December 16, 2011

Advent Calendar of Non-Overplayed Christmas Songs: XVI. Bethlehem & Sherburne

Speaking of sheep, Nahum Tate's "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" is one of the most frequently set texts for carols. (I've always loved the juxtaposition of the mundane "all seated on the ground" with the glory shining all around, but I suppose that's the point.) The common setting in my caroling book is by Handel, and I think there's another old common British church hymn called "Winchester Old." The version I know best is Sherburne from the Sacred Harp, & it's also one of my favorite tunes in that book. This is the great Alan Lomax "field" recording:
Here's that recording on spotify. I found several other decent versions of that on spotify, here, here, & here. I really like this medley by the Western Wind called Three Settings of "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks." The excerpt of Sherburne is in this video:

The other setting in the Sacred Harp, Shining Star 461, doesn't appear to be on Spotify. (Will Fitzgerald has a nice round-up of Christmas tunes from the Sacred Harp here.)
However, William Billings, the great Sacred Harp composer, did set the words also, and the tune Bethlehem is published in the Norumbega Harmony. Here's Anonymous 4 singing it on spotify, & here's the Norumbega Harmony - two pretty tame versions, but still pretty. Here's a the Western Wind again:

I've also set the Tate text several times, here. & here's our incomplete Infinite Playlist of Non-Overplayed Christmas Songs (listen on random!)

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