorable musical feature is the chorus, “Gloria, in Excelsis Deo”, Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest”  (Luke 2:14) where the sung vowel sound “o” of “Gloria” is fluidly sustained through a lengthy rising and falling melodic sequence known as “melisma”, that is, singing a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, where each syllable of text is matched to a single note.

“Joy to the World”

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) showed promise as a poet at a very young age. He was born to “Dissenting Parents” (people who refused to accept the authority and practices of the Church of England).  As a boy, he sang hymns outside prison walls to encourage his father, who had been arrested for his non-conformist beliefs. As he grew, he became increasingly unhappy with the hymns that he sang in church each week, primarily psalms set to music. He saw that the hymns thus reflected little or nothing of the New Testament and set out to change church music. In “Joy to the World”, he reinterpreted, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises” (Psalm 98:4) so it looks forward to the day when Christ will come as Lord and savior of the world. This hymn was sung to various tunes for many years, then in 1839, Lowell Mason published the tune that we now associate with “Joy to the World.”  Mason borrowed liberally from classical music and he acknowledged his debt to Handel’s Messiah for parts of this now familiar melody.

“O Holy Night”

O Holy Night” is based on a French poem, “Minuit, chrétiens,” (“Cantique de Noel”) written by wine merchant and poet Placide Cappeau in Roquemaure, France.  He was not a regular churchgoer, so a priest asked him to write a poem, perhaps in order to draw him into the fold. Cappeau traveled to Paris to find someone with great musical talent to compose the music. Some friends enabled him to take his new poem to the famous composer, Adolphe Adam., who completed the work within a few days. Cappeau returned home to presented it to the priest. The “Cantique de Noel”was first played during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1847.

Jeff Westover tells the rest of the story: “Initially, “Cantique de Noel” was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song–which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France–was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed “Cantique de Noel” as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world. John Sullivan Dwight was an American Abolitionist. He came to appreciate the song not only for telling the story of Christ but for the powerful lessons taught in verse 3 of the hymn:  Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.  Dwight had the poem translated into English and published in his magazine where it quickly found favor in America, especially in the North. Try as the church in France might, it could not keep the people from traditionally singing the song on their own every Christmas season. It had become embedded in French Christmas culture and is now sung and loved around the world.”

“I Will Light Candles This Christmas”

Kim Andre Arnesen is one of the most frequently performed composers from Norway today. He grew up in Trondheim, later being educated at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim. With an interest in Baroque music, contemporary classical music, and popular music, he could have taken many roads, but choral music became his greatest passion. This piece is about the symbolism of candles. They represent emotions, but also the need to persevere with the important work that needs to be done in the world. The composer writes: “Advent and Christmas are times of excitement and celebration. However, it is difficult not to see the darkness of the world. Where the treetop glisten and behind the toys and goodies, it can be cold and unsafe. And it is in darkness that we need light. The candle can light our hope and remind us that we are much more than what is darkest in our lives. Therefore this time of year can be one of light over the darkness. I hope the message in this carol can guide us to become carriers of a light that brings joy, hope, courage, peace, grace, and love, now and when the star dims. ‘Let your light shine before others.’ (Sermon on the Mount)

The text consists of poems by Howard Washington Thurman (1899-1981), an African-American minister, author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. As a prominent religious figure, he played a leading role in many social justice movements and organizations of the twentieth century.  The poem “I Will Light Candles for Christmas” appeared in The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, published by Quakers in Friends United Press. Thurman’s other works include Jesus and the Disinherited, Disciplines of the Spirit, and Meditations of the Heart. Despite the injustice and suffering he addressed diligently throughout his life, his spiritual life remained inspired and full of hope: “There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels” he said, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”  The song, “I Will Light Candles at Christmas” talks about the work of Christmas that remains to be done throughout the year, “to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”

Ding Dong Merrily on High”

The tune of “Ding Dong Merrily on High” first appeared as a French secular dance tune in a book written by Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593) during the Renaissance. The lyrics are by the  English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924. Woodward was fascinated by church bell ringing, which no doubt influenced his writing of the poem. Charles Wood added harmony to the tune when it was published in The Cambridge Carol Book. The song is particularly beautiful because of its Latin refrain, “Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!” [Glory! Hosanna in the highest!] which, like “Angels We Have Heard On High” follows a lilting melismatic melodic line downwards from a joyous high note through to the end of the chorus. In the arrangement we are singing today, you will hear the “sung” bells chiming occasionally.

