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On December 8, 2006 – ten years ago today – my students at Linden Corner School in Nashville presented a winter solstice celebration for the school community called The Feast of Stephen.
The Feast of Stephen incorporated copious music as well as dance and theatrical elements, and every student from grades 3-8 was a performer. Students participated as singers, instrumentalists, actors, dancers, created props and costumes – preparing for this event consumed most of my time in October and November of 2006, and as the night of the show came near the anticipation and excitement among the children, parents, and myself was palpable.
Here is a description of The Feast of Stephen: an example of a winter solstice performance with elementary and middle school students that incorporates many of the elements described in this series of articles. Included are the original scripts of both The Feast of Stephen and the Linden Corner School Mummer’s Play, a copy of the original program, and a video of the performance.
Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance
In dulci jubilo is a famous medieval Christmas carol. It is a macaronic carol (i.e. the text is in a mixture of languages): the original text alternates between German and Latin. The words are attributed to the German mystic (and student of Meister Eckhart) Heinrich Seuse (1295 – 1366), and describes his vision of singing angels dancing with him.
It is one of our oldest, loveliest, and most important carols. The lilting, singsongy, exuberant melody and the relative ease with which they were able to learn it made it popular with my students of all ages – from elementary through high school. Although not a piece I included as an annual repeating feature of Winter Solstice performances, I would program In dulci jubilo every few years, and most of my students sang or played it in a Winter Solstice production at some point.
Preparing a Winter Solstice Celebration For Your Students
For many people, the idea of Christmas in July is something of a spoof or a stunt – stores have sales or bars have happy hour specials, that sort of thing. When I took a brief hiatus from teaching in the late 1990s and ran the CD store at Barnes & Noble in Clearwater, on July mornings before the store opened I would sometimes play The Klezmonauts’ Oy to the World! – a raucous high-energy collection of Klezmer versions of traditional Christmas carols – to begin the day with good humor and fun.
But for many music teachers, summer time is the season to plan curriculum for the school year to come, and for years, Christmas in July to me meant: the beginning of half of each year spent planning, preparing, and executing the fall semester. In several schools I taught at, this inevitably culminated in a grand holiday performance that included all my students, usually held in the beginning of December and inevitably including anywhere from a fair amount to a veritable cornucopia of holiday-themed music and other forms of celebration.
This is the first holiday season in years that I have not spent consumed by the preparations and execution of a big school performance. Over the last 25 years I directed many of these, with students of all grade levels K-12. In fact, for much of my adult life, I have spent most of each fall listening to, arranging, teaching, and rehearsing Christmas and holiday music – beginning as early as August in some years.
However, in the last few months when I found myself reminiscing about it, I realized that it was already far too late to write anything that would be of any immediate use or interest to choir directors and elementary or middle school music teachers who may read this – most initial planning for these extravaganzas happens in the summer.
I decided to put off writing in earnest about my experiences producing these performances – and my thoughts on how and why to do so – until next summer, when it will hopefully be more useful. But so as not to gloss over the whole issue without any consideration at all, we will content ourselves with a single post this season about a carol whose performance became a hallowed and beloved tradition for so many of my students over the years. I am talking about, of course, The Boar’s Head Carol.