Good-will to men, and peace on Earth
Every Christmas, we invite a leading composer to write a carol for our readers. This year’s, by Dobrinka Tabakova, has its roots in an Oxford chapel – and the pub
Dobrinka Tabakova introduces her new carol, written exclusively for the readers of BBC Music Magazine
When I was invited to write a carol for BBC Music Magazine, I had just completed one for the Truro Cathedral Nine Lessons and Carols service and had a previous advent work close to mind – my Alma Redemptoris Mater for the choir of Merton College, Oxford. Both of these works were conceived to be performed in a sacred context. In this new carol, I still wanted to retain some liturgical mystery, but add another, more playful element. While researching texts for the Truro carol, I came across Ralph Dunstan’s collection The Cornish Songbook and was drawn to one of the carols there: Heavenly sound. As well as the upbeat good wishes, it was probably the ‘Hark, hark’ which adds a percussive punctuation and lifts the words, and gave me the idea of a (gentle) clapping counterpoint.
The image I had for the performance of my carol was more social – a Christmas sing-along at home or, perhaps, a slightly eccentric group of enthusiastic amateurs singing from smartphones in a pub (I know a few of those). The general mood is that of a contemporary round. The words dictated the rhythm of the carol, which I initially wrote in a stream of changing time signatures. The ‘look’ of the carol didn’t quite sit with the more laid-back image I had of people singing it, so I thought either to dispense with bar lines or simply not have time signatures and leave the bar lines to give some structure to the melodies.
One of the things I’ve noticed when people are faced with a page of different time signatures is that they make the music quite spiky and bouncy. That is not my intention here, and I hope that the lack of time signatures will put emphasis on phrasing rather than rhythm. In some places the melodies are quite long, so there will need to be stagger breathing – where each singer from the same line takes a breath at different times, creating the illusion that they are all singing one continuous melody with no break. Those places are marked with a broken slur where a natural breath would be taken.
The clapping is also not compulsory – in fact it would be better to just have some singers clap – and it’s always the same pattern, which would ideally be learned by heart. The section from bar 77 (‘Let mortals catch…’) has a very low alto line, which may be welcomed by some, but it’s fine to have those who find it too low to sing the soprano line and add tenors to the alto line.
I do hope my carol brings you joy. As much as the title ‘Good-will to men and peace on Earth’ may be a nod to past seasonal tunes, I couldn’t think of a better wish now and for the future.
We hope you’ll include this carol in your service or concert. Do photocopy the music or download the PDF from classical-music.com and share! We’d love to hear your performances, so send any audio files or links to mu[email protected]sical-music.com and we’ll post to our website and social feeds. For more about Dobrinka Tabakova, visit dobrinka.com
‘‘ I wanted to retain some liturgical mystery, but add another, more playful element