Sarah Riskind

Choral conductor and composer

This Little Babe from Ceremony of Carols (Benjamin Britten)

My friend Elisabeth Cherland, another doctoral student at the University of Washington, would like to share her thoughts on “This Little Babe” from Ceremony of Carols! I will also add that it can work to excerpt other movements as well.

Title/Composer:
“This Little Babe” from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols

Voicing:
SATB or SSA

Why do singers like it?
It’s fun, fast, rhythmically driven, and exciting!

What is unique about it?
It’s a medieval English text telling the story of the birth of Jesus. The whole Ceremony of Carols is a great work, and this is a gem. It works well on a winter concert program, and I love that it’s a completely different mood than most other “holiday” pieces. Finally, it is scored for harp accompaniment! Of course, a piano works really well, but if you have a great harpist available, DO IT!

What is challenging about it?
The medieval English text has some unusual words, so it’s important to talk through the text, meaning, and pronunciation. Because it is so fast, and the canonic entrances get to be close together, it can be initially difficult to hold on to the separate parts. There are two spots (near the end and at the end) where it breaks into homophonic harmony, but these aren’t difficult to work through.

What is easy about it?
“This Little Babe” is 95% the same melodic material! It is sung in unison and then in canon.

Where did you perform it?
I performed it with my high school mixed choir in South Dakota (a non-auditioned ensemble), as well as the women’s chorus at the University of Washington (also non-auditioned). I have performed it with both keyboard (in SD) and harp (in WA), and it works with either (but seriously, the harp is so great!).

Where can you order it?
Take your pick. It will be available anywhere you buy your choral literature. You could also check your area’s churches and ask to borrow their copies of Ceremony of Carols. If you need the SSA version and only have the SATB (or vice versa) it is easy to adapt for your ensemble. Listen to a recording of it and you’ll be able to figure it out.


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