“In Dulci Jubilo”

This traditional carol dates from at least the 14th century. The words may have been written by the German Dominican monk and mystic Heinrich Seuse (1295-1366), but that is not an established fact. “In dulci jubilo” is a so-called “macaronic” song, one which combines Latin and a vernacular language such as German or English. There are also several different English translations. The most common English version of “In dulci jubilo” is “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” with words by the English clergyman John Mason Neale (1818-1866). 

Over the years, various musical arrangements and melodies have been created for “In dulci jubilo” by several composers, incuding one in 1607 by Michael Praetorius and in the 1860s by Sir John Stainer (Christmas Carols New and Old). Dieterich Buxtehude set the melody as a choralecantata in 1683 and as a chorale prelude for organ (BuxWV 197) c. 1690. Johann Sebastian Bach set this melody several times: as a chorale and then for organ as a double canon in his Orgelbüchlein and later as a chorale prelude. It is traditionally performed as the first organ voluntary at the end of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. Franz Lizst included the carol in his piano suite Weihnachtsbaum in the movement entitled “Die Hirten an der Krippe” (The Shepherds at the Manger). Gustav Holst included both “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” (Neale version, 1853) and “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” in his 1910 choral fantasy Christmas Day, with accompaniment for orchestra or organ.  The appeal of this song and its meaning continue to musicians and listeners everywhere.

“We Three Kings”

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a Christmas hymn that was written and composed by John Henry Hopkins Jr. in 1857. It chronicles the journey of the three Kings, or wise men, who traveled from the Far East to see the newborn savior Jesus and brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, a precious metal, is a symbol of divinity and is mentioned throughout the Bible. The gift of gold to the Christ child was symbolic of His divinity—God in flesh. Frankincense is a fragrant spice used in ancient worship that symbolized holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice for humankind, analogous to a burnt offering. Myrrh was a spice used in embalming; it was also sometimes mingled with wine to create the bitter, stupefying “gall” given to Christ on the cross. Myrrh symbolizes bitterness, suffering, and affliction. The baby Jesus would grow to suffer greatly as a man and would pay the ultimate price when He gave His life for all who would believe in Him.  Hopkins was the pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and he composed the hymn for a Christmas pageant in New York City. He designed the hymn in such a way that three male voices would each sing a particular verse by himself in order to resemble the three kings. The first and last verses of the carol are sung together by all three as “verses of praise”, while the intermediate verses are sung exclusively with each king explaining the gift he was bringing. The refrain progresses to admire the majesty of the Star of Bethlehem. Though the Magi’s solos are usually not recognized when singing the carol, the version you will hear tonight rekindles that original tradition.

“Lux: The Dawn from On High,”

This intriguing, ethereal five-movement composition explores various aspects and qualities of light, “Lux” in Latin. It was inspired both thematically and spiritually by texts ranging from Scripture and ancient liturgical chant to modern secular love poetry. The light in the Reims Cathedral in France and at the Poulnabrone Dolmen in Ireland offered visual inspiration, and the music draws freely from a variety of musical sources, from ancient chant to modern minimalist composers.

The title, a “Dawn from on High”, invokes the dual meaning of the text of the first movement, where the light of dawn gradually ascends into the sky, yet the Light of the world also descends from the sky. As a whole, the five movements trace a symmetrical journey through time from ancient prophecy to the present day (“even after all this time”), and then back again. From another perspective, the work follows the path of the sun from dawn through its apex at midday, and then to the setting of the sun on the horizon.

The first movement offers the promise of future light, which is a metaphor for renewed life, and the hope of dawn is repeatedly heard in the text and evoked by the music. The second movement uses contrasting musical meters and shifting keys to portray its text about light shining courageously in darkness. The third movement flashes ahead to present time, seeing the sun as a metaphor for unconditional love that “lights the whole sky”. The fourth movement continues the “light in the sky” motif with a joyful, jazz-influenced setting of the “Gloria in excelsis” text from the Scriptural nativity story. The fifth movement closes the “day” with an ancient evening hymn, presented first as a solo, next in choral unison, then in increasingly complex canons, before a closing section provides closure and unity among these multiple facets of light.

