For the fourth year in a row, I’ve been commissioned to write a piece for Calvin College’s Lessons and Carols service. Not only is it an honor, but it’s always a treat because I know the performances will be top-notch. This year was no exception. Calvin’s musicians did a wonderful job with my choral fantasy on the hymns “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Ah, Holy Jesus,” and “All My Heart Again Rejoices.”
It seems that each year the commissions become more difficult. Last year I was asked to weave “Jacob’s Ladder” with a variety of “Gloria” songs; difficult, but at least the songs were similar in nature. This year, I almost thought John Witvliet was jerking my chain when he asked me to put “Lo, How a Rose” and “Ah, Holy Jesus” together in one anthem. You couldn’t find two more different songs!
On the other hand, they fit the theme, “Born to Die, Born to Rise” beautifully. Christmas can become saccharine when it’s populated only with sweet baby Jesuses, choruses of angels, and mild Marys. Just as the Magis’ myrrh foreshadowed Jesus’ burial, “Ah, Holy Jesus” reminds us of the full meaning of the incarnation. As I began to work on the piece, I found that I could weave “Lo, How a Rose” and “Ah, Holy Jesus” together in musical counterpoint that thickened both their differences and underlying unity. After focusing on these two sides of Christ, our only response can be praise; the piece ends with a rousing rendition of “All My Heart Again Rejoices.”
The recording is above. Email me if you’d like to see the score.