Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey

Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship
Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey

Part I: The Glory

  1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  2. The Annunciation – Gabriel’s Message
  3. Song of Mary – Magnificat
  4. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  5. Song of Simeon – Nunc Dimittis
  6. Go Down, Moses

Part II: The Light

  1. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
  2. We Three Kings
  3. T’was in the Moon of Wintertime (The Huron Carol)
  4. Ideo Gloria
  5. Joy to the World

Will Scruggs, tenor and soprano saxophone
Brian Hogans, piano
Dan Baraszu, guitar
Tommy Sauter, bass
Marlon Patton, drums
Kinah Boto Ayah, percussion
with Joe Gransden, trumpet on “Go Down Moses”

Horn Ensemble:
Joe Gransden, trumpet
Ryan Whitehead, clarinet
Brian Hogans, alto sax
Norm Ficke, tenor sax
Wes Funderburk, trombone
Travis Cottle, trombone
Lee Watts, bass trombone
Will Scruggs, baritone sax

Recorded April 2-4, 2012, by Marlon Patton, Tucker, GA
Mixed and mastered by Tim Delaney at Electron Gardens
Production assistance and management by Cathy Geier
Original art and cover design by Ana Maria Paramo

Copyright 2012 Willis I Music

Artist Notes:

My vision for this recording is to create a musical journey through the deeper themes of the Christmas narrative. Using ancient canticles, hymns, and folk melodies, I chose eleven pieces to formulate a layered chronology that illustrates the profound, spiritual mystery of the radical biblical story of the birth of Christ. I knew I could not take on an artistic challenge of this magnitude alone, so I recruited several collaborators to help me fulfill my vision.

To anchor the rhythm section I started with my friend Marlon Patton, an incredibly versatile and musical drummer who has been involved in all of my creative projects over the last five years.  Next I called bassist Tommy Sauter, a hard-swinging player with a big sound and deep jazz roots who I had been looking for a chance to reconnect with after our steady trio gig ended in 2009.  Multi-instrumentalist and Jazz Fellowship veteran Brian Hogans agreed to cover the piano while on break from his busy touring schedule (as an alto sax player), and for additional texture I called on my friend Dan Baraszu, an incredibly tasteful and precise guitar player with a beautiful, natural sound.  After I described the ensemble vibe I was after, Marlon immediately suggested the addition of Kinah Boto Ayah on percussion.  Although I had never worked with Kinah before, I knew his handmade “Ayah Drums” would add depth to he ensemble sound, and his creative contributions had a major impact o the project. Last but no least my father, Perry Scruggs, was my theological advisor ad helped me to formulate and organize the program.

The music we created was the result of a truly collaborative effort, arranged with major creative contributions by every band member.  Only a few tunes were spearheaded by an individual arranger, and even those benefited greatly from group experimentation and review.  This has been the most meaningful and fulfilling musical project of my career thus far, and it is a blessing to be able to share this spiritual journey with all those who play or hear this music.  Thank you for listening.
-Will Scruggs

Because so many collections of Christmas music offer only religious sentimentality or holiday pop, it’s intriguing to find one challenging listeners to explore both spiritual depth and jazz complexity.  Will Scruggs and his Jazz Fellowship have managed to do just that in Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey.

At the conclusion of the nativity saga in the Gospel of Luke, the Song of Simeon portrays the Christmas event as “A light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32).  This proclamation forms the two halves of our program.  Part I: The Glory, is a celebration of the fulfillment of the promise to God’s people.  Part II: The Light, offers a gift of new light to the world. These themes escort us through the Jazz Fellowship’s renderings of both familiar and obscure traditional musical selections.

The first set of songs, “The Glory of God’s People,” begins by defining the birth event as God’s way to “ransom captive Israel” in the hauntingly familiar “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” a name which means “God with us.” The birth narrative then begins in earnest as a young woman is called to be the instrument of the redemption of God’s people, illustrated in a century old Basque setting of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-48). The Magnificat, Mary’s acceptance speech, shines in a contemporary version of the classic Song of Mary.  This ancient biblical psalm portends the one who will both fulfill God’s purpose for the chosen people of history and shape the ethic of the new Israel  (Luke 1:46-55).

