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Program Notes


Hombe is a folk song from Kenya in the Luo language; this arrangement and the English text are by Laz Ekwueme. 


Hombe (Idiomatic for “Home”)

Nya thii may wak, Ondiek chame,

Nya thii maling’, Ondiek weye.

Hyenas catch a weeping child,

But angels watch the sleeping child.

The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy

Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield says of his arrangement: “I have always thought there was a club in heaven where they play old calypso for eternity, and I hope that my arrangement of this Trinidad carol might someday be used for an angelic singalong where ‘Gloria Deo’ becomes ‘Day-O, Day-O.’”


His a cappella arrangement of this beloved, upbeat carol layers the arrival of the angels, shepherds and wise men in a jumbled, ecstatic party atmosphere. Rhythmic drive and melodic polyphony combine to create interlocking ostinati that showcase every section in the choir in this fun presentation of a traditional folk song from the Caribbean.


Still, Still, Still

This Austrian carol and lullaby is a folk tune (authorship unknown) from the State of Salzburg, appearing for the first time in an 1865 folk song collection. The words describe the peace of the infant Jesus and his mother as he is sung to sleep. The words have changed slightly over the years but the modern Standard German version remains attributed to Georg Götsch (1895–1956).


O Magnum Mysterium 

One of Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria’s most famous motets. The text was written for the Epiphany – a Greek word for sudden insight or flash of understanding. In the Christian tradition, the Epiphany refers to the Magi’s realization that as they stood in front of the baby, they were, in fact, standing in front of the son of God. Victoria’s passionate setting of this text highlights the awe and mystery of the wise men.


O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.



O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.



Ai, Nama M​ā​mi​ņ​a

In ancient agrarian Latvian societies, when all the field work was finished and the farm animals were housed for winter, it was time for the winter activities to begin. Other than indoor work, one of the most characteristic activities was mummery or masquerading, which often took place at Christmastime. People dressed up as bears, bear tamers, wolves, cranes, goats, haystacks, tall women, short men, gypsies, trees or other familiar objects. With lots of noise, loud singing, dancing and joking, the mummers would travel to the houses and homesteads of friends and neighbors and make merry. They were always welcome since it was believed they brought blessings, wealth and prosperity and frightened away evil spirits. Andrejs Jansons’ arrangement of “Ai, Nama M​ā​mi​ņ​a” energetically invokes the festive spirit of this season.


Wonderful Peace

Gustaf Lazarus Nordqvist worked in Stockholm in the early 20th century. He was a professor, organist and composer of hundreds of solo songs, many of them sacred. His carol Jul, Jul (Wonderful Peace) is about as famous in Scandinavia as Silent Night is in the United States. 


Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind

This setting of a song from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It  is part of John Rutter’s choral cycle When Icicles Hang. In the play, Shakespeare keenly observes the shrewdness, treachery, betrayal and sinfulness of human beings. Human friendship is seen as feigning and hypocritical. Instead, he glorifies the winter wind, a symbol of nature’s pure intentions, and invites it to blow.


Mi Zeh Y'maleil

This robust and exotic composition is based on a traditional Chanukah song from Tétouan, Morocco. The song recounts the miraculous victory of the Maccabees and praises God for saving the Jewish people from the Greeks.


English Translation:

Who can retell the things that befell us,

Who can count them?

In every age, a hero or sage came to our aid.

Hark! In days of yore in Israel’s ancient land

Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band.

But now all Israel must as one arise,

Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.


Mary Had A Baby

Three versions of the spiritual Mary Had a Baby have survived since the time of slavery, each with its own take on the birth of Jesus. Roland Carter’s setting integrates the gospel style popular in the African American church with this timeless tune. 


From C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘Mary Had a Baby’” (, Dec. 2022)


With some exceptions, such as Go, Tell It on the Mountain, the nativity of Christ was not a common theme in African American spirituals. African American poet James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) noted that spirituals “based on the birth or infancy of Jesus” were “extremely rare.” He speculates that the “Negro preferred to think of Jesus as God, as almighty, all-powerful to help.” Furthermore, Johnson observes that Christ’s birth was not a particularly sacred or religious observance in the South, but a time of celebration with “gunpowder and whiskey . . . singing, dancing, visiting; to guzzling, gluttony, and debauchery.” Johnson’s observation notwithstanding, hymnologist Eileen Guenther lists more than a dozen Nativity-related spirituals and variants in her study.


Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas, with some of the largest populations of enslaved people, were among the first in the United States to declare Christmas a state holiday in the 1830s. Though their masters feared rebellions and escapes during the holidays, the observance of Christmas gave many enslaved people some respite from daily drudgery and abuse.


Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest 

The Carols and Lullabies originate from various countries and various regions. The second and eighth songs in particular are from the Catalonia region of Spain and are written in the French-influenced language Catalan. The narrative takes us from Mary and Joseph’s journey, to the poetic idea of spring in winter, to lullabies, scenes at the manger, bells ringing in honor of the birth, fires lit in celebration, gifts, singing shepherds, laughing rivers and dancing animals.


Composer Conrad Susa (b. 1955) writes: 


Four or five years ago, Philip Brunelle suggested I write him a companion to Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. To a composer, this tempting offer was another way of asking, ‘How’s about writing us a hit?’ After several years of me writhing in doubt, a friend, Gary Holt, showed me a collection of traditional Spanish carols he had sung as a boy in Arizona. Excited, I juggled them around to form a narrative. I noted their many connections with Renaissance music along with their homey, artful simplicity. Finally, the overriding image of a Southwestern piñata party for the new baby led me to add guitar and marimba to Britten’s harp and to compose connective music and totally re-conceive the carols.



I. ¡Oh mi Belén! (Vizcaya, Spain)


Oh, my Bethlehem!

Your well-beloved hour has arrived!

The light you shine unceasingly

Is like a beacon that guides us

On our way, night and day.

Oh my Bethlehem!


II. El Desembre Congelat (Catalonia)

In frozen December, confusion itself retreats

It is like April, crowned with flowers, admired by all,

When, in a garden of love, a divine flower is born

Of a beautiful, fruitful, budding rose.

The first Father caused the dark night.

Which for everyone obscures painful sight.

But one midnight, the sun shines without ceasing

From a beautiful dawn

With which the heavens fall in love.

The month of May has flowered, without it being May.

A lily white and gentle, of rare fragrance

Which everyone senses, from East to West, 

All its sweetness and bouquet, 

With great good fortune.


III. Alegría (Puerto Rico)

Towards Bethlehem Mary and her loving husband set off

Bringing along an all-powerful God.

Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy and pleasure!

That the Virgin goes with her husband towards Bethlehem.


Just as soon as they arrived in Bethlehem they asked around for lodgings

But no one wanted to put them up because they looked so poor.

Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy and pleasure!

That the Virgin goes with her husband towards Bethlehem.


On seeing them pass by, the little birds of the forest

Were singing them melodies with their harmonious trills.

Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy and pleasure!

That the Virgin goes with her husband towards Bethlehem.


IV. A la Nanita Nana (Spain)

My Jesus is tired, blessed may he be.

Little fountain, you run clear and resonant

Nightingale, in the forest, singing, you weep.

Hush while the cradle is rocked.


VI. Campana sobre Campana (Andalusia, Spain)

Bell after bell after bell!

Come to the window, and you’ll see the Child in his cradle.

Bethlehem, bells of Bethlehem which the angels play,

What news do you bring me?

Now that your flock is gathered, where are you going, little shepherd?

I’ll carry to the manger farmers’ cheese, butter and wine.

If the stars still shine, where do you want to go, shepherd?

I go to the manger in case the Child lets me sleep beside Him.


VII. En Belén Tocan a Fuego (Castilla, Spain)

In Bethlehem they light a fire at the manger and the flames rise.

Because they say that the Redeemer of Souls is born.


The fish in the river are leaping and dancing

They leap and they dance to see God born.


In a manger in Bethlehem a carnation was born

Who to redeem the world has become a lily stained with purple.


The Virgin washes swaddling clothes and hangs them on the rosemary bush.

The little birds were singing and the water ran laughing.


VIII. El Noi de la Mare (Catalonia)

What shall we give to the Mother’s Child?

What shall we give that will delight him?

We’ll give him raisins in baskets

We’ll give him figs in a hamper.


Raisins and figs and walnuts and olives

Raisins and figs and honey and farmers’ cheese.

Even if the figs are green, even so, they’ll ripen.

If they don’t ripen on Palm Sunday, they’ll ripen on Easter.


IX. Chiquirriquitín (Andalusia, Spain)

Little baby boy!

Placed in the straw, oh the little baby boy!

Tiny beloved of the soul. 

Under the arch of the little manger, Mary, Joseph and the Child are revealed.

Little baby boy!

Placed in the straw, oh the little baby boy!

Tiny beloved of the soul.

Between an ox and a mule God has been born

And they’ve placed him in a lowly manger.


X. El Rorro (Mexico)

A la rurru, little baby boy.

Sleep now, my little Jesus.

From the elephant to the mosquito

Stay silent, don’t disturb Him.

Fortunate night, night of joy.

Blessed be the sweet, divine Mary.

Heavenly choirs, with your sweet accent,

Sing of the good fortune of this birth.

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