Christmas Music クリスマスの音楽



On the morning of 1 November I went into a coffee shop near where I live in Tokyo, something I often do when I want to concentrate quietly for an hour or two on research. But that morning, I could not concentrate. The reason: Christmas music. It was barely 8 hours after the clock had turned midnight, ending Halloween. People were still recovering from Halloween parties, or perhaps even still making their way home. Yet in the hours between closing time on 31 October and opening time on 1 November, the coffee shop had switched its decorations, menu and background music from Halloween to Christmas. With Jingle Bells playing in the background, my concentration was replaced with irritation. I would not have been irritated if it was seven days before Christmas. But this was over seven weeks beforehand. The Christmas decorations then come down on the evening of the 25th to be replaced by New Year decorations. And then it’s almost time for Valentine’s Day … It’s a never-ending cycle of somebody using a festival to try to sell you something.

My cynicism regarding the commercialization of Christmas meant that I felt something of a dilemma when I received an invitation to write a Christmas piece for an amateur choir. Christmas pieces are tricky commissions. You have a very limited range of subject material to choose from: it’s either the Biblical story or Santa & Co. Plus, there is already so much beautiful Christmas music that the risks are high of writing something that does not meet expectations or resorts to cliché. I knew instantly that I did not want to do something about Santa & Co. That would simply become part of the commercialized Christmas about which I am so cynical. It would have to be something religious, unless I could come up with another idea.

For me, Christmas is also heavily associated with the plight of the homeless. In the UK, the work of homeless charities such as Crisis over the Christmas period is well known. The Christmas story, after all, is about a couple who have nowhere to stay for the night and rely on the goodness of strangers to give them a roof over their head on the eve that their baby is born. And then it clicked. The words would be adapted from famous Christmas carols, but in a way that allowed a modern, socially-conscious Christmas message to be told.

The first lyrics to be finished were an adaptation of Away in a Manger:

O’er there is a stranger,   [Away in a manger,]

The street for a bed,   [No crib for a bed,]

On a pillow of cardboard,   [The little Lord Jesus,]

He laid down his tired head.   [Lays down his sweet head.]

The clouds in the dark sky,   [The stars in the bright sky,]

Looked down where he lay,   [Looked down where he lay,]

A sprinkling of raindrops,   [The little Lord Jesus]

To round off his day.   [Asleep on the hay.]

With the lyrics being a variation on the original words, it seemed right for the music to be a variation on the familiar melody of the original carol, too. The above stanza, for example, is sung in the minor rather than the major.

I quickly completed O’er there is a stranger, but it felt isolated. Unless it was part of a bigger work, it would stick out like a sore thumb as the only piece in the concert or carol service with a social rather than a religious or seasonal message. I experimented using this concept of lyrical and musical variations on Christmas carols with other well-known carols. In the Bleak Midwinter lent itself to adaption in a historical setting “long ago”. The first line “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan” became “In the bleak midwinter, wounded men did moan” and I had the starting point for another carol variation based on the World War I Christmas truce of 1914.

A suite of variations on Christmas carols was taking shape. But it still lacked coherence. Then I got an idea from my nephew, who was reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at school. I could make the entire suite a variation on A Christmas Carol, with the Ghost of Christmas Present making Scrooge confront contemporary homelessness (a good match with the message of the original Dickens novella), and the Ghost of Christmas Past taking him back to the horrors of the trenches. The “variations on Christmas carols” had developed into “a variation on A Christmas Carol”.

I now needed three more movements to complete the story – the visit of Marley’s Ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Future, and Scrooge changing his ways – and I also decided to use readings from Dickens’ novella to fill in sections of the story. Not only did these narrations tap into a tradition of public readings of A Christmas Carol (something Dickens’ did himself … and the practice continues to this day), but it also allowed for the readings and music to alternate in the manner of the traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. Eventually, nine months after the first suggestion to write a Christmas piece, A Christmas Carol was completed in July 2017.

The result, I hope, is a piece that is familiar yet new, derivative yet original, and a Christmas piece yet relevant all year round. I am just left with one dilemma. I would love the piece to be a success and for its message to spread widely on the back of many performances. But, that reignites the problem of the commercialization of Christmas. It is my hope, therefore, that choirs performing the piece will think of ways to ensure that the main beneficiaries of performances – whether through financial donations, increased awareness, or the direct actions of performers/listeners – are people affected by war, the homeless, and those working on the frontlines of environmental protection. Only then does the spirit of Christmas truly run through this piece.

23 December 2018





最初に書き上げた歌詞は、Away in a Mangerという曲の改作でした:

O’er there is a stranger,(あそこに見知らぬ人がいる)   [Away in a manger,](はるか彼方の飼葉桶の中)

The street for a bed,(道をベッド代わりに)   [No crib for a bed,](寝床とする揺りかごもなく)

On a pillow of cardboard,(ダンボールの枕の上に)   [The little Lord Jesus,](小さな主イエスは)

He laid down his tired head.(疲れた頭を寝かせていた)   [Lays down his sweet head.](愛らしい頭を寝かせている)

The clouds in the dark sky,(暗い空にかかる雲たちが)   [The stars in the bright sky,](輝く空から星たちが)

Looked down where he lay,(その姿を見下ろしている)   [Looked down where he lay,](その姿を見守っている)

A sprinkling of raindrops,(ぱらぱら舞い落ちる雨粒が)   [The little Lord Jesus](小さな主イエスは)

To round off his day.(彼の一日を締め括る)   [Asleep on the hay.](干し草の上で眠る)


O’er there is a strangerは程なくして完成させましたが、孤立した感じがありました。より大きな作品の一部でない限り、本作は宗教的、若しくは季節的なメッセージではなく、社会的なメッセージを含んだ唯一の作品として、コンサートやキャロルサービス(聖歌隊による合唱)の場で悪目立ちしてしまうはずでした。私は、クリスマスキャロルの歌詞と曲の改作に関する構想を、他の有名なキャロルでも試してみました。In the Bleak Midwinterは、「大昔」という歴史的な背景を持たせるアレンジに適していました。一文目の「寒々とした真冬のさなか、凍てつく風がうめき声をたてる」は「寒々とした真冬のさなか、傷ついた男たちがうめき声をたてる」としました。これが、クリスマス聖歌を1914年の第一次世界大戦のクリスマス休戦に基づいた形に編曲する第一歩となりました。