The first people to learn of the birth of the savior were “shepherds abiding in the fields” (Luke 2:8), to bring to light the prophetic words of the young mother’s song, as shepherds were considered the bottom rung of the social ladder.  The familiar 18th century London carol, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” may at first blush not seem so, but it reflects the words of the angel to these humble servants: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)

The project reaches its keystone in the words of the old templar Simeon who had been waiting his whole life to see the salvation of his people in the birth of a savior: “A light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people” (Luke 2: 32).  This Song of Simeon, interpreted by the Jazz Fellowship from a contemporary setting by Ronald Arnatt, leads into a rather radical culmination of the Glory of God’s people, returning to the root theme of the release of Israel. Coming full circle, Simeon’s words fulfill those of his Hebrew ancestors, by hearkening back to the Exodus lament via the African-American Spiritual, “Go Down Moses.”

To set the stage for Part II, the revelation of the birth of Christ as a “Light to the Nations,” the Jazz Fellowship reaches back into the 15th century with “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming.” This beautiful German melody proclaims the theme:  “Dispel in glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.” Carrying over from the biblical narrative, the Light must first be spread into a darkened world, by its revelation to and through the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12).  Naturally, the light shines forth as the star described in the 19th century standard “We Three Kings.”

Three varied pieces round out the “Light to the World” set.  A little-known Canadian Christmas song, “The Huron Carol,” depicts the Christmas narrative in a Native American setting using a 16th century French folk melody. This Jesus, born in an abandoned lodge and wrapped in rabbit skins, is visited by chiefs of neighboring tribes, incarnating an international, cross-cultural Christ. The ancient “Ideo Gloria” uses a Latin refrain to proclaim a universal savior whose “doom” will bring our “mirth.” The set and then the project close with the ubiquitous “Joy to the World,” which not only celebrates a cosmic Christ, but ushers in new life with a new ethic.  The newborn savior “rules the earth with truth and grace,” calling all nations to “the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

Mary’s song of raising up the lowly shines as the new way her earthly child fulfills the prophecy of old Simeon’s Light to the Nations and the Glory of God’s people.  The cost the child will pay for the gifts he brings will be high, and the journey here begun in him for us will never be finished.  But perhaps, just as they have done here with Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey, The Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship may someday tackle a second project to accompany the rest of the story.

The Rev. C. Perry Scruggs, Jr.


Part I: “The Glory of Your People Israel”

  1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
    Text Latin 9th C.
    Music: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, plainsong, Mode 1 Processionale, 15th C; adapt. Thomas Helmore (1811-1890)

Matthew 1: 18-23

“Now the birth of Jesus the messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.””

We begin with a meditation, in which we calm our minds and open our hearts, calling the Spirit to be present with us.  Three different voices state the theme, each with the same melody but different harmony to symbolize the Holy Trinity.

The first statement of the melody is made by the piano, over an open E drone (harmonization by pianist Brian Hogans).

O, come, O, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

For the second statement, the guitar enters with pizzicato bass and is joined by the piano for “Rejoice” (harmonization by Dan Baraszu).

O, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Finally, saxophone states the final melody with the traditional harmony over piano and bass, joined by guitar for the final “Rejoice.”

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid thou our sad divisions cease,
And be thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

2. The Annunciation – Gabriel’s Message
Words: Basque carol; para. Samine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
Music: Gabriel’s Message, Basque carol, harm. Edgar Pettman (1865-1943)

Luke 1:26-38
”The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed from her.”

The Annunciation begins with racing drums and a sinister brass figure, symbolizing the Angel Gabriel rushing down from heaven towards the earth. Then a great crescendo builds as he arrives and presents himself “with eyes as flame.”  After the presentation a drum call is heard, setting up a primal, cacophonous rhythm as Mary must have been exhilarated and frightened all at the same time.  Tenor sax and guitar state the melody over the irregular rhythmic phrases of alternating 9/8 and 12/8, and the horns answer with GLORIA at the end of each verse.

The Angel Gabriel from heaven came,
his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

“For now a blessed mother thou shalt be,
all generations laud and honor thee,
thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

After sax and guitar solos there is an extended drum break, followed by a triumphant return of the horns as Mary accepts God’s message, setting the miracle into motion.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“my soul shall laud and magnify his holy Name,”
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
in Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say–
“Most highly favored lady” Gloria!

Finally, there is one last majestic crescendo as the Angel Gabriel ascends back towards heaven.

3. The Song of Mary – Magnificat
Setting: Cathedral of the Isles, Betty Carr Pulkingham (b.1928)

Luke 1: 39-55

“In those days, Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, he child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the mother of my lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the lord.”

