Simon Andrews, Composer, and This Worldes Joie
I had the privilege of chatting with composer-conductor Simon Andrews about his Christmas cantata, This Worldes Joie, which has been performed in full only the three times since it debuted in 1999.
The multi-talented Simon twinkles with irrepressible joy of his own, whether directing a choir, playing organ, or discussing Star Trek characters. Currently serving a church in Belmont, Massachusetts, Simon has a breadth of musical knowledge gained from training in his homeland of England and continuing through coast-to-coast experiences in the United States. He especially credits his high school music teacher, William Llewellyn, with inspiring and encouraging his journey into composing and conducting.
Christmas Choral Work
This Worldes Joie is an exuberant composition for chorus and orchestra in four movements. It grew from a prior choral composition Simon wrote for the Christmas text “There is no rose of such virtue,” referring to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. Much of the cantata places familiar carols in unusual juxtaposition with each other and in novel and contrasting treatments. As one can infer from its title, this work celebrates the gift of Jesus to the world and the mood is robustly festive and energetic.
When asked how he chose the pronunciations for the Middle English text, Simon replied that it is not intended to be an academic exercise. Whatever pronunciation he thinks make the words rhyme or fit the melody most easily becomes his choice. Simon is willing to abandon accuracy of sounds in order to meet those needs, although a determination of accuracy varies by what scholar one follows. Of course,no one really knows how the written Middle English language was articulated.
In the second movement, one begins to realize that a goal of the music combinations is to have fun and to create musical mind candy. The carol “Ding, dong! Merrily on high” runs at a lively tempo with crisp consonants. Immediately, however, Simon twists the familiar tune by inserting meter changes, specifically measures in 5/4. This is in homage to his high school director who also wrote a 5/4 arrangement of the carol. The chorus then becomes the bells with overlaying and intertwining “ding dongs” racing along. Upon this percussiveness, Simon adds the contrast of a French carol well-known in England, “Quelle est celle odeur agreeable?,” which floats soothingly gentle, contemplatively, and cantabile over the percussive vocal chorus of clanging bells.
The third movement is the one which most often touches Simon. “Lullay, lulla” is presented with its traditional melody. However, nuggets of unexpected harmonies or dissonances provide hints of melancholy. One even hears an occasional rich jazz riff within it. Trading with this carol is another traditional one, “The angel Gabriel.” A vocal ebb and flow of open vowel tones provides a haunting background for the text. In this section, Simon uses an occasional measure of 5/4 or 9/8, not to jolt the listener, but to provide a meter which replicates natural speaking rhythm of the words.
Praising God for the Christmas Gift of Jesus
The cantata culminates in the fourth movement with five carols tumbling over each other in gaiety. A strong chorus tells the good news, taking turns with longer, energetic orchestral passages. The celebratory mood becomes absolutely raucous as one hears the texts competing with each other, much like a mob gathered for an important event is all abuzz. It is not surprising that one of the carols chosen by Simon for this ending movement is The First Noel. Simon is an admitted Francophile. The movement concludes with repetition upon repetition of the chorus stating the phrase "this worldes joie." It gives the impression of the earlier metaphor of a crowd talking about something so unbelievably wonderful that members must say it over and over in order to attempt comprehension. It is a fitting finale for this inventive Christmas cantata!
A Composer's Perspective
Simon shares that Christmas music is fun to write. Because the audience knows the season’s traditions and story, the composer does need not to use subtext to teach the background for the message. When asked if he regards either the text or the notes as more important than the other, Simon responded that, ideally, if a composer has done his job well, one should not be able to separate text from notes, and vice versa.
This Worldes Joie was originally commissioned by the Harrisburg (PA) Choral Society for performance in a concert hall with full orchestra. A performance at Highland Presbyterian Church, Lancaster, PA utilized brass, percussion, and organ with Simon Andrews conducting.
For more information about this delightful composer, please visit: simonwandrews.com
© 2015 Maren Elizabeth Morgan