Program Notes

Carol Fantasy – John D. Miller

Carol Fantasy by John D. Miller

John D. Miller was a young choral director at Countryside Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska at the time this Fantasy was conceived. His success at composing and arranging led him to begin doctoral studies at Eastman School of Music, but he died before that dream could be realized. His directorship at Countryside was taken over by his widow, Phyllis.

This work consists of seven carols, which have been integrated using composed transitions: The first carol, The Berry Red, is introduced with a call to “Sing a Noel, an offering to the birth of a newborn King…..a carol of our liking”, which then gives way to the more specific request, “Sing of berries shinging bright… Sing of snow…”. Subsequent movements are introduced with shorter intermezzi of similar character, for example “Sing a carol of light snow, sing a carol of warm fire-glow.” Of the six carols, three are familiar:

O Sanctissima

The Latin text of this carol was a sixteenth-century hymn to the Virgin; the melody is believed to be Sicilian or Italian, and was once known as the ‘Sicilian Mariner’s Prayer’. As “O Du Frohliche, O Du Selige,” with words by Johann Gottfried Herder, it became one of the most popular Christmas hymns in Germany, and several hymn versions have been used in the US and England.

What Child is This?

The tune, Greensleeves, is famed as one of the oldest of folk melodies; it is documented to 1640, and perhaps appeared as early as 1300. These words, popular in this country, are by the nineteenth-century American hymnodist William C. Dix, whose contributions to Christmas also include “As With Gladness Men of Old”.

Ding Dong Merrily on High

The melody of this carol appears under the title Branle de l’Official, in a dance manual(!), Orchesographie, dating from 1588, by Thoinot Arbeau, vicar-general of Langes. The words which we know today are by George Ratcliffe Woodward, hymnodist and arranger of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

My Dancing Day

This carol is included in an 1833 collection, “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern” by William Sandys, an English barrister and historian, who commented in his book that carol singing appeared “to get more neglected every year.” Sandys’ concerns notwithstanding, the text of this carol appears to date from before the seventeenth century. It was probably based on a secular song, but interweaves both sacred and secular love motifs, as had many other songs from ancient times.

The three unfamiliar carols, The Berry Red; Soft as Light Snow; and Bethlehem Carol, may be Miller’s own compositions. They are nonetheless lovely texts and tunes.

J.R. Fancher