(harp is optional, alternate part combining timpani and percussion for 1 player)
Other Versions: Orchestra with or without SATB Choir or SA Children’s Choir; Chamber Orchestra with Choir or Children’s Choir; and String Orchestra with Choir or Children’s Choir
I was interested in writing two orchestra works, one for Christmas and another to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017. Finally, I realized I might be able to combine both these ideas into a single work, a Fantasia on Canadian Carols. I realized that I only knew of the Huron Carol. In the summer of 2015, I started to research the history of Christmas carols in Canada, which took me on a fascinating discovery of Canadian holiday traditions. I found three categories: carols that travelled from Europe and remained the same; carols that travelled from Europe and evolved into a Canadian variant; and new carols composed in Canada. I also discovered some uniquely Canadian Christmas music, including “Santa Claw” songs, found in the Maritimes.
I started talking about my idea to friends who gave me the idea of writing two versions, one for orchestra and the other for choir and orchestra. I chose to base my Fantasia on a group of four older traditional carols representing three areas of Canada: Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. I decided to title this work in both our languages since two carols are sung in English and two in French.
The Huron Carol
The Huron Carol is considered to be the first Canadian Christmas carol, probably first sung in 1641 or 1642, and written by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons in Ontario. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people to a French folk song Une Jeune Pucelle (A Young Maiden). The lyrics of this carol combines the birth of Jesus with Huron religious concepts. Today, this carol is commonly heard with the English lyrics written by Jesse Edgar Middleton in 1926.
Il est né, le divin Enfant
Il est né, le divin Enfant (He is born, the divine Child), is originally a traditional French carol, but travelled to Canada to become part of French-Canadian Christmas celebrations. Ernest Gagnon, an important 19th century collector of French-Canadian folksongs, used this carol in his Cantiques populaires pour la fête de Noël (1909), a wonderful collection of French Canadian Christmas carols for choir and organ. The melody in this version is slightly different than the original French carol.
The chorus of this carol has strong musical connections, “He is born, the Heav’nly Child, Oboes play; set bagpipes sounding. He is born, the Heav’nly Child. Let all sing His nativity.”
The Cherry-Tree Carol
The Cheery-Tree Carol is an old traditional English carol from the early 15th century. There are different versions of this carol, so it is not surprising that it found a new melody and lyrics in Canada. The important collector of folksongs from the Maritimes, Helen Creighton, collected a beautiful version from William Riley, who lived in the aptly named Cherry Brook, Nova Scotia. The lyrics tell an apocryphal story of the Virgin Mary, occurring while traveling with Joseph to Bethlehem for the census.
La Guignolée or La Guiannée, is a French medieval tradition that travelled to French Canada with the first French settlers. It became popular in Quebec, parts of the Maritimes (including New Brunswick), and a few French-Canadian communities in the United States. Occurring on either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, the singing participants went door to door asking for food and drink, plus donations for the poor. The backside of the pig was considered a prize, and if not available, the group would ask to take the eldest daughter or even threaten to burn down the house. According to Marius Barbeau, the great 20th century collector of French folksongs, the rowdy group was followed by an old buggy (to contain the gifts), and all the dogs of the neighourhood. Ernest Gagnon discovered the catchy melody from the area around Montreal and Quebec.
Commissioning and First Performances
The Fantasia on Canadian Carols was commissioned and premiered by the International Symphony Orchestra (Douglas Bianchi, conductor) joined by the International Symphony Singers (Dr. David Troiano, conductor) on December 2, 2016 (Clyde Township, Michigan) and December 3 (Sarnia, Ontario); the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra (Ronald Royer, conductor) on December 3 (Scarborough, Ontario); Symphony New Brunswick (Michael Newnham, conductor) joined by the Louisbourg Choir (Monique Richard, conductor) on December 3 (Saint John, New Brunswick), December 5 (Moncton, NB) and December 6 (Fredericton, NB); and the Brantford Symphony Orchestra (Philip Sarabura conductor) on December 10, 2016 (Brantford, Ontario).