The Sixty-Four Days of Christmas


Every choral musician’s holiday season begins mid-October when rehearsals pick up for the approximately seventy-three Christmas gigs they will be singing throughout the month of December. It’s a season that leaves us completely exhausted, both physically and vocally. Between each congregation’s variation on Lessons and Carols, Victorian-clad caroling engagements, and multiple professional choral Christmas concerts we have every Rutter and Willcocks arrangement nearly committed to memory.

This might sound like a drag, but for most of us, WE FREAKING LOVE IT. Every December we get to sing music that we dearly love, in arrangements well-known and unfamiliar while warming the holiday season of our audiences. There’s an inextricable, nostalgic tie between Christmas and choral music for us, and I have yet to meet a choral singer who greets the season with less than a twinkling eye when they receive their packets of music.

Somewhat more traditional in its presentation, A Verdigris Christmas will feature some favorites from the cathedrals across the pond, some new arrangements, and a bit of juke box-style audience interaction, all framed around the beauty of Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour un temps de Noël.

I wanted to get some of Sam’s thoughts on the inspiration behind this program. Here he shares a little of the inspiration behind our upcoming concert.

What’s the structure of this concert, and how does it bring something new to the traditional choral Christmas concert?

It’s a more traditional first half, with an audience-centered second half. We’re taking stuff out of context and jumbling it up into a story. For example, we’re taking the Poulenc motets and alternating them with Matthias’s Ave Rex along with some other contemporary works that walk the listener through vignettes from the Christmas story, like the stable, the visitation of the Magi, the shepherds encounter with the angels, and Mary celebrating her pregnancy with Elizabeth.

How did you decide on the Poulenc motets as your skeleton for this concert?

Poulenc’s music describes four different scenes. He has moments of very serious musical language that are complemented with lighters motifs that directly reflect the text that he’s setting. It’s a more sophisticated piece of music for many audience members, and by pairing it with other pieces, it provides commentary and context that help draw meaning out of Poulenc’s challenging musical language.

What’s your favorite piece on the program?

Probably the Stravinsky Ave Maria. It has very specific meaning for me, because I come from that [Russian] culture and feel a strong connection with the piece. It’s a Christian text, but the harmonic language is very meditative, so the piece feels more broadly spiritual.

Thanks, Sam! I’m really looking forward to the cozy, interactive experience we’ll be giving audiences at this concert. I don’t know how much Sam wants to give away ahead of time, so you’ll just have to come check it out at one of our two performances. We started our Christmas journey several weeks ago, and can’t wait to make our final stop with you in these upcoming concerts.

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Erinn Sensenig