This is the “dreaded” year when Christmas Day and New Year’s Day occur on subsequent Sundays, striking fear and anxiety in the hearts of church musicians planning choral music. For these occasions, directors need anthems that: use good music and appropriate text; necessitate less difficult vocal demands; can be performed by an indefinite and possibly limited group of singers. Knowing the personnel of your choir, you will have an idea of how many voice parts you can anticipate, from Unison to SATB.
Remember to use the wonderful eLibrary to find suggestions for anthems appropriate to any church Sunday or special season of the church year. Here’s a plan to follow. In an eLibrary search, use ADVANCED SEARCH and scroll down to the search field Topical Reference. Enter anthems for Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas. You may also search Lectionary Reference, a scripture-based search using “Christmas Day, ABC,” that contains more than 1,800 anthems. When finding a title in the eLibrary, check to see if you have the same composition in your choral library or a different setting of the same text that fits the search criteria identified.
I spent time browsing the anthems in our eLibrary and chose easy and moderately easy anthems for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day that fit the criteria designated above. All are found in the eLibrary catalogue where you can see a PDF and perhaps hear an audio performance. I’m listing the simplest anthems first. All of these anthems are currently in print and available for order as vetted by Steve Miller at Senseney Music. Thank you, Steve!
- Sing Noel Sleeth, Natalie 2-part, keyboard HMC-435 This is a unison anthem with an optional 2nd voice descant above the melody on the last stanza that could be played by a C instrument. Simple percussion instruments could also be added for effect. This anthem is typical of Sleeth’s musical style, and the text covers all the bases: shepherds, angels, wise men.
- On This Day Earth Shall Ring Hopson, Hal H. SAB/SATB flute, optional drums, handbells MSM-50-1604 This anthem is based on the hymntune PERSONENT HODIE and uses a near perfect text for Christmas Day from Piae Cantiones, 1582. Don’t be put off by the designation of vocal parts. 2-part SA/TB texture is used for stanzas 1 and 3, and the middle stanza is SAB. This anthem would make a good introit or processional and is festive. A flute is essential for performance.
- Christmas Greeting How, Martin Unison voices with keyboard accompaniment and optional 3-part upper voice group on repeat of first section. Those familiar with How’s wonderful unison anthem Advent Message (Come Lord Jesus) will find the same format: ABA with recitative-like middle section that could be sung by one or more soloists.
- Good Christian Friends, Rejoice Trevor, Manor U-2-part with piano and optional Handbells. This is a very easy setting of IN DULCI JUBILO that uses the traditional Medieval Latin carol translated by John Mason Neale. The handbell part is easy and would add a lively dimension to the performance. The entire piece can be sung in unison, as the 2nd part is optional and written below the melody. The piano introduction is perky and festive.
- Love Came Down at Christmas Pote, Allen SAB with keyboard and optional Handbells and C-instrument. HMC-2331 Every choir should sing a setting of this wonderful Christina Rossetti text that says so beautifully “Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign.” This simply constructed piece works satisfactorily without the addition of optional instruments. A lovely, contemplative setting.
- See Amid the Winter’s Snow Shaw, Timothy 2-part SA/TB with piano accompaniment 98-3861 Don’t let the word “snow” in Edward Caswall’s text deter you from singing this anthem. The singing is mostly unison, either women or men, with little 2-part writing. The strophic melody for each stanza is supported by a chordal piano accompaniment.
- Infant Holy Helvey, Howard SATB with piano Hope A-697 This simple arrangement of the familiar Polish carol has two stanzas in which the first is sung in unison and the second in a four-part hymn-like texture. Helvey is a pianist, and a nicely written piano accompaniment adds significant color to this hymn.
- Once in Royal David’s City Van, Jeffrey SATB A cappella MSM-50-1705 This well-known hymn by Cecil Alexander is set to its familiar companion tune, IRBY, with which it is traditionally Four stanzas have the textures unison, SA, TTBB, SATB. The chordal stanzas are very easy with hymn-like chords. There is no accompaniment for this anthem and, although quite simply written, the stanza with 4-part men still has to be covered.
- Born in the Night, Mary’s Child Hopson, Hal H. SATB with piano and optional C-instrument 978-1-5064-1382-2 Both tune and text for this anthem are by Geoffrey Ainger, 1964. Much of Hopson’s setting uses voices in unison and 2-part, with simple 4-part harmony for the final stanza. This is a new arrangement and a very welcomed setting of this wonderful hymn.
- Before the Marvel of This Night Schalk, Carl SATB with organ 0-8006-4603-5 The composer’s hymn tune, MARVEL, is perfectly matched with Lutheran pastor Jarolsav Vajda’s now-classic hymn written in 1981. There are three stanzas: sung in unison, SATB, 2-part SA/TB. Every congregation should sing this hymn, and this setting is the perfect way to introduce it. Be sure to include the text in your bulletin.
- Christmas Dawn Wetzler, Robert SATB with kbd. Sacred Music Press S-187 This simple anthem is perfect for Christmas Day for all the right reasons. Regrettably, the anthem is out of print, but I heartily recommend a call to the publisher (Lorenz), a search in other choral libraries for borrowing, or maybe an online dealer that sells older anthems, such as youngsmusic.com.
