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Shepherds and Angels begins with a prelude for violin and harp and continues with nine old American Christmas songs. The music has a strong traditional feeling, with some spicy harmonies and instrumental interludes. The instrumentation is SATB chorus, harp, and violin, and tamborine.
There are 10 movements:
- Prelude for violin and harp
- Exultation -(by Humphreys, from Southern Harmony, No. 88)
- Rise Up Shepherd and Follow -(from Religious Folk Songs of the Negro, As Sung on the Plantations, 1909)
- Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head – (collected by John Jacob Niles, date and source unknown, probably
somewhere in Southern Appalachia)
- The Babe of Bethlehem -(by William Walker, from Southern Harmony)
- Shepherds in Judea -(Tune: Emanuel, by William Billings, verses from Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Christmas collection)
- Oh, Mary and the Baby, Sweet Lamb -(from Archive of American Folk Song, Library of Congress)
- Restoration & Cradle Hymn: two very similar tunes -(words from a poem by Isaac Watts, English hymn writer of the early 1700s. Restoration is from Southern Harmony, No. 5b, no composer given. Cradle Hymn is from Devil’s Ditties by Jean Thomas, 1931, published by Hatfield. The tune of Cradle Hymn is from a Tennessee singer, according to Ruth Crawford Seeger.)
- Jesus Born in Beth’ny -(collected by John Jacob Niles. Recorded in Virginia in 1932)
- Rejoice My Friends -(Tune: Knoxville by William Walker, from Southern Harmony)
Tamborine performance note: The percussionist who played in the premiere brought an assortment of tamborines and selected the right timbre for each movement. What a treat it was to hear the variety of timbres available for such a simple instrument.
More about Shepherds and Angels
Pam writes about her research into old and obscure Christmas music:
“I love unfamiliar Christmas music, particularly the more obscure American contributions to Christmas celebration. In writing Shepherds and Angels, I was inspired by other Christmas collections that include harp, such as Britten and Conrad De Susa. For this collection, I found tunes in Ruth Crawford Seeger’s collection American Folk Songs for Christmas and I looked at old sources like William Billings and Southern Harmony.”
Read more about the Spindrift Commissioning Guild project and the tunes.
Listen to all 10 movements of Shepherds and Angels, premiered by The Master Singers, Adam Grossman conducting, on the Spindrift Listening page.
You can listen to a computer-generated audio demo (no words) at SoundClick.
Including harp in your choral Christmas concert? Consider programming Shepherds and Angels. I think you’ll love the earthy energy of these traditional American tunes.
Violinists and harpists: You can download your parts for Shepherds and Angels for free. Choose “Instrumental parts” for Performance Materials, and add it to the shopping cart. If you like this modern version of our American Christmas folk music, ask a local chorus to program it!