It’s that time of year again: the Sanders family Christmas mixtape, which we’ve been making annually since they were actually mixtapes (’95?), is newly assembled and on heavy rotation.
Last Christmas I put together a collection of grainy, monophonic Christmas music. This year, to save me from tears, the collection was made by someone special: Susan.
She wanted to do a playlist of choral music, and I had the idea of choosing all of it from Cambridge choirs. Because we teach in the Torrey Cambridge program every summer, we’ve spent many months in that magical place, and have many fond associations with it. Susan picked 20 tracks (just over an hour) of seasonal music from Cambridge. Although many of the colleges of Cambridge University have their choirs, King’s College stands out as the most famous and prolific of them. We already had some favorite pieces from recordings we’ve listened to over the years, and Susan went in search of some tracks to round out the listening experience. With Kings’ College dominating, we worked hard to find and give space to other choirs as well. Clare College not only starts the playlist, but puts in a number of good showings.
Our idea of a good Christmas playlist combines a lot of familiarity with enough novelty to expand the traditional repertoire. It was enlightening to listen through the compositions that have been commissioned especially for the King’s College men and boys’ choir, which have debuted at the Christmas Eve service over the years. Some of those are high art, with dazzling technical performances, but just not the kind of thing we want to hear over and over on the holidays. Others, however, have that melodic choral beauty that we’re looking for. Track 12, for instance (John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music”) is a special standout.
The playlist is mostly choral, with some brass interludes. Why brass? I was going to say, “because it makes a good complement to the vocal sounds,” and maybe something about the range and palette of those instruments. But Susan says “It’s got brass because I’m the one making the playlist.” So there you have it! Also, track 10 (by the London Cello Orchestra) is one she came across while listening to an album with a lot of Clare College music, and just loved too much to cut. Its Cambridge connection is tenuous, but it works very well in its place in the list.
1. Once in Royal David’s City – Clare College Singers
2. O Come All Ye Faithful – King’s College Choir, Cambridge
3. O Come O Come Emmanuel – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
4. In Dulci Jubilo – Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble
5. Twas in the Year That King Uzziah Died – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
6. Noel Nouvelet – Clare College Singers
7. Overture – Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble
8. Gabriel’s Message – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
9. Bogoróditse Dyévo (Mother of God and Virgin) – King’s College Choir, Cambridge
10. Troika / O Little Town of Bethlehem – London Cello Orchestra
11. The Coming of Our King – Clare College Singers
12. What Sweeter Music – King’s College Choir, Cambridge
13. Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
14. Overture – Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble
15. The Holly and the Ivy – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
16. Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
17. Il est né le divin enfant – Clare College Singers
18. Past Three O’Clock – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
19. I Wonder As I Wander – Choir of King’s College Cambridge
20. Stille Nacht – Clare College Singers