After only a few years of assembling Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas services, I grew weary of the same old same old. Grab a few Messiah choruses, “I Wonder as I Wander,” and the rest of the usual fair I needed to begin looking for the “hidden Christmas treasures.” Of course, it is great when we can involve a solo instrument or two for this most special of occasions. But isn’t it great when we can find a melody or a text that is not worn out?
I remember the first time I used the Alfred Burt “Some Children See Him” from the Burt Carols. Oh my! The congregation was stunned. Then I came upon the Joe Martin arrangement of this same carol, and I was stunned. I did it with oboe and harp and it was beautiful.
The Kim Andre Arnesen “I Will Light Candles This Christmas” was featured on the St. Olaf Christmas broadcast. I had never heard it before, but I sure have used it since. What a gem.
The Pinkham “Christmas Cantata” has been around a long time, but it has not always been readily available. It is now easy to get from Hal Leonard .
Alice Parker and Robert Shaw arranged the traditional German Carol “Christ Was Born on Christmas Day” . What a treasure. And if you have time to bring in a couple of soloists for this, all the better.
I remember when a congregation member approached me one Sunday and told me they played the hammer dulcimer. I decided to create an Appalachian Christmas program. Of course, “I Wonder As I Wander” was included, but what fun I had finding unknown carols (at least to me). “The Cherry Tree Carol,” “See Jesus, the Saviour,” and “Lulle Lullay” were wonderful revelations.
Finally, I remember finding ”The Dale Warland Christmas Editions” published originally by Jensen Publications. Wonderful arrangements that are full of surprises. “What Child is This?” “Away in a Manger,” What is this Fragrance?” “The Angels and the Shepherds,” Bring a Torch,” and “Of Our Father’s Love Begotten” in ways that we had never heard them.
The season is busy, and we can easily fall into the trap of recycling pieces that we know. It is very rewarding to take a risk and uncover new and hidden treasures.