“God Bless My Family” Arranged by Director Patrick Coyle and Dedicated to the Holland Chorale

Ann Hampton Callaway (b. 1958) is a modern composer of songs, TV themes (“The Nanny”) and other inventive, jazz-like music.  This singer / songwriter has sung on Broadway (“Swing!”), produced many original songs for her own CDs and for other singers, including Barbara Streisand and Carole King. In response to interview questions (Chicago Tribune, 1999), this busy, prolific and imaginative composer said:

  • Nobody knows: How spiritual I am.
  • I’d give anything to meet: God. I’d like to say thank you.
  • My fantasy is: We’ll survive the millennium and become more loving and generous toward one another, and that in some small way, my work as an artist will be part of it.
  • The three words that best describe me: Loving, creative and hopeful.

She lives by the creed best expressed by writer Andre Gide: “Art is the collaboration between God and the artist and the less the artist does, the better.”  Her positive, humble attitude and love for people, family and life are evident in this touching Christmas song, “God Bless My Family.”

Selections from George Friedrich Handel “The Messiah” 

The performance of Handel’s work, “The Messiah” (1742), has become the harbinger of the Christmas season for many Americans. The beloved “Hallelujah Chorus” is sung by both religious and secular groups, often with a very large choir and orchestral accompaniment, and that is how we are used to hearing it. In Handel’s time, however, his music was performed on a much smaller scale, with delicate period instruments such as the harpsichord and intimate ensemble groups.  The work, an oratorio, alternates between solos and choruses, interspersed with “recitative,” musical recitation in which the words are sung yet delivered in short phrases in a manner resembling the declamation of ordinary speech. The text of the work is drawn from the Bible and tells about the coming of the birth of Christ. It was compiled by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and the Cloverdale Psalter (the version of the Psalms in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). It was first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742. Handel’s reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech. The text begins in Part I, Scene 3 with prophecies by Isaiah and others about the coming of the birth of Christ., including the  piece “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” for alto solo. It then moves to the annunciation to the shepherds and the aria “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” the only “scene” taken from the Gospels  In Part II, Handel concentrates on the events of the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

Our last song of the concert is a popular English Christmas carol from the west Country of England, arranged for chorus in 1935 by composer, conductor and organist Arthur Warrell of the University of Bristol.  In the 1830’s, a closely related verse was sung by “mummers” – people who would go about singing from door to door to request gifts. An example is given in the short story, “The Christmas Mummers” (1858), by Charlotte Yonge: “When at last they were all ready, off they marched, with all the little boys and girls running behind them; and went straight to Farmer Buller’s door, where they knew they should find a welcome. They all stood in a row, and began to sing as loud as they were able: “I wish you a merry Christmas / And a happy New Year, / A pantryful of good roast-beef, / And barrels full of beer.”  After they are allowed in and perform a Mummers play, the men are served beer by the farmer’s maid. In a traditional mummer’s Christmas play, the plot usually features Saint George and involves the miraculous revival of a character, usually the loser of a sword fight, by a comical doctor who is a stock figure in the plays. Mummers’ plays are still staged in England, where roles are passed down from generation to generation in families.

And with that, the Holland Chorale wishes you a Merry Christmas and thanks you for coming today. We hope that hearing this music will touch your hearts and enrich your holiday season. NC


Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say, what may the tidings be?
Which inspire your heavenly song?
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

See within a manger laid,
Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
Sing with us our Savior’s birth.
Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love.


O holy night, night divine, holy night, O night divine
O holy night
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born,

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord!
O praise His name forever,
His power and glory ever more proclaim.
O holy Night, night divine, holy night, O night divine,


I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.


Ding dong merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riven with angel singing
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis

E’en so here below, below
Let steeple bells be swung
And “Io, io, io!”
By priest and people singing
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

Pray you, dutifully prime
Your matin chyme, ye ringers;
May you beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

(English translations in parentheses are not sung)

In dulci jubilo,
(In sweet joy)
Let us our homage show,
Our heart’s joy reclineth
In praesepio,
(In a manger)
And like a bright star shineth,
Matris in gremio.
(In your mother’s lap)
Alpha es et O.
(Beginning and ending)

O Jesu parvule!
(O infant Jesus!)
I yearn for thee always!
Hear me, I beseech thee,
O Puer optime!
(O best of boys!)
My pray’r let it reach thee,
O Princeps gloriae;
(O Prince of Glory)
Trahe me post te.
(Draw me after you).

