By Robert D. Vandall
To celebrate the Christmas season, I love colorfully orchestrated arrangements of familiar carols and songs. My new three-book series of holiday music, titled Christmas Extravaganza, contains my imaginings of familiar seasonal pieces. I wanted the pieces in Christmas Extravaganza to have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy. In each arrangement, I strived to use both fresh and familiar harmonies, unique melodic treatments, and interesting rhythms. At the same time, my goal was to keep the technique required to play each piece within limited boundaries to ensure students’ success.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is from Book 1. The tempo is a very quick ¾ meter and the student should play beat one slightly stronger than beats two and three so that there is a gentle, dance-like lilt in each measure. Notice that the left hand uses only two chords for measures 1–14 (F and F sus 4). This allows students to concentrate fully on the dancelike articulation of the right-hand melody.
Measures 32–42 are exactly like measures 5–15. After practicing these measures, students should move to measures 54–61 to focus on like phrases. In these measures the melody is played in the bass register with the right hand crossing over the left hand. The rests in measures 19, 23, 27, 31, 42, and 53 allow time for the right hand to move to the beginning of the melody in the different registers.
To create interest, I like to develop motifs from the melody. Measures 16–31 develops the first melodic motif, moving through the keys of D minor and F minor. The left-hand harmonies are the minor i and major IV chords in those two keys. The right hand plays the motif above the left-hand chords and then crosses over the left hand for the next motif. This happens both in D minor and F minor.
Beginning in measure 43, the second part of the melody enters in the right hand accompanied by 5ths in the left hand (measures 43–49). In measures 47–49 the right hand also plays 5ths. When combined with the left-hand 5ths, seventh chords are created. The molto riten. in measure 49 creates a dramatic tempo contrast before the return to a tempo in measure 50.
The coda (ending) of the carol uses the melodic motif found in measures 60–61. In these measures, the right hand plays the motif below the left-hand chords in the low register. It plays the same motive above the left hand in measures 62–63. The right hand then moves up an octave to play the same motif with a quarter rest between the D, G, and E. One expects to hear the final melodic F on beat one of measure 66, but there is a whole measure of rest before playing the final F on beat one of measure 67. The surprise is even more striking because the p mark in measure 64 is followed by the sudden f of measure 67.
Many elements combine to create surprises for the audience when listening to this arrangement. Among them are many hand crossings, dynamic changes from motif to motif, key changes, dance-like articulations contrasted with legato phrases, changes of tempos, rests and accents. I hope that you and your students will enjoy exploring the compositional devices used in the other arrangements in Christmas Extravaganza. (See the list of titles below for all three books.) Merry Christmas!
Angels We Have Heard on High
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Good King Wenceslas
The Holly and the Ivy
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
O Little Town of Bethlehem
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Away in a Manger
Deck the Halls
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (Theme and Variations)
Joy to the World (Improvisation)
O Come, Little Children
Ukrainian Bell Carol
We Three Kings of Orient Are
Ding, Dong! Merrily On High
The First Noel
Good Christian Men, Rejoice
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
O Christmas Tree
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow