CHRISTMAS NIGHT Album Profile by Rick Sparks
(Greenville, SC – 10/15/20) - Christmas Night is here! I’m very excited to release this collection of beautiful Christmas carols, especially now. When I began production on Christmas Night in February 2020, little did I know how the world would soon be changed forever.
As the months slowly passed and the pandemic worsened, the songs of Christmas Night became a refuge and comfort to my soul. I became convinced that they would do the same for every listener, and that became this album's mission.
Christmas Night was inspired, in part, by a wonderful holiday tradition: the annual BBC broadcast of the King’s College Christmas Eve service in Cambridge, England. That service is always strikingly beautiful in its simplicity and reverence, and inspired my choice of carols and arrangements on Christmas Night.
The majority of Christmas carols on the album are from the 19th century, and lend themselves beautifully to neoclassical arrangements with traditional instruments (strings, bells, flute, piano) and angelic voices.
Here’s a rundown of the songs.
1. Christmas Night - The title song is one of two new originals I wrote for the album. As the first song, it instantly communicates “Christmas,” opening with bells playing the main theme. To my ear, the bridge’s classical string section sounds very English, which I love. Add in the emotion of angelic voices and the album’s main theme is complete.
2. Christ Is Born - This seasonal hit from The Carpenters’ 1978 Christmas album receives lots of radio airplay each year. I basically used their arrangement on the intro and bridge, with Christmas bells carrying the melody throughout. The song itself was discovered by the great Perry Como during a trip to Rome in 1964, when he heard it sung by the Sistine Chapel choir. Perry had it translated into English and sang it the first time on his televised Christmas special that year.
3. The First Noel. One of my all-time Christmas favorites, this lovely 19th century carol features strings, flute, piano and angelic voices. I have always loved writing string arrangements – the intro and ending are both variations on the final musical phrase of the original song (...“born is the King of Israel”). Again, the classical strings on the bridge sound very English to me.
4. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. As a child of the 60’s, the acapella vocal intro to this song always evokes the Charlie Brown Christmas Special of 1964. I began my arrangement the same way as the Peanuts gang, with voices only, joined by a classical string section for the remainder of the 1st verse, bridge and 2nd verse. Since the song is about angels singing, I ended with an acapella angel choir.
5. In the Bleak Midwinter. Lovely, poignant American Christmas carol from the turn of the last century and one of my favorites. I love Gustav Holst’s gorgeous melody (and Christina Rossetti’s tender lyrics). A simple piano arrangement carries the song, enhanced by strings and angel voices.
6. What Child Is This. This 19th century English carol with a familiar melody (Greensleeves) alternates between major and minor chords - haunting and beautiful. I tried to match that feel with my arrangement, including a new bridge of descending chords with strings and voices, and a variation of the melody for the ending.
7. Infant Holy, Infant Lowly. With a melody that dates back as far as the 13th century, this traditional Polish carol is undoubtedly the oldest on the album. I hear it as a lullaby, with angelic voices & bells on the intro, and flute & voices carrying the melody on the verses. Another original bridge section – I wrote bridges for nearly all the carols, as they date from a time when musically, bridges weren’t used. Voices repeat the last musical phrase of the verse for the ending.
8. Once in Royal David’s City. Lovely English carol first published in 1848 as a children’s hymn, my arrangement (and this album) was very much inspired by the King’s College Christmas Eve service. That wonderful service begins each year with the first verse of this carol sung acapella by a single boy’s voice. My first two verses are identical to the boys’ choir version, although a bit slower. I used a classical string section for the bridge section I wrote, following with the 3rd verse combining voices and strings.
9. Silent Night. Famously written on guitar in Austria in 1818 and revered as the most iconic of all Christmas carols. Reverent, simple arrangement featuring flute, strings, voices and piano.
10. Nativity. The second of two originals on the album, this is my musical vision of the Nativity, inspired by the music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. These angelic voices and classical strings give a poignant, reverent conclusion to the album.