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Program Notes – Dec. 4, 2011

The Carol of the Bells

Arr. Richard Hayman (b. 1920)

The Carol of the Bells is a well known traditional Christmas Carol, which surprisingly originated as a Ukrainian song in celebration of Epiphany. Its four-note fragmentary theme, which is repeated over and over, is almost hypnotic. The actual melody is a sequence of chords behind this repeated motif (which is nearly always the same in every arrangement) that feels almost implacable. It is nearly impossible to hear any arrangement, even without voices, and not have the words “ding, dong, ding, dong …” form silently in your mind as you listen.

Richard Hayman has prepared an exceedingly clever arrangement of this familiar Carol, which weaves fragments of other Christmas Carols into the texture while never losing the main song. This full-symphonic published arrangement essentially duplicates the version he prepared for the Boston Pops Orchestra, where he has been the chief arranger since their association began in 1950.

Three Pieces for Piano and Orchestra

Linda McKechnie (b. 1941)

Linda McKechnie grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, but has now become a long-time resident of Houston Texas, where her husband has been a Presbyterian minister for several decades. Her composing efforts have been mostly aimed at Faith-oriented music, which carry the meanings often found in hymns over into a more pops-styled presentation, frequently featuring piano (she often performs as soloist in her own works). The orchestrations of her pieces, including those on this concert, are usually prepared by her brother, Don Marsh.

The three works on this program were composed separately, but are so similar in structure and style that Maestro Gehring has chosen to present them as though they were a single composition. All three combine themes and elements of a well-known Classical orchestral work associated with the Christmas season (each by a major composer) with fragments of traditional carols and other seasonal music. The result is essentially a three-movement sinfonia concertante in a modern musical style.

The first “movement” is built around the Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite, into which the composer weaves the seasonal song Deck the Halls. In the second piece, she combines the Troika from Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije Suite with the gospel music song Go Tell it on the Mountain. The final piece takes on a more serious aspect, featuring three well-known segments of Handel’s Messiah, including Rejoice Greatly(combined with Oh, Come Little Children), For Unto Us a Child is Born (combined with Hark the Herald Angels Sing) and concluding with the Hallelujah Chorus. In addition to the specific pairings cited above, she often sprinkles fragments from other carols and holiday songs throughout each work. The result is a perfect presentation of both Classical and traditional music to celebrate the season.

The Snowman, op. 323

Howard Blake (b. 1938)

Although Howard Blake is a complete musician (performer, conductor and composer), and has completed approximately 500 works to which he assigned an opus number, his greatest successes are probably for his film music. His score for The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar in 1982, and he has been nominated for the British film equivalent for several other scores. He was awarded the top musical award of the Cannes Film Festival, as well as several other international awards, and is a member of the Royal Academy of Music. As perhaps a crowning achievement, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to music.

The Snowman is generally thought of as a film for children, but it is full of adult meanings and importance beneath the surface. This arrangement condenses all of the important musical episodes from the film score into a seamless whole, worthy of stand-alone presentation on the orchestral concert-stage.

A Christmas Festival

Leroy Anderson (1908 – 1975)

Leroy Anderson is probably the greatest composer/arranger of light classical and orchestral “pops” music of all time. At one time he was the principal arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler, for whom he prepared countless arrangements of everything ranging from film scores to Broadway shows to Top Ten vocal hits. In addition to arranging, he also composed original works that have become ubiquitous in the American pop music scene, such as The Syncopated ClockThe Typewriter and this season’s favorite – Sleigh Ride. In many cases his music is so familiar that it has taken on a life of its own, and seems to have grown far bigger than the composer himself.

A Christmas Festival might be the most frequently played of all his arrangements, especially in live performances. Countless orchestras feature it on their holiday seasonal concerts, and the Immaculata Symphony has performed it several times. It is a safe bet that most members of our orchestra have also played it with multiple other orchestras during their own careers. It combines traditional Christmas carols such as Silent Night and Joy to the World with seasonal songs that everyone knows, transitioning smoothly from one to the next almost as if they had been written that way originally. Each carol and song appears with its original melody line, original harmonization and rhythm – so that it is easy to “sing along”, if the spirit strikes the audience.

Program Notes by C. Michael Kelly

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