A few months ago, I was looking for a performance-based song to do for the Christmas Eve service. I looked at what the church had on file and wasn’t too excited. I then got the stupid idea to write or arrange something myself. Well the idea wouldn’t leave my head, so I spent entirely too much time arranging a piece for the service.
It combines two common Christmas hymns: O Come, O Come Emmanuel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. My attempt was to have the two songs talk to each other; they go back and forth and sometimes are sung at the same time. I was also listening to a lot of Thomas Tallis, a medieval composer. He wrote an insane 40-part piece for 8 choirs (yes, all at the same time) called Spem in Alium. Here’s a link to the Amazon MP3 album: Thomas Tallis: Spem in alium - Sing and glorify. Disclosure: I get a small (very small) profit if you buy from this link. More info on that in a later post…
The song begins with one part, all alone, singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I left more space between phrases to emphasize the loneliness and despair and longing that we have here on earth- looking forward to Christ coming. That moves to two parts singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, more of a joyful looking back to what the world is like now that Christ has come. Then the words come from a verse of O Come, but with two melodies simultaneously. The next verse has lyrics and melody from the two hymns going on at the same time, phrases started by some, finished by others. I’m attempting to get at the inbetween-ness of our current existence. The song ends with the chorus of O Come (”Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel”) with one of its verses- the song ends up answering its own problem.
There are a couple main progressions I was trying to get at- the first is the singular to the many. One voice crying out in the wilderness is joined by other voices, and maybe they’re not even singing the same exact tune, but they are trying to work at it. The song ends not with a single voice, but with 2 parts. We are in the wilderness, yes, but there is a peace to be found.
The second progression was that of dissonance and resolution. This is probably true for any piece of music, but in this case, its used for working out the space between the promise and its fulfillment. Between us in lonely exile, in our misery to rest or rejoicing.
So, without to much exposition, here’s the song (pardon the recording quality): O Come, O Come Emmanuel / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. If you want the score for whatever reason, let me know.