- While By My Sheep Jungst, Hugo SATB A Cappella CPDL #190 This anthem is the 17th-century Echo Carol (also known as Christmas Hymn) arranged very simply. You may download this one-page anthem without cost from cpdl.org.
- In the Bleak Mid-Winter Darke, Harold SATB with kbd. CPDL #12098 This simple setting of Rossetti’s poem is set to Gustav Holst’s tune, CRANHAM, in the most beautiful arrangement one can imagine. There are many settings of this text, but your choir should know this one! Free download from cpdl.org.
NEW YEAR’S DAY
- Purpose Duson, Dede SATB with kybd. HMC-145 Dallas composer Duson has created a strong arrangement of Martin Shaw’s tune, PURPOSE, for Arthur Ainger’s 1899 hymn, “God is Working His Purpose Out.” Broadly described as a missions hymn, the text clearly describes God to be the Lord of history and is “working his purposes out” even if we can’t understand how. The text is perfect for New Year’s Day, and the easy musical setting can be sung SAB if four parts aren’t present.
- God of our Life Morris, Sally Ann SATB and organ G-5543 This perfect New Year’s text by Hugh Thomson Kerr expresses trust in God for past, present, future. This musical setting by Sally Ann Morris uses 2- and 4-part writing with some division in the soprano. The smallest choir might not want to attempt this anthem, but it would work well for a group used to singing SATB.
- New Year Carol Weidner, Raymond SATB and organ PPM00829 With original text by the composer, this anthem declares “Rejoice! Rejoice! The new year is come. The Lord has blessed us with His grace by giving us His Son.” Three short stanzas are sung in the following format: unison women, unison men, 4-parts. Written in lively English carol style, a short refrain sung in 4-parts is repeated after each stanza. All stanzas and refrains could be sung in unison. This is a very easy anthem accessible to nearly any group.
- Greet Now the Swiftly Changing Year Jeffrey, Richard SATB with piano, violin or flute 98-3854
Jaroslav Vajda gives us a proper theological perspective in this New Year’s hymn that says “Greet now the swiftly changing year with joy and penitence sincere. Rejoice, rejoice, with thanks embrace another year of grace.” The 4-part choral writing is simple rhythmically and musically, with isolated SA and TB writing. The instrumental part is written lyrically and adds a sustained crown to the chordal style of the voices and piano.
- Come, Let Us Anew Wilberg, Mack SATB and piano Oxford University Press This hymn by Charles Wesley (“Come, let us anew our journey to pursue”) is appropriate for New Year’s as well as other occasions during the church year. Slightly more difficult than other anthems on this list, this anthem is recommended for ensembles that routinely sing SATB. The setting of text and tune, LUCAS, composed by English composer James Lucas (b.c.1820), has been used in hymnals for more than a century. Wilberg’s arrangement is worth having in a choir’s repertoire for funerals, ordinations, dedications.
- This Is a Day of New Beginnings White, David Ashley SATB with organ and optional congregation Selah 425-871 Composer White is a faculty member at University of Houston School of Music and Composer in Residence for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. This stirring text by Brian Wren (1978) states, “This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember, and move on. Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do. God is making all things new.” The anthem is constructed by having the SATB choir sing a long introduction using phrases from the hymn as preparation for the complete hymn, four stanzas, sung in unison with the congregation.
- O Lord, You Know Me Completely (O Dios tu me conoces) Hopson, Hal H. Unison/2-part with kbd CGA 833 This Spanish hymn and tune is familiar from inclusion in numerous hymnbooks. Selected stanzas from Psalm 139 declare, “ O Lord, you know me completely. You know my sleeping, my waking. I know that your love will be with me. Your hand will hold me fast.” This is a very simple musical setting by Hopson that can be sung throughout in unison. The optional second part is a counter-melody sung on the last stanza.
- O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee Hopson, Hal H. SATB with kbd. with optional violin, viola or cello MSM-50-9212 This familiar hymn on discipleship by Washington Gladden (1879) can be used on New Year’s Day. Hopson has chosen a 19th-century tune from Southern Harmony, PROSPECT, to give the text a different presentation. The musical writing is very simple for voices and instruments, and the two stanzas that use 4-part texture are like singing from the hymnal.
- Praise the Lord, His Glories Show Hopson, Hal H. SAB with kbd. Beckenhorst Press BP-1122 The anthem uses a general praise text by Henry Francis Lyte set to original music by Hopson for SAB choir. (“Praise the Lord, all that He for us has done.”) There is a hint of counterpoint between the SA parts and the men in unison, but the musical texture could be easily managed by a limited number of voices. Combine this anthem with the congregational hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
- An After-Christmas Carol Sherman, Arnold Unison with optional descant and seven handbells Sacred Music Press S-367 This clever New Year’s text by Fred Pratt Green has an equally appealing easy musical treatment by Mr. Sherman. Handbells provide the perfect accompaniment. This is my favorite New Year’s anthem, but, GRRR, it’s out of print, also. What gives with Sacred Music Press, anyway? Definitely worth a search. See Christmas Day list, #11.
This article was written by Dr. Robert C. Mann, Resource Library Director at The Church Music Institute.