Not all musical masterpieces in the classical style were written centuries ago. Why not spend a few homeschool minutes this week introducing your students to the great contemporary composer John Rutter and his modern but traditionally styled Christmas carols.
December is Homeschool Holiday Music Month in the River Houses, and throughout the month we’re sharing an assortment of seasonal favorites in a great variety of styles and genres — classical and modern, sacred and secular, serious and silly — along with a collection of easy educational notes that will let you teach little homeschool lessons all along the way.
The Christmas carol tradition is one of the richest and most beautiful musical traditions in the world. Every educated person, whether religious or secular, should be able to recognize many of the popular ancient and modern carols and should be familiar with the Christian Nativity story on which they are based. And as Gramophone magazine says, among the popular modern carol writers “John Rutter stands alone.” The above recording of “Candlelight Carol” was made by Rutter’s own choir, the Cambridge Singers, a group he formed in 1981.
Rutter’s website (johnrutter.com) provides a wealth of information about his life and work, and it’s well worth studying by any musically inclined homescholar. Although Rutter has produced works in a variety of musical genres, it is for his traditional carols and anthems that he is best known.
“Candlelight Carol” was inspired by a painting called “Nativity at Night” by the fifteenth-century Dutch artist Geertgen tot Sint Jans. For a great open-ended homeschool discussion, invite your students to think about how a work of art produced at one time in history can continue to influence and inspire other works of art centuries later.
How do you capture the wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure the love of a mother?
Or how can you write down a baby’s first cry?
Candlelight, angel light, firelight and star-glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn.
Gloria! Gloria in excelsis deo!
Angels are singing; the Christ child is born.
Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore him;
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,
But Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep. (Refrain.)
Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger,
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay,
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation,
A child with his mother that first Christmas Day. (Refrain.)
John Rutter was born in 1945 and he studied music at Clare College, one of the colleges of Cambridge University in Britain. He later served as Clare’s Director of Music, and many school and college choirs around the world have made his Christmas carols part of their standard repertoire.
I have no doubt that Rutter’s carols, like those of the great composers of previous centuries, will continue to be popular for many generations to come. Introduce your students to these modern masterpieces and they will become their friends for life.
What marvelous musical discoveries will you be making in your homeschool during this delightful Holiday Music Month? 🎄 🎵
❡ Firelight and star-glow: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of this month’s musical selections, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Looking in the lexicon: For a special musicological mystery word this week, send your students to your family dictionary to look up the definition of macaronic. Many traditionally styled Christmas carols, including “Candlelight Carol,” have macaronic lyrics. 🔎
❡ Musical memories: If you’d like to fill your homeschool with some beautiful background sounds during the holidays, why not tune in to the 24-hour Holiday Channel from WQXR, the famous classical music station in New York City. “Enjoy the sounds of orchestras, choirs, brass ensembles and more as we celebrate the sacred and secular sounds of the season.” I have it on as background music almost all day. Won’t you join me? 📻
❡ Lift every voice: This is one of our occasional posts on Homeschool Arts & Music. Add your name to our weekly mailing list and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox all through the year. 🗞