by Mark Wedel, The Kalamazoo Gazette
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Read notes for Rejoice! -- Christmas Songs (2001) for SATB Chorus and Orchestra
New Christmas music can be a rarity. The season calls for tradition, but overly familiar carols and sounds can "make you feel like you're walking around in Meijer's" during a holiday concert sometimes, said Thomas Kasdorf, director of the Kalamazoo Singers Holiday Chorus.
New works, as well as the rarely heard, will be featured at the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra's annual "Home for the Holidays" concert on Saturday and Nov. 30 at Chenery Auditorium. Conductor Raymond Harvey will lead the KSO in Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Greensleeves," which highlights the melody of the carol "What Child is This?" Lori Moore, weekday morning host on WKZO AM, will recite "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." The Western Brass Quintet will play Handel's "Aria."
Along with the variety of homey sounds there will be rarely heard works, such as Michigan born contemporary composer David Ott's "Fantasy on Adeste Fidelis" and Randol Bass'"A Symphony of Carols," featuring holiday music of other nations.
Also on the program is a brand new work. The Kalamazoo Singers Holiday Chorus will present the Kalamazoo debut of "Rejoice!" by Gwyneth Walker. Walker will travel from her dairy farm in Braintree, Vt., to attend the concert and get to know the community, Kasdorf said.
"The reason we're doing it is, it is a good piece of music," Kasdorf said. "It's always nice to have a little something fresh and new."
Kasdorf, also the director of music at First Presbyterian Church, came across the piece while seeking to commission a composer for the church's 75th anniversary of the dedication of the sanctuary, scheduled for 2005. After looking through Walker's compositions, he chose her for the commission and pulled "Rejoice!" for consideration as a holiday concert piece.
Kasdorf showed it to Harvey, who agreed to include it in this season's concert. "Rejoice!" is a medley of two traditional carols "What Child is This?" and "Good Christian Men Rejoice" and the poem "Love Came Down at Christmas" set to music, "She does a really nice, very creative job at making them all sound fresh," Kasdorf said.
Walker put her own touches on "Good Christian Men," changing it to "Good Christian Friends," and changing a line referencing "oxen" to "cows" and adding cowbells.
"She lives on a dairy farm and gets a lot of her inspiration looking out the window and watching the cattle," Kasdorf said.
Walker set "Love Came Down at Christmas," by 19th century poet Christina Rosette, to music that is "a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of writing," Kasdorf said. "The chorus just melts when they sing it."
A prolific composer who has been writing music since the late '70s, Walker will be in Kalamazoo to attend the concert, as well as to meet with First Presbyterian members as part of her commission work. She'll also meet with the WMU choral studies department on Dec. 1.