O Patris caritas!
(O love of the Father!)
O Nati lenitas!
(O mercy of the Son!)
Deeply were we stained,
Per nostra crimina;
(Through our sins;)
But thou hast for us gained
Coelorum gaudia!
(The joys of heaven!)
O that we were there!

Ubi sunt gaudia,
(Where are joys,)
Where, if they be not there?
There are angels singing
Nova cantica!
(New songs!)
And there the bells are ringing
In regis curia
(In the King’s courts)
O that we were there,
In dulci jubilo!
(In sweet joy!)


We three kings of orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Oh, star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright.
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide with thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Prayer and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high.


I. Illuminare

Per viscera misericordiae
Dei nostri
In quibus visitavit
nos oriens ex alto
illuminare his qui in tenebris
et in umbra mortis sedent
ad dirigendos pedes nostros
in viam pacis.
Lux ex alto,
veni nos illuminare.

By the mercy of our God
the dawn from on high
will break upon us,
to give light to those
who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet
Into the way of peace.
Light from on high, come illumine us. (based on Luke 1:78-79)

Lux de luce apparuisti
Christe, cui Magi munera offerunt,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

You appeared as Light from light,
O Christ, to whom
the Magi offered gifts,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
(Antiphon for Epiphany, 14th c.)

II. Lux in Tenebris

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,
quia natus est nobis Dominus.

Lux in tenebris lucet
et tenebrae eam non superaverunt.

A light will shine on us today,
for the Lord is born unto us.
(Introit for Christmas Dawn, 10th c.)

The light shines in darkness;
and the darkness has not
overcome it.
(John 1:5)

III. The Sun Never Says

All this time
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe Me”
Look what happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

(Daniel Ladinsky, from “The Gift”,
©1999, used by permission

IV. Gloria in excelsis

Gloria in excelsis Deo,
et in terra pax..

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth, peace.
(from Luke 2:14)

V. Creator of the Stars of Night

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting Light,
O Christ, Thou Savior of us all,
now hear Thy servants
when they call.

Creator alme siderum
aeterna lux credentium
Christe redemptor omnium
exaudi voces supplicum.

O Blest Creator of the light,
Who made the day with
radiance bright,
and o’er the newborn
world did call
the light from darkness first of all.

When the whole world drew on
toward night,
Thou camest, not in splendor bright
as sovereign, but the humble Child
Of Mary, virgin mother mild.

To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
(7th c. chant, various translations)


It’s Christmas time.
Outside the snow is falling
Like a million stars,
Like a million dreams
All dressed up in white.
I’m writing Christmas cards
A joy that’s tinged with sadness
As I think of friends
Some are here and some are gone
But our love goes on and on
Like the snow tonight.

And oh, what a family
My life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky
We touch eternally.
And though my heart aches ev’ry day
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved
Shine out in me
God bless my family.

As years go by
The carols we sang as children
Gather memories.
What was just a song
Now feels like a pray’r
Welcoming us home
To fathers, mothers
Sisters, brothers ev’rywhere.
Some we’ve lost and some we’ve found
As love circles us around
In the songs we share.

So fly, angels of my heart
We’ll never be apart
Tonight we’ll say a pray’r
For loved ones ev’rywhere.

You’re a part of my family
That life has given me
From the corners of the earth
To the reaches of the sky
We touch eternally
And though my heart aches ev’ryday
This Christmas I will find a way
To let each face I’ve ever loved
Shine out in me
God bless my family
You’ll always live in me
God bless my family.


O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,
get thee up into the high mountain:
O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem,
lift up thy voice with strength;
lift it up, be not afraid;
say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold your God!
Arise, shine, for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.


For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government shall be upon His shoulder;
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor,
he Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace


For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ.
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
King of kings, and Lord of lords.


We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Now bring us some figgy pudding and bring some right here
For we all like figgy pudding so bring some out here.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year
And we won’t go until we’ve got some
So bring some out here!
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year