(A Christmas Anthem for SATB Chorus and Organ)
Angel Song (A Christmas Anthem for SATB Chorus and Organ) was the result of a 2014 commission from John and P.J. Williams in honor of the music program of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) and its director, Organist/Choirmaster, Dr. John Cummins. This approximately five-minute anthem is a setting of a December 1863 Christmas hymn text by Moncure Daniel Conway (1832-1907) entitled, Now Let the Angel Song Break Forth! Following his graduation from Harvard Divinity School, Rev. Conway, a native of Virginia, settled in the Boston area and became a Unitarian minister and prolific author. Influenced by the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was an outspoken critic of slavery. Devoting more and more of his time to the abolitionist cause, Mr. Conway eventually left the Unitarian Church and moved to England. His five-stanza hymn text, Now Let the Angel Song Break Forth!, was written by Rev. Conway in Boston in December 1863 during the American War Between the States and only days prior to President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. In proclaiming “For the New World a Christ’s new birth,” the poem’s keen insights from 1863 remain ever fresh and vivid. In Angel Song I have sought to musically capture the vibrancy, pain and timeless reflections found in Rev. Conway’s expressive words.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Now let the angel-song break forth!
For night shall nevermore be night;
A quenchless star climbs o’er the earth,
A torch lit up from God’s own light.
There where the watching shepherds pressed,
Where Eastern seers bowed them low, —
From pole to pole, from east to west,
See the world’s tidal pulses flow!
I saw the warrior on the plain
Pause in that light to sheathe his sword;
I saw the slave look up in pain, —
Chains melted in the fires it poured.
Thou, God, who gavest our night this star,
Whose circling arm excludeth none.
Gather our treasures from afar
To the soul’s monarch inly born. +
Kindle thy blessed sign again,
For the New World a Christ’s new birth,
When to our cry, Good-will to men,
The heavens shall answer, Peace on earth!
Moncure Daniel Conway
Source: Moncure Daniel Conway, Autobiography, memories and experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway. Volume 1. (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904), pp. 370-372.
+ “inly”, appearing in the fourth verse of the fourth stanza, means “within” or “in the heart. (Source : The Collaborative International Dictionary of English)