VocalEssence introduces celestial carols

Stephen Main and Matthew Brown
Composers Stephen Main, left, and Matthew Brown, right, traveled from sunny California to frigid Minnesota for the premiere of their contest-winning Christmas carols.
Photo by Katryn Conlin

Every December the airwaves and concert halls are filled with the same old seasonal songs. For the past decade, however, VocalEssence has been working to expand the holiday repertoire.

Since 1998, the Twin Cities choral ensemble has teamed with the American Composers Forum in sponsoring the Welcome Christmas! Carol Contest. This year composers were invited to submit new carols for chorus and celesta, a keyboard instrument that produces bell-like tones.

Carols by Matthew Brown of Los Angeles and Stephen Main of San Francisco were chosen from a total of 118 scores received from 32 states.

Brown's carol, "Sweet Was the Song," is a lullaby based on a medieval English text. Main's "The Darkest Midnight in December" is a setting of an 18th century poem.

Both composers were in the Twin Cities this past weekend to hear their pieces at the VocalEssence "Welcome Christmas!" concerts featuring Charles Kemper playing the celesta.

Brown and Main stopped by Minnesota Public Radio and talked with classical host John Birge about the unique challenges of writing music for Christmas.

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