I was looking for a Christmas card. Back then (this was in 1997), the Free Library ran a gift shop just off the lobby, and in a display of hand-designed cards I picked up one with this poem of Richard Hill’s. Fascinated, I researched the poem in the Literature Department, thinking that it could be set as a secular carol.
Fascination turned into composition, and I wrote it very quickly. Then I put it away. Over the years I would show it to a few people, but nothing came of it. I revised it a couple of times, changed the ending, reworked some of the voice-leading, and fiddled with spellings in the luxuriantly inconsistent Early Modern English text. I made a solo quartet version. All the while I wondered if this would be the piece they found in my desk after my death. There are pieces I hope they don’t find, but I had grown quite fond of this one.
Then things started to happen. After Vespers, The Crossing commissioned Where Flames a Word, and after its premiere they sang it at the opening concert of the 2009 Chorus America convention, which was in Philadelphia. Because of that exposure, a few conductors wanted to talk to me about my choral music, so I mentioned Now ys the tyme of Crystymas.
Scott Williamson immediately wanted to perform it with his Virginia Chorale, so to them goes the world premiere performances on the 4th and 5th of December, 2009. Thomas Lloyd of the Bucks County Choral Society expressed interest, and their concerts follow by one week, December 11th, 12th, and 13th. Scott writes about the piece in his blog:
… this carol is a rollicking, whirling, spirited update on the old English carol. Replete with witty madrigalisms (listen for the inner voices laughing “he-he-he’s”), this carol is as challenging to perform as it is entertaining to hear.
Read all of his program notes here. This is the poem:
Lett no man come into this hall, Grome, page, nor yet marshall, But that some sport he bryng withall, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought syng, Some other sport then lett him bryng, That it may please at this festyng, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Yff that he say he can nought do, Then for my love ask him no mo, But to the stokkis then lett him go, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas. Make we mery, both more and lasse, For now ys the tyme of Crystymas.