Christmas Hymns as Anthems

Dear Ambrose:

Many of my choir members will be out for Christmas. Do you know of any hymns that would make good hymn-anthems for choirs?

Answer: Here are a few suggestions from The Hymnal 1982 and Wonder, Love, and Praise. Choose the ones that work best for your group.

Hymnal 80 – From heaven above to earth I come – Vom Himmel Hoch

  • Divide stanzas between men and women;
  • Add hand bells at the eighth rests;
  • If SATB parts are available us the accompaniment and have choir sing parts,
    a cappella if possible;
  • Use parts of a chorale prelude on the tune for an introduction

Hymnal 82 – Of the Father’s love begotten – Divinum Mysterium

  • Three stanzas with plainsong rhythm and last stanza metrically;
  • Use hand bells to punctuate plainsong at the pauses (Eb, F, G, Bb, Db, Eb) and randomly on the last stanza;
  • Have men drone on Eb and Bb for a stanza;
  • Use a C instrument on the alto line in accompaniment 8va higher

Hymnal 88 – Sing, O sing, this blessed morn – England’s Lane

  • Try unison on the first and last stanzas and use men and women alternately on the inner stanzas; SATB, if available on a stanza; a soloist, if available could sing one stanza; all would sing the Refrain;
  • A descant using parts of the alto and tenor lines can be sung on the last stanza;
  • Use a C instrument on the melody, on the descant on one of the inner stanzas, and on the last stanza

Hymnal 91 – Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light – Ermuntre dich

  • If SATB is available, sing in parts;
  • Men on first phrase, women on second phrase, all on remaining phrases;
  • With a couple of minor adjustments, the men could sing the tenor line with women on the melody

Hymnal 92 – On this day earth shall ring – Personent Hodie

  • Alternate women and men on the inner stanzas; all sing refrain;
  • Use handbells on the upper notes of the refrain

Hymnal 95 – While shepherds watched their flocks – Hampton

  • Alternate men and women on the odd numbered stanzas; parts, if available on the even numbered stanzas;
  • C instrument on the even numbered stanzas on the alto or tenor lines; if two instruments are available have them play those parts together;
  • Use Winchester Old (94) in place of one of the verses (must transpose up a step)

Hymnal 98 – Unto us a boy is born – Puer nobis nascitur

  • As written in the hymnal, it is already an anthem;
  • Alternate women and men on stanzas

Hymnal 99 – Go tell it on the mountain – Go tell it on the mountain

  • All on the Refrain in parts if available;
  • Use sopranos on the melody of the verses with other parts singing ‘ooh’;
  • Use tenors on the melody of a verse with other parts singing ooh; sopranos sing the tenor part 8va higher

Hymnal 103 – A child is born in Bethlehem – Puer Natus in Bethlehem

  • Alternate women and men on stanzas with all singing the Refrain;
  • Use hand bells, if available. If not, have the hand bell part played on the piano;
  • On one of the inner stanzas us equal note rhythm, not using the accompaniment

Hymnal 104 – A stable lamp is lighted – Andújar

  • Alternate men and women on the stanzas;
  • Use a C instrument on the melody;
  • An anthem version of this hymn is available (GIA G-4121) for piano, organ, flute, and choir. Use just the accompaniment and have the choir sing from the hymnal

Hymnal 110 – The snow lay on the ground – Venite Adoremus

  • Alternate men and women on stanzas; if enough singers are available have them sing the soprano and alto parts from accompaniment;
  • Could be sung with a guitar on the chords given in the hymnal

Hymnal 113 – Oh, sleep now, holy baby – A la ru

  • Use a guitar for the accompaniment using chords in hymnal; note that guitar and keyboard do not sound together;
  • Have a soloist sing the stanza in Spanish and the choir sing repeat it in English;
  • Ask altos to sing their part from the accompaniment

Hymnal 114 – Twas in the moon of wintertime – Une Jeune Pucelle

  • Sopranos sing the melody and other parts sing ooh on from the accompaniment;
  • Use alternative accompaniment for a stanza or two;
  • Add a rain stick, drum, or finger cymbals

Hymnal 491 – Where is this stupendous stranger – Kit Smart

  • Alternate men and women on stanzas;
  • Use alternative accompaniment and have altos, tenors, and basses sing ooh; while sopranos sing melody

WLP 725 – Holy night, blessed night – Sheng Ye Jing

  • Learn a stanza in Mandarin. Pronunciation instructions are found in the Leader’s Guide of WLP;
  • Use a solo instrument for the melody while the organ plays the lower parts for a stanza or two;
  • Use wind chimes if available;
  • Use handbells either to punctuate the end of each phrase or randomly. Use a pentatonic scale (D, E, F#, A, B)

WLP 726 – Where is this stupendous stranger – Mariposa

  • Another setting of this lovely text. See 491 in H82 above.
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