merry christmas

In honor of the season, today we share the song “Geistliches Wiegenlied,” or “Sacred Lullaby” (Op. 91, no. 2), written by Johannes Brahms for alto, viola, and piano. The viola obbligato is the melody from a famous Christmas carol, “Joseph, lieber Joseph mein”–and Brahms even wrote the lyrics underneath the viola line.

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Here the song is performed by Jessye Norman (voice), Wolfram Christ (viola) and Daniel Barenboim (piano).

Die ihr schwebet
Um diese Palmen
In Nacht und Wind,
Ihr heilgen Engel,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Ihr Palmen von Bethlehem
Im Windesbrausen,
Wie mögt ihr heute
So zornig sausen!
O rauscht nicht also!
Schweiget, neiget
Euch leis und lind;
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Der Himmelsknabe
Duldet Beschwerde,
Ach, wie so müd er ward
Vom Leid der Erde.
Ach nun im Schlaf ihm
Leise gesänftigt
Die Qual zerrinnt,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Grimmige Kälte
Sauset hernieder,
Womit nur deck ich
Des Kindleins Glieder!
O all ihr Engel,
Die ihr geflügelt
Wandelt im Wind,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein kind.

You who hover
Around these palms
In night and wind,
You holy angels,
Silence the treetops,
My child is sleeping.

You palms of Bethlehem
In the roaring wind,
How can you today
Bluster so angrily!
O roar not so!
Be still, bow
Softly and gently;
Silence the treetops!
My child is sleeping.

The child of heaven
Endures the discomfort,
Oh, how tired he has become
Of earthly sorrow.
Oh, now in sleep,
Gently softened,
His pain fades,
Silence the treetops!
My child is sleeping.

Fierce cold
Comes rushing
How shall I cover
The little child’s limbs?
O all you angels,
You winged ones
Wandering in the wind.
Silence the treetops!
My child is sleeping.

Many thanks to you faithful readers and contributors! Hope you have a blessed, safe, refreshing holiday season!

things I wish I’d started doing earlier.


Oh, the things one could do with a Time-Turner… (photo by Victoria)

Hindsight is 20/20. With age comes wisdom. The greatest teacher is experience. Whatever your adage of choice, they all emphasize that life is a learning process. Here are some little things that would have made my life easier if I had started doing them earlier:

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coaching singers when you’re not a singer

Cartoon by Charles Hawtrey, 1920.

When I first heard that many vocalists actually received coaching from their accompanists, I thought, “Wha…? So…they have two different voice teachers?” What I’ve learned since then is that a vocal coach is not the same as a voice teacher. A vocal coach doesn’t even have to be a good singer. Ideally, an experienced vocal coach has a good grasp of vocal repertoire and styles, understands concepts of breathing and sound production, and has a working knowledge of proper diction in at least two of the major vocal languages (Italian, German, French, and oftentimes English). The vocal coach also helps the singer with phrasing and dramatic character.

If you’re a pianist looking to make money through accompanying, it’s very possible that one of these days a voice teacher will ask you, “Would you be able to take my student into a practice room and coach them for a little bit on this song?”

And of course, your answer will be: “Yes.” (You can panic inwardly as long as you smile and nod on the outside.)

If the student is young, the coaching will most likely be basic: singing the correct notes, with the correct rhythm, and then observing the dynamics properly. But here are a couple of helpful posts I’ve found by collaborative pianist Gretchen Saathoff, discussing the finer details of what a vocal coaching looks like:

Have you ever coached a vocalist before? Any tips to share for those who are starting out?