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Randy's Musical Musings

by Randy Foster

December 31, 2020

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus. In 567, the Council of Tours “proclaimed the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred and festive season, and established the duty of Advent fasting in preparation for the feast.”


The exact origins and the meaning of the song are unknown, but it is highly probable that it originated from a children's memory and forfeit game.  In the game, players had to remember all of the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, in the form of a kiss or a piece of candy to the others.


Lady Gomme, an English folklorist and one of the first to study children’s games, wrote in 1898:


"The Twelve Days" was a Christmas game. It was a customary thing in a friend's house to play "The Twelve Days," every Twelfth Day night. The party was usually a mixed gathering of juveniles and adults, mostly relatives, and before supper — that is, before eating mince pies and twelfth cake — this game and the cushion dance were played, and the forfeits consequent upon them always cried. The company were all seated round the room. The leader of the game commenced by saying the first line. […] The lines for the "first day" of Christmas was said by each of the company in turn ; then the first "day" was repeated, with the addition of the "second" by the leader, and then this was said all round the circle in turn. This was continued until the lines for the "twelve days" were said by every player. For every mistake a forfeit — a small article belonging to the person — had to be given up. These forfeits were afterwards "cried" in the usual way, and were not returned to the owner until they had been redeemed by the penalty inflicted being performed.”


This should sound very familiar to us, except the forfeit part.


 The Christmas Price Index is a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator, maintained by the U.S. bank PNC Wealth Management, which tracks the cost of the items in the carol." 2020: $16,168.14 -58.5%; True Cost of all items $105,561.80: The 2020 index did not include nine Ladies Dancing, ten Lords-A-Leaping, eleven Pipers Piping, or twelve Drummers Drumming due to COVID-19 restrictions on live performances. 


Thomas Bähler's 12 Days of Christmas is a fun version of the carol created for Radio City Musical Hall in 1980. ENJOY!!

Video Source: YouTube

November 12, 2020


One of the most iconic Hymns of the Thanksgiving Season is “For the Beauty of the Earth,” though it was originally intended as a Eucharistic hymn. This is one of English composer JOHN RUTTER’S most popular, enduring anthems, according to his publisher. Rutter set the first four stanzas of the 1864 hymn by Elliot Standford Pierpoint (1935-1917), an English poet, a periodic classics schoolmaster (he didn’t have to work because he received a sizeable inheritance), and a devout Tractarian. He followed the religious opinions and principles of the founders of the Oxford Movement that led to the development of Anglo-Catholicism, put forth in a series of 90 pamphlets entitled Tracts for the Times, published at Oxford, England (1833-1841). In our Hymnal 1982, this text is wedded to the tune “Lucerna Laudonaie” by David Evans. Both the text and the tune were said to have been inspired by views from the same hill in Bath, hometown of both writers.


Rutter composed his anthem in 1978. It was dedicated to a choral director and educator in Texas. The piece is marked “Happily” and it moves along flowing with broken chords in eighth notes. A reviewer in Gramophone (2012) mentioned Rutter’s gift for composing melodies that are easily singable and that he “writes for enjoyment…He gives (singers) sufficient challenge, especially in keeping the rhythms neat and lively.” He also noted Rutter’s characteristics “as nostalgic, exercising a catchy phrase…introducing a little groovy syncopation.”


Hymn setting:


John Rutter setting:


Happy Thanksgiving!!

September 17, 2020


Spirituals is a genre of songs originating in the United States and created by African Americans. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition that imparted Christian values while also describing the hardships of slavery. Although spirituals were originally unaccompanied monophonic songs, they developed into harmonized choral arrangements.


"The African American spiritual (also called the Negro Spiritual) constitutes one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong.” James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson presented spirituals as the only indigenous type of folk music that America has. Antonin Dvorak chose the sound of spiritual music to represent America in his Symphony no. 9 (From the New World.)       


STEAL AWAY is one of the simplest and most beautiful of the spirituals, created by Wallace Willis, a slave of a Choctaw freedman in the Indian Territory, sometime before 1862. The Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville popularized the song during a tour of the United States and Europe. It expresses the desire to go “home.” This may have been a coded message to escape North or a larger desire to be released from the burden of life on earth—either way “I ain’t got long to stay here.”  There are many arrangements of this spiritual for piano, organ, band, symphony, but one of the most beautiful is a choral version by Alabama native, William Levi Dawson. Born in Anniston, he lived most of his life in Alabama and died in Montgomery in 1990. He was a brilliant composer and conductor (I had the pleasure of working with him a couple of times) and a wonderful, humane being. Spirituals have been the source of inspiration for numerous modern compositions. The first video is Dr. Dawson’s arrangement and the second is a more modern arrangement by English composer Sir Michael Tippet.


Steal Away performed by the Tuskegee Golden Voices at the 2014 William Levi Dawson Festival. The sound at the beginning is not the best, but the performance is stirring.






Steal Away arr. Sir Michael Tippet in his oratorio “A Child for Our Time,”  first performed in 1944.


August 13, 2020

Perhaps you were one of the estimated 750 million to a billion people who tuned in very early on the morning of July 29, 1981 to participate in the Royal Wedding Festivities. There was so much to be in awe of as that day proceeded. Everything was truly out of a fairy tale—the carriage even looked like a gilded, metallic pumpkin. One of the world’s greatest singers, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, sang a glorious Handel aria accompanied by solo trumpet and orchestra.

A pre-wedding article in The New York Times said “The first music that Prince Charles and Lady Diana will hear after they are married next Wednesday in Saint Paul’s Cathedral will not be a work that has long been part of the liturgy but a new anthem by William Mathias, commissioned by the Prince for the occasion. The invitation was conveyed to Mr. Mathias …by Sir David Willcocks, who is directing the music for the wedding. The anthem, “Let the People Praise Thee, O God,” is a setting of Psalm 67 for chorus and orchestra…Mr. Mathias was approached as a Welshman writing for the Prince of Wales.”  Psalm 67 is one of the Psalms appointed for this week’s Liturgy of the Word. This Psalm is a profound and simple hymn of celebration, with a text that urges the singers and hearers to praise God for his justice and righteous governance. I am particularly moved by the way in which Mathias captures the spirit of the Psalm—especially in the quieter, more reflective contrasts to the boisterous opening and ending. Here is a link to the premiere performance recorded on that historic day with some remarkable views of that historic church.



St Paul's Cathedral Choir

Let all the people praise thee o God


Link to video here.

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