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
The almighty has done great things for me, and holy in his name
He has mercy on those who fear him
In every generation
He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled up the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy.
The promise he made to our fathers, To Abraham and his children forever.

Glory to the father and to the son,
And the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now,
And will be for ever. Amen

The Song of Mary, arranged and harmonized by Brian Hogans, begins with soprano saxophone, alone, stating the melody of the Antiphon.  Here Pulkingham’s contrapuntal Antiphon, traditionally sung at the beginning and repeated after every second or third verse, becomes what jazz players call “the head.”  Each time the theme is re-stated more voices are added, with bowed bass and piano answering the saxophone as voices in a round. The text of the Antiphon comes from the first lines of the text:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

After a piano solo, two verses of the text become an interlude based on the chanted notes of the Pulkingham setting; Soprano sax and guitar’s rhythmic call is answered by the ensemble.  In the text, Mary goes on to say:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

Then, after a guitar solo, another interlude as the text continues:

He has filled up the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy.

After the second interlude the Antiphon returns with the layers of the ensemble fading away leaving just the soprano sax as in the beginning.

4. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Words: London carol, 18th century
Music: God Rest You Merry, melody from Little Book of Christmas Carols, ca. 1850

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
, arranged and harmonized by Will Scruggs, was chosen both for it’s beautiful minor-key melody and for its significance in the Christmas story.  Among the first to hear of the birth of Jesus were the Shepherds in the hills outside of Bethlehem.

Luke 2:8-20
”In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you; you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds had told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

The significance of the shepherds is an important and often overlooked aspect of the Christmas story.  It’s not about God telling a group of “merry gentlemen” to “take a rest.”  The shepherds were terrified by the vision of the angel, who recognized their fear and told them “God rest you merry, gentlemen.”  In other words, “don’t be afraid; be joyful, for your Savior is born tonight.”  In those days shepherds were people of the lowest class of society, doing a dirty job that required them to live in the hills and fields among the animals of their flock.  But here the angel addresses them as “Gentlemen,” because God chose them to be the first to receive the news of Christ’s birth and to spread that message throughout the community.  And this news spoke of the coming of peace on earth and “great joy for ALL the people.”

The piece begins with a bouncing introduction on a diminished ostinato vamp (an ostinato is a constantly recurring rhythmic or melodic fragment).  The melody is stated by sax and guitar, followed by an extended solo section broken up by returns to the introduction figure.  After the final statement of the melody, the vamp returns one last time as a backdrop for a drum solo before the whole ensemble plays one last refrain.

God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dis-may;
remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!

From God our heavenly Father a blessed angel came
and unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same:
how that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!

“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you affright;
this day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright,
to free all those who trust in him from Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place,
and with true love and charity each other now embrace;
this holy tide of Christmas doth bring redeeming grace.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!

5. Nunc Dimittis – Song of Simeon
Setting: Ronald Arnatt (b.1930)

Luke 2: 22-28
”When the time came for their purification according to he law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as the holy of the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.“

40 days after Jesus’s birth, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple for purification, a traditional ceremony of consecration for a first-born son.  At the temple was an old man named Simeon, who had been visited by the Holy Spirit and told that before he could die and go to heaven he must wait at the temple to see the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Simeon is not afraid of death; he is waiting for relief from the pain and suffering of old age, and so that his soul might find eternal peace and rest in heaven. “

After a brief introduction taken from the Arnatt setting, the song begins with saxophone and guitar stating the chant like melody, which corresponds with the text:

Luke 2: 29-32
Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

After the melodic statement a bass theme emerges, along with an organic 6/4 groove complete with percussion and horns.  This was a truly collaborative arrangement, built from the bass line by Tommy Sauter, a groove created by Marlon Patton and Kinah Boto Ayah, and a horn arrangement by Will Scruggs.  The horn calls break off to allow room for a piano solo over the modal bass figure, after which the piano segues into a harmonic interlude created by Brian Hogans.  Next the melody is stated a second time, with muted trumpet joining the chant.  Next, the bass theme returns, with a guitar solo building through the interlude and giving way to a powerful drum solo.  Finally, the horns join the bass line for a climactic ending, signifying the release of Simeon’s soul as it crosses over from the physical world to the eternal peace of heaven in fulfillment of the prophecy.
The biblical story of Simeon ends with this passage:

Luke 2: 33-35
“ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed- and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” ”

