#36: Friday, December 07, 2018
“Hail, Christmas Day” by Abbie Burt Betinis
Text by John Harris Burt
SSAA, a cappella
“Hail, Christmas Day!” from Abbie Betinis is an earworm in the best sense of the word. More than once I found myself, and my singers, bouncing down the hallway to the opening melody. The tune is hummable and catchy, and sticks with you quickly. It is a spry combination of mixed asymmetrical meters, and certain to keep your singers on their toes. If you are looking for an uptempo, cheerful addition to your holiday concert, you’ve found it!
Abbie Betinis composes a new Christmas carol every year, following in the long-standing tradition begun by her great-grandfather, Rev. Bates Burt. For more information on the family history of carols and Christmas cards, please visit: http://www.abbiebetinis.com/writings_burtcarols.html. This joyful carol features music by Abbie, with text by her grandfather John Harris Burt from 1953.
In Abbie’s musical setting, the mixed meters feature strongly, alternating between a measure of 7/8 and 9/8. The 9/8 is always divided up into 2+2+2+3, while the 7/8 comes up as 2+2+3 or 3+2+2, depending on its position in the phrase. We started the rehearsal process by dissecting each of these, learning how to count them and how to conduct them, and how to discern between the variants of 7/8. There were many rehearsal moments spent writing-in and chanting 1-2-3-1-2-1-2; 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2-3, etc.
During the initial learning phrase of rehearsals, the constantly-changing meter signatures presented an obstacle for my singers but, after repetition, it became second nature. Encouraging singers to physicalize the meter through conducting helped as well, as it emphasized the asymmetrical aspect. My singers were always asked to conduct through the piece as they were rehearsing it.
The work is straightforward in form – four verses, each beginning in English and finishing in Latin. The first and second verses are in unison, with added octaves at the end of the second verse. While you may feel that singing in unison might not present enough of a challenge for your singers, or enough interest for your audience, I encourage you to set aside that notion here. The unison melody line is full of mixed and asymmetrical meters, phrasing over the barline, accents, and large jumps, all of which creates a lovely sense of urgency and energy.
Verse three begins with the melody in the Soprano 2 (or a solo), and harmonic Oohs/Aahs in the outer voices. There is some divisi in the outer voices, but not much; it reads like SSA with a bit of divisi. The meter can be a little tricky here for the voice parts with the longer harmony notes – it is more difficult to feel the pulse when you have half-notes, as opposed to quarter notes and eighth notes.
Having the melody line do the chant-counting while the harmony parts rehearsed was helpful, as was reminding singers to always keep the pulse physically connected in their body (tap, patsch, clap, step, snap, conduct, etc.). The second half of verse three engages all voice parts in the text, now with contrary motion and added harmonies. This is the first time that the dynamic forte has appeared thus far in the piece, and the build up to it is a great moment.
The fourth verse is a round in three parts. While the earlier unison verses solidify the metric and tonal patterns for the choir, this verse is all about part independence. I loved the first time rehearsing this verse, watching singers concentrate so strongly to keep the asymmetrical meters lined up together. After completing the fourth verse, there is a final coda to wrap-up the work.
The energy and drive in this piece is palpable. If you need a fast and buoyant selection to compliment the rest of your holiday program, look no further. Just know – you will find yourself humming it for weeks to come!
|Title:||Hail, Christmas Day!|
|Composer:||Abbie Burt Betinis|
|Date of Composition:||2003 (rev 2010)|
|Author:||Rev. John Harris Burt|
|Date of Text:||1953|
|Subject(s), Genre:||Christmas, sacred, holiday, winter, joy|
|Language:||English and Latin|
|Voicing Details:||SSAA (unison, 2-part, SSA, and SSAA)|
|Ranges:|| S1: D4-F#5|
|Premiering Ensemble:||Pike Kor, Luther College, Sandra Peter, conductor|
|Series:||The Burt Family Christmas Carols|
|Publisher:||Abbie Betinis Music www.abbiebetinis.com|
| Further descriptions and details, including program notes, audio, perusal score, and purchasing: |
Until next week!
Dr. Shelbie Wahl-Fouts is associate professor of music, Director of Choral Activities, and music department chair at Hollins University, a women’s college in Roanoke, Virginia.