1. By Candlelight
trad. Irish, the Wexford Carol / words by Diane Taraz, 2015
I crafted new lyrics for this wonderful old melody, which sits so well on the dulcimer. It's in mixolydian mode, a medieval arrangement in which the seventh note is lowered by a whole step instead of the half we are used to in modern scales. Billy Novick adds that tinge of sadness always evoked by the whistle.
2. Rise Up, Shepherd American spiritual
This classic is also in mixolydian mode. Two of the three African American spirituals on this recording are commands; here the shepherds are warned that if they follow directions the animals in their care will be abandoned, but, as we know, they rise up and follow nevertheless. I just love singing with myself in the studio; it's so easy to schedule rehearsals, and I know exactly what that lead singer will do!
3. Let It Snow! Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, 1945, Imagem Music LLC
o/b/o Cahn Music and Chappell and Co. o/b/o Producers Music Publishing Co.
Cahn and Styne wrote this cool song during a Hollywood heat wave, wishing that the frightful weather involved lower temperatures.
4. Sleepsong Rolf Lovland, Brendan Graham, 2004, Peermusic Iii Ltd. and Universal Polygram International Pub Inc.
Graham wrote this just before his daughter set out on a long journey. Lovland, of the band Secret Garden, created the Celtic-flavored tune. Sitting in on hand drum is the immortal Stingy Lapel, a close personal friend of Mr. Luddecke.
5. O Magnum Mysterium Morten Lauridsen, 1994, Songs of Peer, Ltd.
One of my favorite choral pieces, adapted for just one voice, and dulcimer. The Latin means "Oh great mystery and sacred wonder, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger. Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to carry the savior. Allelulia!"
6. Silver Bells Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, 1950, Sony/ATV Harmony
The title of this classic was Tinkle Bells until Livingston's wife wisely pointed out the unfortunate connotations of "tinkle." Our jazz quartet has great fun with it.
7. Stille, Stille, Stille trad. Austrian, German words attributed to Georg Gotsch
A most satisfyingly symmetrical lullaby, in the ancient tradition of soothing the babe. I have interwoven a translation of the joyous words. We decided that the operative mood for Billy's whistle is "pinkies up."
8. Diraít-on Morten Lauridsen, 1993, Southern Music Publishing Co., Inc. / Rainer Maria Rilke, 1927
In setting Rilke's "The Roses," Lauridsen aimed to create a timeless folk melody, and he certainly succeeded. I have sung this as part of a larger choral setting of Rilke poems, and love it so much I adapted it for one voice. Diraít-on means "so they say," a phrase that does not seem to warrant the intense emotion called forth by the melody, but there it is. The English here is my translation of the French, and I took over Larry's keyboard, adapting Lauridsen's evocative accompaniment to add the harmonies in his original four parts.
9. What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby? / I Wonder As I Wander trad. American
These folk masterpieces blend well. The first is an African American spiritual that captures the sorrow of bearing children in a world where their fate is probably sealed in tragedy. The second continues the mournful tone, as a wanderer ponders the mystery of an all-powerful being joining "poor, ornery people" in human form, subject to all the indignities of life: teething, illness, warts, etc.
10. Winter Wonderland Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith, 1934, WB Music Corp.
Snap your fingers as you shuffle through the snow. Billy's alto sax raises the cool quotient, and Peter's bass and Larry's piano take us on a delightful trip to wonderland.
11. The Coventry Carol Robert Croo, 1534
Since medieval times composers have made lullabies out of the gruesome Bible story of the slaughter of the innocents. Croo crafted this one for a Tailor's Guild pageant in Coventry, England, that had been held for several hundred years before he became its manager.
12. Children, Go Where I Send Thee American spiritual
A lively add-on song, mesmerizing as it builds up to ten children going. Peter goes to town and back on bass, and Stingy lays down a perfect groove on hand drum.
13. Your Birthday Song Diane Taraz, 2019
What is this doing here? It seems to have wandered in from some other recording. Well, the birthday song is generally sung by candlelight . . . and I love any excuse to hear Peter toot his Sousaphone. He plays his spare tuba on this cut, as his main squeeze was in the shop.
14. The Tree of Life Elizabeth Poston, 1967
Mechanical Copyright Protection Society Ltd. / words trad. English, adapted by Diane Taraz, 2109
In 1784 Joshua Smith published a hymnal in New England that included his adaptation of an old folk song, "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree." The cider made from New England apples saved the population from deadly microbes in their polluted water supplies, so linking life-saving fruit with a spiritual savior resonated with worshippers. In 1967 Elizabeth Poston, a prominent English composer and collector of folk songs, created a soaring melody for the old words, and it has become a Christmas classic. I adapted the lyrics yet again to resonate with listeners 235 years later, who generally have access to clean water but may desperately need to "sit and rest awhile" in the shade of a spiritual tree.