Dr. Katie Webb, Trinity's Canon for Cathedral Music, approached me in late 2022 with the idea of crafting a new Christmas work for her phenomenal choir, which has traditionally performed Benjamin Britten's iconic Ceremony of Carols every year for Christmas services and concerts.
She asked me to imagine a work for choir and harp that both honored the legacy of Britten's Ceremony and featured new poets and perspectives reflective of Trinity's diverse, vibrant congregation.
To that end, I selected some of the traditional carols featured in Ceremony of Carols ("There Is No Rose" and "Balulalow"), as well as some familiar favorites of the Episcopal tradition ("Of the Father's Love Begotten," "The Holly and the Ivy," and "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella").
Where my work departs from previous Christmas pieces, however, is my inclusion of texts by Margaret Deland (1857-1945), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and Charles Anthony Silvestri—best known in the choral world as one of Eric Whitacre's primary collaborators—which add new perspectives to the Christmas story.
The work opens with an unexpected quotation from the first act of Hamlet, immediately blending the secular world with the sacred. About halfway through, Deland's poem "The Christmas Silence" paints a vivid picture of motherhood in a strange place – appropriate for Deland, who with her husband regularly took in pregnant, unmarried young women in New England.
The heart of the work, however, is Silvestri's new poem "For One Such As Me," which he generously composed for This Holy Hour. Tony and I both identify as part of the queer community, and I knew I wanted to include a text that spoke to an LGBTQ+ perspective.
For many LGBTQ+ people, the Christmas season represents a time of anxiety, tension, and even heartbreak as some families shut their doors to their own kin. "For One Such As Me" expresses the radical, inclusive love at the heart of the Christmas story.
It is a love letter to anyone who has been rejected, scorned, or unloved – a love letter that affirms that we all find home in that stable, in the presence of the newborn Christ.