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Illinois Arts Council
 

     

    PROGRAM NOTES

    for the December 4th, 2005 Concert

     

    by Donald Draganski

     

     

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,

      Ring, happy bells, across the snow;

      The year is going, let him go;

    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

     

          - A. Tennyson , In Memoriam . (1833)

     

      Hear the sledges with the bells - Silver bells!

      [...]       

    To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

      From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

        Bells, bells, bells -

    From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

     

          - E. A. Poe . The Bells (1849)

     

      I mourn death, I disperse the lightning, I announce the Sabbath, I rouse the lazy, I scatter the winds, I appease the bloodthirsty.

              

           -Inscription over a bell, (date uncertain, original in Latin)

     

    *****

     

      Although today's concert emphasizes the role of bells in contributing to our holiday festivities and reveling, bell-ringing probably had its origins in the belief that their sounds could ward off evil spirits-although it's hard to believe that a hardened demon would be frightened by the tinkling of a bell. Nevertheless, we read in Exodus that bells were sewn onto the hem of the High Priest's garments to protect him when he entered into holy places, and the Israelite shepherds placed bells on their sheep not only as a way of frightening away predators, but also to guard their flocks against air-borne devils. Poe's celebrated poem describes quite well the diverse uses that bells are put to; its opening lines (quoted above) describe the happy feelings they convey during mid-winter revels, but in succeeding stanzas the poet reminds us that bells are also used to strike terror, to warn of impending disasters, and to toll the arrival of Death. (Bells can even kill, as Dorothy Sayers points out in her murder mystery The Nine Tailors .)

     

      The use of bells in Christian worship began in earnest in the sixth century when the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino developed methods for casting bronze bells. The Order soon established foundries throughout Europe , and the good monks were at one time the primary source of bells for churches and monasteries. Within a century, any Christian community lacking a Benedictine bell was very much the exception.

     

      Bells have customarily been part of Christmas tradition, and as Mr. Tristram Coffin observes, it has always been the job of the youngsters to raise a general commotion at holiday time, with bells and other noisemakers. Medieval Christmas nights were far from silent, notwithstanding the sentiment of our most popular carol. Our forebears believed that even bells that had been sunk to the bottom of ponds and lakes would miraculously ring out at midnight on Christmas Eve. Bells are infused with much magic and mystery, and what better time to remind ourselves of their power to incant and charm than at this holiday concert as we share our gift of music with the Agape Ringers.

     

    *****

     

      K. Lee Scott, born in Alabama in 1950, is a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Music. He has served on the faculties of his alma mater, at its Birmingham campus, and at Samford University . He also serves as choir director at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Birmingham .

     

      Mr. Scott has well over three hundred compositions to his credit, including anthems, hymns, and works for both solo voice and chorus. Ring Out, Ye Crystal Spheres, for chorus, handbells, and organ, was commissioned for the 2001 Festival of Christmas Music at Samford University in Birmingham . The text is drawn from the thirteenth stanza of John Milton's "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," an early poem written when the poet was twenty-one, in the same year he received his B.A. degree at Christ's College, Cambridge .

     

    *****

     

      Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. A former faculty member of Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. She now lives on a dairy farm in Braintree , Vermont . She is the proud recipient of the 2000 "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Vermont Arts Council.

     

       Rejoice! consists of musical settings of three traditional carols and was originally scored for mixed chorus and orchestra. That version was commissioned for the Juletide Festival 2001 at Luther College in Decorah , Iowa , and received its premier performance on November 28th of that year. At the request of Dr. Chen, Ms. Walker has composed an alternate setting for chorus, organ, brass choir, and bells. Today marks the first performance of this new version written expressly for the North Shore Choral Society.

     

      The first movement is a free setting of "What Child Is This?" The melody on which this carol is based is the traditional Elizabethan song "Greensleeves." The second carol, "Love Came Down at Christmas," is a new setting of a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). This leads directly into the next movement, "Good Christian Friends Rejoice!" which is based on the fourteenth century German melody "In dulci jubilo."

     

    *****

     

      William Mathias (1934-1992) was born and educated in Wales and graduated from the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth in 1956. Apart from a brief four-year sojourn as lecturer at Edinburgh University , he always lived and worked in his native Wales . Grove's Dictionary describes him as one of the best-equipped composers Wales has ever produced and further states that "his success is due to the professional attitude toward composition that he found it necessary to adopt in the face of a native tradition that for centuries had been dominated by amateurs." His list of compositions is indeed impressive, including concertos, symphonies, much chamber music, an opera, and an abundance of choral music.

     

      His Ave Rex: A Carol Sequence , with texts derived from anonymous Medieval lyrics, was commissioned by the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir and first performed on December 1969. The work is cast in four movements:

      No. 1, "Ave Rex" (Hail, King of angels)

      No. 2, "Alleluya, a new work is come on hand"

      No. 3, "There is no rose of such virtue" (The text is from a manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford , probably dating from the fourteenth century.)

      No. 4, "Sir Christèmas" (The text survives in a British Museum manuscript, probably dating from the reign of Edward IV.)

     

     

    Copyright © 2005 by Donald Draganski

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

     

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