The First Noel

​”The First Noel” is a traditional English carol. It has an unusual structure which made arranging it a little difficult. It essentially only has one music phrase. That phrase is repeated twice in the verse, and then it is repeated again in a slightly different form for the chorus. All of this is just fine in a vocal setting where you have different lyrics to distinguish these phrases. It works well enough, that I had never even noticed how repetitive the melody is until I tried to set it for solo piano. Without words, it quickly verges on . . . boring.

My own arrangement has three verses: one with a simple arpeggiated bass, one with altered rhythm and meter, and one that is partially set in a canon. If you try to sing along the words you will find that my technique for avoiding boring was actually to mutilate the traditional structure. I don’t repeat the phrase before the chorus. Each verse is quite a bit shorter than it would have to be if it were sung.

Below is a typical English scene, except for the fact that it’s technically in Scotland. This was the park around the block from where we used to live, with a view of the parish church just across the hedge. I have no doubt that “The First Noel” has been sung there many, many times.​

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***This post originally appeared on my old site here.

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