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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Albums 14 - On Christmas Day in the Morning (1998, GIA)

Terry wanted to make a Christmas album. GIA was happy with the idea as long as they got some
printable music arrangements out of the deal, and thus was born On Christmas Day in the Morning. We were still pretty new to the Chicago area as we recorded this CD, but the recording gave us the opportunity to meet some new musicians and gave Gary and Terry the opportunity to experiment a little more in Irish styles.

Terry remembers the beginnings of the idea: it all started with "The napkin: after talking with Rory and Gary about the idea of doing a solo collection and deciding on a Christmas themed one, I waited many months for an opening in our schedules to put the project plan into action. One night when we were all in Estes Park, Rory volunteered to stay in our little cabin with Desi while Gary and I went into town, sat in a café and came up with a song list. Gary wrote the titles on a napkin, which I kept as a souvenir and as motivation to keep going."

She continues, "This was a traveling show, really. We started in Mark’s studio (in Barrington); I remember Desi was about three years old. He and I flew to Louisiana to mix the recording in a studio in New Orleans. Gary and his family had moved there, and mixing in NOLA made more sense. Desi had to stay with the Daigles at their home in Gonzales while I went to the studio. He was Art Daigle’s best friend all day. We recorded the ending of "O Holy Night" over again on the morning I was leaving to fly back to Chicago. Desi cooperated by falling asleep on a couch in the studio and we did the ending in one take."

Terry knew from the outset that there were two pieces she wanted to do on the recording: the Wexford Carol and "Some Children See Him." I started to work on an arrangement for the Wexford Carol, a chord structure for the piece for which instruments and vocal harmonies could be written. But it became clear pretty quickly that I was overthinking this beautiful, ancient Irish song, and Terry's and Gary's better instincts opted for a sparser, more resonant accompaniment suggestive of the monastic origins of the tune. I've been a big fan of the Alfred Burt carols since being a high school chorister in the late 1960s, and out of those many beautiful and seasonally evocative carols, each one of which started life as a Burt family Christmas card, Terry chose the one with the clearest social conscience, "Some Children See Him." With a few notes and strokes of the pen, the lyricist and composer sketched out a global vision of Christmas, crowned with the simple payoff line, "'Tis love that's born tonight."

Here are a few more thoughts about the cuts on this recording. If you don't already have a favorite Christmas album, give On Christmas Day in the Morning a listen. There's a good chance you'll have one by the first or second track. Count your blessings: somewhere in Barrington there is a hard disk and probably a digital tape backup of the great Brendan McKinney playing a full set of highland pipes on one of these songs. The hair-raising honking of the instrument shattered nerves and the relative quiet in that underground studio, but its expatriate complaints never made it onto the recording. That is proof of grace enough for me.

Track List, with further comments.

On Christmas Day in the Morning, Theresa Donohoo (GIA, 1998)

The First Noël (arr. Daigle)
Gary's arrangement of this English carol moves its musical heart from Cornwall to Cork, as it dances along with a lilt and the services of the great Chicago Irish musicians, John Williams, piper Patrick Broaders, and fiddler Katherine Keane. In my opinion, this arrangement is so delightful it just jumps out of the speakers, and becomes a carol in what may be the original sense, a carula, a circle dance.
Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow (trad., arr. Rory Cooney (GIA), and Gary Daigle)
Terry writes, "I remember the slow and intuitive process of deciding on arrangements with Gary. Rory famously hates the studio in general, and there were a few tense moments when he bristled at our re-interpreting some of his arrangements. In fact, while we were working on “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow,” including changing the key and adding a fiddle part, he walked out. Fortunately for all of us, he eventually accepted the new arrangement and it is one of my favorites on the recording." Rory responds: In my defense, I have no defense. As usual, they were right, I was wrong, and being a jerk to boot. However, until I revisited this, I had managed to block this out of my increasingly selective memory. Note to self: just make stuff up from now on, do not seek interviews with artists.
Some Children See Him (Burt/Hutson)
Carol of the Stranger (Rory Cooney, GIA)
I wrote about this song in my album post about Stony Landscapes, when we had first recorded it. You can read about it by clicking here.
I Saw Three Ships (trad., arr. Rory Cooney, GIA)
I did this arrangement with Terry leading an ATB choir, accompanied only by flute, cello, and bodhran. It starts off with this weird little hornpipe in two that just inserted itself into my arrangement saying, "Hey, we can get to 6/8, no problem." A couple of modulations and stop in Disneyland later, the piece is over, and I get the distinct feeling I've been listening to sailors. The choir and instrumentalists on the recording did a fantastic job of realizing this arrangement probably for the only time in history, with Terry's vocal part sparkling over the top of the whole thing. The most satisfying arrangement I've ever done. 
O Holy Night (Adophe Adam, arr. Gary Daigle)
In the Stillness of the Night (Balhoff, Daigle, Ducote, GIA)
The Dameans included this beautiful song in their Advent-Christmas collection Light in the Darkness. Terry's performance of it expands its emotional range, brilliantly incarnating the contrast between the silent darkness of the birth of the messiah with the explosive light of its meaning. As always, Gary's talent as a songwriter and interpreter of text with melody and harmony is in evidence as he moves the lines and images from a simple exposition through a complex but harmonically lush and warm contrasting section, and back to the simplicity of the original verses. This song is a wonder both to hear and to perform, and I only wish it were more familiar in the repertoire.
Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day (trad., arr. Rory Cooney, GIA)
The Wexford Carol (trad., arr. Gary Daigle and Rory Cooney)
I Wonder As I Wander (John Jacob Niles, arr. Daigle)
Wonder-Wander began life as song that was thought to be an Appalachian folk song "discovered" by Niles in his research, but as it turned out it was outed as an original composition by him that was flavored by regional dialect he derived from his research. He seems to have heard and recorded a young woman singing a piece of a song in North Carolina, and then composed the song around his recollection and notes on the event. It sounded so genuine that performers made recordings of it as though it were a folk song. Niles had to press lawsuits in order to collect royalties for his work. 
Advent Herald (text by Brian Wren, music by Rory Cooney, GIA)
Brian Wren's masterful text "Welcome the wild one" is so beautifully conceived a picture of the Baptizer's dangerous ministry at the Jordan that I find myself sometimes choked up by its empathetic vision both of the radical call to the kingdom and the way the message is received by Jesus (?) in his baptism. I say (?) because Jesus is never named. One gets the idea that the "young one" in the lyric might be Jesus, especially because the final stanza calls the baptized one "God's love-child" and with an initial "welcome" bids "let salvation begin." But Jesus wasn't, by my calendar, a "young one" as he came to the wilderness "seeking the spirit that beckoned through John," he was John's age. One could suspend disbelief, or believe in the myth, I suppose, but it's just as easy to imagine that the child in the water is any believer, and the invitation that salvation begin be a word of hope about any of our lives. I don't really care, it's a wonderful text! My special joy about this is that a former editor at GIA told me that, after my setting was published, Brian Wren received a copy of the song, and wrote back to GIA to express his delight that the setting capture his text so well. For reasons for which I'd rather not know the full explanation, the editor's comment was, "Pigs have flown."
Silent Night (trad., arr. Gary Daigle)