The Christmas Gloria – One Year Later

In early December 2007 I had let go of all but one of my posts in preparation of leaving to work for Cirque Du Soleil. I received notice at the beginning of December that my date to join Cirque had been moved to three weeks later so I had some time on my hands. My last job I still retained was music director at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Mount Vernon, WA.

I wanted to do something with my newfound free time; so decided to do something crazy that I had always wanted to do: To write a complete orchestral and choral work in one week like JS Bach used to do for his weekly church services. My last service for the church was Christmas Eve 2007 so I decided to write a Gloria for presentation at the evening Christmas Eve service.

I am not good at writing unless I have to – so I habitually put myself in positions where I can’t back out. I told the church staff and choir of my intention and they all thought it sounded like fun and they put ads in the local paper for people to join our choir for the service. The great part about his (and I don’t think they knew this) is that the ads went out but I hadn’t written a note of the music yet. But it put me in a great corner where I had to write the piece now.

Wanting to complete the piece in one week like JS Bach used to do, I started composing one week before the first choir rehearsal. I am usually unimpressed when people tell me how quickly they wrote a piece (“Look, I wrote this song in only one hour!”) because it’s usually just an excuse for how crappy the music is. But I cut myself slack in this instance, because part of the magic of the journey was the time constraint involved. I cannot be JS Bach (Boy, I wish I could!), but I could at least enjoy a little taste of his historical work style.

I write this because I received an email reminding me the one year anniversary of the “Christmas Gloria” was coming up and there were questions about how to access it.

Here is a live recording of the piece:
http://conradaskland.com/downloads/Christmas-Gloria/Christmas-Gloria.mp3

The score is located here:
http://conradaskland.com/downloads/Christmas-Gloria/Christmas-Gloria-Askland-conductor.pdf

FYI, I had set up several professional microphones for a great recording but did so at the last minute and my ADAT tapes wouldn’t format that evening correctly. So all I could do was put a little CD recorder on top of the organ that recorded this performance with it’s very crappy internal microphones. But at least we have something of that night.

Yes, you may download it and copy it for a performance if you like. This was a wonderful experience for me. Thank you to the many talented vocalists and musicians in Mount Vernon, and the congregation and staff of Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church for supporting this work.

If you want to follow the original progression of the work on the piece begun December 12, 2007 – you can go here:
http://www.conradaskland.com/blog/2007/12/the-gloria-challenge/

The words of the Gloria are from the original Latin text of the Gloria from the Catholic Mass. I think I rearranged the order of the sentences, can’t quite remember now. I DID add in the words “Soli Deo Gloria” at the beginning and end (for a proper Protestant musical bookmark), “Only for the Glory of God” – also a reference to “Sola Scriptura” from Martin Luther and the Reformation.

The middle section is a trio on Et In Terra Pax or “Let There Be Peace On Earth”. That is my favorite section – the gentle and intimate relief from the larger choral sections. It makes me cry because Et In Terra Pax (the words) are so beautiful, yet seems so impossible to realize. Like the girl in Les Miserable singing “Castle on a Cloud” – it’s more of a hopeful wish than something I know can be true. It is pathos – just my personal take. To others it might very well just be some song.

My other favorite part of the recording is not actually the music at all, it is the applause. It’s not applause necessarily for the piece, but the piece was my way of saying farewell to the congregation; and to me the applause was them wishing me well on my journey.

Merry Christmas!

3 comments

  • So, Mary walked into the church office while this was playing as I worked. She looked intrigued with that head tilt listening posture. “It’s Conrad’s arrangement from last Christmas.” “Wow.” she said. On about my third play-through, Randall came into my workspace. “Well the office sounds joyous!” “It’s Conrad’s ‘Bach Challenge’ from last year.” I said proudly. “Wow.” he replied. I like it when you get “Wow’s” from people who relish music. 🙂 I personally miss the sleigh bells, but the music makes my heart soar even without them. Mary and I decided handbells would be a pleasant addition. Anyway … Hope the Monday session went well! Thanks for the “joyous” memory.

  • That’s right, I forgot about the sleigh bells! I had a sleigh bell part in one of the moving chorale sections – but at the last minute had the percussionist take it out. It had meant to be a little tongue ‘n cheek Christmas ooze, but just didn’t fit the mood of the piece that evening.

    I remember I was very sick the evening of the performance and wore period clothing. It was very “Dickens”.

  • You do like to costume up! Makes me happy.
    The sleigh bells were just so whimsical … playful even in the best wink kind of way. Delightfully suprising as it were. In the rehearsal you let me sneak into, they were just a little heavy handed if I remember. Still, I really do miss them. It was daring to add them in the first place. So you axed my favorite part. I’ll get over it in a few decades. 😉

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