Music Review: Down From His Glory

Down From His Glory

August has finally arrived.  It’s currently 87° outside.  Before the end of the day, the high should reach 100° with a heat index of 115°.  While most of us are sick of this insane heat, it’s time to do the only sensible thing:  crank up the AC and begin listening to Christmas music.  Rehearsals for Christmas are scheduled to begin in mid-October, so I need to do some listening and make a few decisions.  Here are my thoughts on the first musical I’m considering — Down From His Glory by Mike Speck (orchestrated by Lari Goss).

This cantata is definitely a possibility for my situation for a couple of reasons.  I love that it includes both adult and children’s choirs and has plenty of opportunities to feature soloists.  The range is great for most church choirs — the sopranos rarely sing above the staff — and many of those notes are either optional or are doubled in another voice.  The orchestration is richly textured without being overly schmaltzy.

The song choices provide something for everyone.  Classic Christmas songs are featured — including an effective arrangement of O Holy Night without the high Bb in the middle of a carol medley –as well as standard hymns.  For the Southern gospel lover, Light of the Stable and It’s the Messiah are sure to please while He Loved Us More and The Story That Never Grows Old will fit the bill for the main-stream.  Personally, I am most excited about the inclusion of simplified arrangements of classical works associated with the holiday.  Who can resist the charm of Pat-a-Pan and the majesty of Handel’s For Unto Us a Child is Born?

So no one thinks I have found the perfect option immediately, I must point out some of my concerns.  The first issue you encounter is the overture.  Quite plainly….IT’S LONG!!!!  50 measures to be exact before the choir’s initial entrance.  Without a sanctuary orchestra, this demands that some type of pageantry accompany it.  That’s just something else that has be fit into an already crazy rehearsal schedule.

When the choir finally sings, they introduce the title song of the cantata.  While I love the words and music of the hymn, Down From His Glory is not quite the attention-grabbing opening that I hope for.  After all, this is the centerpiece performance of the year for many church choirs.  I need something to get my singers energized to sing early on Sunday morning and to keep my audience engaged.

On the whole, the cantata feels just a little too long.  At nearly 51 minutes, I am already looking for things to cut.  The narration becomes a bit labored at times.  It tells a beautiful story though, so I’m not sure that’s the place to cut.  When I start looking at the music, the weakest piece in my opinion is the opening song.  As expected, the hymn reappears in the finale, so cutting the first number seems very awkward.  What to do?  What to do?

All things considered, the cantata earns 4 out of 5 stars in my book.  The music is wonderfully arranged, it just feels a little long and as though it doesn’t quite build to a satisfying climax as I wish it did.  Guess that means I’m heading back to the listening station to continue my search. Down From His Glory is definitely not out of the running for this year’s Christmas celebration, but there is certainly space for another work to take its place.

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  • Andrea M  On October 25, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    My church is singing this cantata this year (2012) for Christmas. Its now October and still hot outside in Texas, but we are singing Christmas music! I love it!

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