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Play a Song of Christmas

Play a Song of Christmas — Thirty-five Songs and Carols in Easy Arrangements for choir, orchestra, band, small ensemble, solo or duet. Because of the versatility of these harmonic arrangements, small orchestras or bands will achieve full sonority. Every director can balance the parts to suit the available instrumentation. Mix and match according to your needs!

Now newly available – a CD-Rom with complete piano accompaniments! Now you can play along with PLAY A SONG as a soloist, or in any combination of musicians, with the accompaniment provided – plus complete lyrics in printable PDF format, to sing along with PLAY A SONG!


CONTENTS
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (16th Century Melody) O Little Town of Bethlehem (Redner)
Away in a Manger (German) While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Handel)
Angels We Have Heard on High (French) Joy to the World (Handel)
I Saw Three Ships (Traditional) Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella (French)
The Wassail Song (English) God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (English)
Good King Wenceslas (Traditional) Deck the Hall (Welsh)
Good Christian Men, Rejoice (German) O Come, All Ye Faithful (Traditional)
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (Willis) The First Noel (Traditional)
Silent Night (Gruber) Away in a Manger (Luther-Spilman)
O Santissima (Sicilian Mariner’s Hymn) Come, All Ye Shepherds (Bohemian)
Christians, Awake (Wainwright) Unto Us Is Born a Son (Traditional)
What Child Is This? (English) Coventry Carol (Traditional)
Hark, Ye Shepherds (Italian) Angels from the Realms of Glory (Smart)
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Mendelssohn) We Three Kings of Orient Are (Hopkins)
Beautiful Saviour (German) O Christmas Tree (German)
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (Anon) Jingle Bells (Pierpont)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English) O Holy Night (Adam)
March of the Three Kings (Provencal Melody)  

REVIEW

Play a Song of Christmas, by Ruth L. Zimmerman, was created to allow for flexible ensembles of any size and combination. Each instrumental book contains the melody (PART A) as well as one of the harmony parts (PART B, C, or D). In the table below you can see how the parts are dispersed among the instruments.


Parts A & B
Violin
Flute
Oboe
C Melody Saxophone
Bb Clarinet
Bb Trumpet
Parts A & C
Viola
Eb Alto Saxophone
Eb Horn
Bb Tenor Saxophone
Baritone Trelbe
Horn in F
Parts A & D
Cello
Bassoon
Trombone
Baritone
Tuba
All Parts
Handbells
Piano-Conductor
Chorus (1 - 4 parts)

A string ensemble, woodwind ensemble, or brass ensemble covers all 4 parts, and mixed ensembles may select books and parts to fill the harmony. In addition, the music sounds complete even when not all parts are covered.

Beginning with the 2011 edition, a separate CD provides recorded piano parts, allowing individual musicians on any instrument to play the melody with full accompaniment, or the piano recordings may fill in missing parts when fewer than four musicians are available.

Each carol has been written-out once through. When longer versions are desired, please feel free to add repeats, possibly changing dynamics, changing octaves, or adding ornamentation, on subsequent repeated stanzas.

Looking at the table above you'll notice that no percussion instruments are listed. The reason? The parts found in the Percussion & Bells book can be added to any ensemble or group. Speaking of the percussion book, and the fact that I'm really only interested in reviewing drum & percussion related products here at the Drummer Cafe, let's take a closer look.

Of the thirty-five tunes in this collection, less than half (only 14 tunes to be exact) actually have something for the percussionist to play. Of the written parts, the stereotypical polka two-beat (of course modified for the tunes in triple meter) with the bass drum and snare drum (which does have an occasional embellishment), appear on "I Saw Three Ships," "The Wassail Song," "God Res You Merry, Gentlemen," "Good King Wenceslas," "Deck the Hall," "Come, All Ye Shepherds," "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." A few drum rolls can be found in "March of the Three Kings" and "O Christmas Tree." Bells have a small part towards the end of "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" and a decent contribution on the chorus of "Jingle Bells" which is also joined by sleigh bells. The most exotic sound can be found in "We Three Kings of Orient Are" which involves the 'call and response' between the "gong" and tambourine — each taking turns sounding on the downbeat of the bar.

I think it is fair to say that the percussionist(s) will most definitely be dreaming of a white Christmas with visions of sugar plums dancing in there heads ... because they are going to be bored out of their little minds! A creative / resourceful music director will find something for the percussionists to do (and no, not wrapping presents), through all these disdainful TACET markings tattooed across the pages. Suggestions? Read the flute parts on bells, vibraphone or marimba when appropriate. Add some tubular bells, finger cymbals, tambourine and triangle at opportune times. Perhaps double (or substitute) the snare drum with a frame drum, tom-tom, tambourine, etc. Unlike this book, you can make some simple changes and/or additions to make the music enjoyable, and most of all, a lot of fun for your percussionist(s).

The new CD-Rom with recorded piano accompaniments (MP3) and lyric sheets (PDF) is a nice addition to this collection. Although the recorded piano parts are brief, playing only one time through the form, the accompaniment will allow individual musicians on any instrument to practice the melody with full accompaniment. It's unfortunate that there is not more to the recorded accompaniment. If there were, musicians would have an easier time with practicing their parts, and possibly use the recorded accompaniment in a live performance.

In all, I believe Play a Song of Christmas is a fine product and solution for music and choir directors at small schools, churches, etc., who are limited in their instrumental personnel and/or variety of instrument choices at their disposal. Just plan on needing to get a little imaginative with your percussion parts. In fact, I would pass on even purchasing the Percussion & Bells book ... unless of course you are feeling uncreative or tend to drink too much eggnog around the holidays.