Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Contemplative Christmas Soundbook

by G. Jack Urso


I tend to be contemplative by nature, and my musical choices follow suit. Two albums I go to this time of year include George Winston's December (1982) and Anonymous 4's On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets (1993). The Fall semester is my busiest time of year and I have nary a moment of peace until just a few days before Christmas when all the work is done and my schedule goes from 100 mph to a dead crawl. As we inch our away towards the New Year, I find the time, like many others, to take stock of my life and focus on some of the bigger existential questions rather than the workaday concerns that can overwhelm us.

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

George Winston’s triple Platinum 1982 release, December, is the pianist’s highest-selling and most well-known work. Part of a series of albums on the seasons (including Autumn, Winter into Spring, and Summer), December includes both original compositions and traditional carols. Winston's sparse, minimalist arrangements give space for the performer to explore the piece, and for the listener to explore their own thoughts. 

The album was a gift from a college friend for Christmas 1985, along with a scarf I still have, so for me it is also a reminder of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, and the people who enter and leave our lives through the years.

Click on the video above to hear the entire album or on the links below for individual tracks.

  1. Thanksgiving (4:04)
  2. Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head (John Jacob Niles) (2:40)
  3. Joy (J. S. Bach) (3:13)
  4. Prelude (1:16)
  5. Carol of the Bells (M. D. Leontovych) (3:56)
  6. Night, Part One: Snow (Malcom Dalglish) (1:51)
  7. Night, Part Two: Midnight (Malcom Dalglish) (1:56)
  8. Night, Part Three: Minstrels (Malcom Dalglish) (2:00)
  9. Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel (5:21)
  10. The Holly and the Ivy (Traditional) 4:52)
  11. Some Children See Him (Alfred S. Burt) (3:43)
  12. Peace (4:02)

Total length: 39:36

From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Anonymous 4 (1992-2016), comprised of Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham, and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, was an a cappella group that performed arrangements of medieval music. Their 1993 album On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols & Motets, while overtly a celebration of a joyous occasion, echoes the solemn nature of religious services in the Middle Ages. Some of the songs are brief as they are part of Catholic liturgy. Personally, I find female voices raised in Gregorian chant have a more ethereal, transcendent quality compared to their male counterparts. The album provides a peaceful space for seasonal contemplation.

Click on the video above to hear the entire album or on the links below for individual tracks.

  1. Antiphon: Hodie Christus Natus Est (Chant) (1:04)
  2. Motet: O Nobilis Nativitas/O Mira Dei/O Decus Virgineum/Apparuit (0:49)
  3. Antiphon: Lux de Luce (Chant) (0.29)
  4. Carol: Alleluya: A Nywe Werke (5:45)
  5. Hymn: Verbum Supernum Prodiens (Chant) (2:23)
  6. Motet: Balaam de Quo Vaticinans [Ballam] (2:34)
  7. Carol: Ave Maria (2:42)
  8. Song: Gabriel, Fram Heven-King (2:54)
  9. Carol: Lullay: I Saw a Swete Semly Syght (2:54)
  10. Motet: Prolis Eterne Genitor/Psallat Mater Gracie [Pes] (2:28)
  11. Hymn: Vox Clara, Ecce, Intonat (Chant) (3:10)
  12. Rondellus: de Supernis Sedibus (2:15)
  13. Antiphon: Omnes de Saba (Chant) (0:38)
  14. Motet: Puellare Gremium/Purissima Mater [Pes] (1:36)
  15. Carol: Lullay, Lullay: Als I Lay on Yoolis Night (8:05)
  16. Responsory: Tria Sunt Munera (Chant) (3:30)
  17. Motet: Orto Sole Serene/Origo Viri/Virga Lesse [Tenor] (2:07)
  18. Song: Peperit Virgo (4:19)
  19. Carol: Ecce Quod Natura (4:16)
  20. Hymn: A Solis Ortus Cardine (Chant) (3:49)
  21. Carol: Ther Is No Rose of Swych Vertu (3:38)
  22. Antiphon: Videntes Stellam (Chant) (0:31)
  23. Carol: Nowel: Owt of Your Slepe Aryse (4:30) 

Total length: 68:00 

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Sir Arthur Nudge: New British Peace Envoy

 by G. Jack Urso

Created by G. Jack Urso, with apologies to Month Phyton's Flying Circus.