I have written a new carol for the readers of BBC Music Magazine, setting Francis Chesterton’s evocative poem, Here is the little door.
About the piece
Here are a few words I wrote for the readers:
I find Christmas a magical time of year, and remember fondly my time as a chorister at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol. There was something special about pitching up so late at night: a sense of anticipation in the air before Midnight Mass, and then wishing each other a ‘Merry Christmas’ in hushed tones as the clock struck, invariably during the sermon.
One of my favourite carols was Howells’s 1918 setting of Frances Chesterton’s poem Here is the little door. Howells’s music allows the words to resonate with both choir and congregation – at St Mary’s there was always an extra few seconds of quiet after we’d finished singing it. The poem consists of two stanzas: the first is reflective and subdued while the second is more colourful and lively.
Most lines seem to end strongly after a more questioning start, and so I’ve tried to express this using tension and release in the harmony. A lot of my choral music has been in many parts and is quite difficult to sing, so I wanted to sustain a simple idea over two verses without any divided parts. My hope is that I have captured something of the wonder I felt as a young singer.
The words are key to my setting of Here is the little door. I would encourage singers to be as expressive as possible with the text, even when everyone moves together. I’ve kept one set of words throughout to keep the score as uncluttered as possible, which sometimes means that the words aren’t vertically aligned with your part. Always move with your note, and with confidence. It would be a good idea for everyone to read through the poem together, to develop a collective interpretation.
I was in two minds as to whether to add dynamics to the score as, much like Away in a manger or Ding, dong! merrily on high, the ups and downs are guided by the text. The included markings are not exhaustive, so I look forward to hearing what you come up with. When rehearsing the piece, it might be useful to split the choir in two: the sopranos and basses often work in contrary motion; the altos and tenors largely move in scales, with any leaps reserved for expressive moments.
There are a few moments when the tenors briefly head above the altos (mostly to keep the interest in the individual lines), so a legato approach will help with these transitions. When everyone feels comfortable with the notes, it would be lovely to add in some flexibility. As the second verse gets going, I would suggest moving on a little, and towards the end easing back a touch as the words and music become more reflective.
Lastly, I hope you enjoy singing my carol – thank you for taking the time to do so!