6. Go Down, Moses
Text and Music: Trad. (African-American Spiritual)

Exodus 6: 5-11
”I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.  Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my people, and I will be your God.  You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a posession.  I am the Lord.’ “  Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.  Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” ”

Although not traditionally a Christmas song, Go Down Moses was chosen for this program to reinforce the message of the Song of Simeon.  Just as Simeon has been promised salvation and enlightenment through the birth of Jesus Christ, Moses was promised that his people, the Israelites, would be delivered from slavery and oppression in Egypt. This story becomes even more powerful in the setting of the old Spiritual, sung by Black American slaves who faithfully sought – and ultimately won – deliverance from their own oppression. This message reminds us that Christmas represents God’s promise throughout history to offer justice, freedom, and peace for all people, especially those who are the least powerful.

The musical arrangement was based on a classic setting by Louis Armstrong, who recorded it with the Sy Oliver Orchestra in 1958.  In this version, the choir is replaced by a horn chorale arranged by Will Scruggs and the lead vocal line is played on trumpet by special guest Joe Gransden.  Out of the ending of the Song of Simeon the horn choir states the mournful chorus:

Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go!

Then over a deep swing groove the verses are stated by trumpet and sax with answers from the horns:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land; Let my people go
Oppressed so hard the could not stand, Let my people go
So the lord said “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go!”

So Moses went to Egypt-land; Let my people go
He made old Pharaoh understand, Let my people go
So the lord said “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go!”

After trumpet, sax, and bass solos, the verse returns:

“Thus saith the Lord,” bold Moses said; Let my people go
“If not, I’ll smite your first-born dead,” Let my people go
So the lord said “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go!”

After a modulation, the 4th verse returns with full horn backing before the band drops out, leaving the final chorus to the horn chorale.

No more shall they in bondage toil; Let my people go
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go
So the lord said “Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go!”

Part II: “A Light to enlighten the nations”
Christmas is not just for the people of Israel.  God sent Jesus his son to live on Earth so that enlightenment, peace, and understanding could be spread to all parts of the world, to Gentiles as well as the people of Israel.  The second half of our program highlights this gift that we may all share.

7. Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming
Words: St. 1-2 German, 15th C.; tr. Theodore Baker.  St. 3 Friedrich Layritz; tr. Harriet Reynolds Karuth Spaeth; ver. Hymnal 1940
Music: Es ist ein Ros, melody from Alte Catholische Geistliche Kirchengesang, 1599

Our version of Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming was arranged and harmonized by Tommy Sauter.  In this simple setting the beautiful rubato melody is stated by the saxophone, leading to a free piano improvisation on the harmony before saxophone returns, jumping to the final lines of the third verse.

Of particular interest here is the third verse, which makes this tune a perfect fit to begin our theme of enlightenment.  The blooming Flower promises to “dispel the darkness everywhere” and “save us from sin and death.”

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming as seers of old have sung.
It came, a blossom bright,
a-mid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind,
with Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love a-right,
she bore to us a Savior, when half spent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
dispel in glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
true man yet very God,
from sin and death now save us,and share our every load.

8. We Three Kings
Words: John Henry Hopkins, Jr.  (1820-1891)
Music: Three Kings of Orient, John Henry Hopkins, Jr.  (1820-1891)

Matthew 2: 1-12
”In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They tod him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the start that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

We Three Kings was another obvious choice for Part II of the program because of its many references to light, especially the refrain.  It is also significant because the wise men were the first Gentiles to pay homage to Jesus, and they traveled back home as messengers of the good news they had witnessed, spreading the Light far into the East.

This version of We Three Kings was arranged and harmonized by Will Scruggs.  It begins with an interlude which alternates between 5/4 time and the traditional 3/4.  Although the tempo is brisk, once the 5/4 groove is established it creates a floating feeling that hints at the mysterious journey of the wise men and the exotic lands they come from.  The melody, stated by guitar and sax, remains in 5/4 except for a brief return to 3/4 in the refrain – on the line “Westward leading, still proceeding.”  Piano and saxophone are featured soloists in the main solo section, but the last statement of the theme gives way to a percussion solo by  Kinah Boto Ayah to illustrates the Wise Men leaving “by another road” so that they may help to save baby Jesus from King Herod’s Massacre of the Infants.

We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never
over us all to reign.

O—star of wonder, start of night,
star with royal beauty bright;
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light!

Frankincense to offer have I:
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, gladly raising,
worship him, God Most High.

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
sealed in the stone cold tomb.


Glorious now behold him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice;
heaven sings alleluia, alle-
luia the earth replies.


9. T’was in the Moon of Wintertime
English Lyrics: Jesse Edgar Middleton (1872-1960)
Music:  Une jeune pucelle, French folk melody, 16th century

T’was in the Moon of Wintertime, often referred to as “The Huron Carol,”  is perhaps the oldest and most famous Canadian Christmas song.  While the tune comes from a French folk melody, the original lyrics were written by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary living among the native Huron/Wendat tribes near Lake Ontario in the mid 1600’s.  The song depicts the Christmas story in a Native American setting, with the shepherds replaced by hunter braves and the baby Jesus born in an abandoned lodge and wrapped in rabbit skins.  Instead of wise men, the baby is visited by chiefs from neighboring tribes, who offer gifts of fox and beaver pelts.  The “Moon of Wintertime” offeres is a strong reference to the Light of Jesus and his promise of “beauty, peace, and joy” resonates well with the theme of enlightenment.

This was another collective arrangement with a harmonization by Dan Baraszu.  One of the few straight 4/4 tunes on the record, this arrangement features guitar, piano, and bass solos.

T’was in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled,
that God the Lord of all the earth sent angel choirs instead;
before their light the stars grew dim, and wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found,
a ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round;
but as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel sing rang loud and high:
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of winter time is not so round and fair
as was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there,
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, the angel song is true;
the holy child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy, who brings you beauty, peace and joy,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

10. Ideo Gloria
Words: Piae Cantiones, 1582; tr. Jane M. Joseph (1894-1929)
Music: Personent hodie, melody from Piae Cantiones, 1582

Ideo gloria in ecelsis Deo!
is Latin for Therefore, glory to God in the higest!

In this ancient hymn there is yet another reference to the light of the star which led the Wise Men to Jesus, as well as the hope of peace and love for all people that is such a central part of the Christmas message.  This powerful, haunting melody provided much of the inspiration for this recording and helped to get the project off the ground.  Will Scruggs wrote the arrangement, which begins with soprano sax stating the melody over two different chant-like rhythmic bases.  After the second verse the drums break into a deep Afro-Cuban groove, with piano setting up a lush backdrop for a dark and exotic soprano solo.  During the guitar solo the soprano sax returns, barely perceptible at first, with a tiny drone.  As the guitar continues, the horn section creeps in adding layer upon layer to the drone and slowly building intensity along with the lead Ayah drum.  As the cacophonous rhythms continue to build, a new theme emerges, with soprano, guitar, and piano in unison, floating and twisting over the now thundering drone before crashing to a halt to give way to the last verse – Glory to God in the Highest!

On this day earth shall ring
with the song children sing
to the Lord, Christ our King,
born on earth to save us;him the Father gave us.
Ideo – o – o, Ideo – o – o,
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo!

His the doom, ours the mirth;
when he came down to earth
Bethlehem saw his birth;
ox and ass beside him
from the cold would hide him.
Ideo – o – o, Ideo – o – o,
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo!

God’s bright star, o’er his head,
Wise Men three to him led;
kneel they low by his bed,
lay their gifts before him,
praise him and adore him.
Ideo – o – o, Ideo – o – o,
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo!

On this day angels sing;
with their song earth shall ring,
praising Christ, heaven’s King,
born on earth to save us;
peace and love he gave us.
Ideo – o – o, Ideo – o – o,
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo!

11. Joy to the World
Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), alt.
Music: Antioch, George Frideric Handel (1655-1759); adapt. and arr. Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Gloria: Music: Gloria, French carol; arr. Edward Shippen Barnes (1877-1958)

After a program full of minor keys we end on a lighter note, with a bright, swinging arrangement of Joy to the World written and harmonized by Will Scruggs.  It starts off as a brisk waltz, but after the horns enter it transitions into a bluesy 4/4 for the third verse, which has the feel of a big band shout chorus.  Marlon Patton takes a short drum solo between horn responses, and then it becomes a full-fledged blues, with solos by Scruggs, Hogans, and Sauter.  The final verse returns to the original waltz tempo before guitar and sax playfully riff over an extended tag.  The horns return one at a time, starting with the inner voices that quickly become recognizable as Gloria from Angels We Have Heard on High.   Joy to the WORLD, and Gloria in excelcis Deo!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
let us out songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove,
the glories of his righteousness,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.