Baltimore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
Enriching lives through organ and choral music

Dear John

John Walker, DMA is Artist-in-Residence at Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, having served earlier as Minister of Music at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and The Riverside Church in New York City. He is a member of the organ faculty at Peabody Conservatory of Music and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Organ at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, following previous teaching positions at Duquesne University, Manhattan School of Music, San Jose State University, and the American Conservatory of Music. His active performance schedule has taken him throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Dr. Walker has recorded frequently on the Pro Organo, Gothic, and JAV Recordings labels. As a student of Herbert Nanney, John Walker earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Stanford University, where he was also Assistant University Organist. He holds two Master of Music degrees cum laude from American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, where he was later a member of the faculty. Dr. Walker was the 1984 alumni recipient of the Professional Achievement Award from Westminster College. A Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, John Walker was elected President of the AGO in 2014, having previously served the Guild in numerous other capacities including several terms as Vice President and Treasurer.

In our "Dear John" series, Dr. Walker answers questions from our Chapter members. An experienced, knowledgeable, and pastoral member, he has graciously accepted the board’s invitation to lead an “advice” column for our chapter newsletter. Many thanks to Dr. John Walker for taking up this challenge. If you have an organ, choral, or church music question, please use our contact form to submit your question to Dr. Walker. He will then choose one question to answer each month.

Choral and Organ Pieces for the Advent and Christmas Season

Dear John,
I'm wondering if you have any suggestions of favorite choral and organ pieces for the Advent and Christmas seasons? It will need to be something accessible to our skill level, which is an all-volunteer choir. I would appreciate any suggestions.
- Seeking Seasonal Sounds

Dear Seeking, if I may please address you by your first name only,

The Advent/Christmas cycle likely offers the greatest musical challenge and opportunity of the entire church year for our creative resources as ministers of music; it summons us to program both novel compositions and well-known and beloved carols. Here are a few of my favorite works to fulfill that requirement within modest resources for choir and organ:

If you have a handbell choir, ask your vocal choir to sing an ancient hymn such as “Creator of the Stars of Night” in unison while the handbells play the tonic, dominant and selected higher overtones in random rhythm.
Hint: this simple musical arrangement delivers spectacular results when done in procession!
William Billings, A Virgin Unspotted, pub. Walton Music Corp. Colonial American, composed for singers who had not attended conservatory!

If you have someone able to play either flute or oboe and snare drum, try this piece:

Burgundian Carol, arr. Batastini, pub. GIA
Mack Wilberg, Noe! Noe! pub. Oxford Christmas Music (easy for choir but a bit tricky for the organist)
Harold Darke, In the Bleak Mid-Winter A classic!
Healey Willan, What Is This Lovely Fragrance? pub. Oxford


Kopylow-Wilhousky, Heavenly Light, a favorite since my college days
Berlioz, Thou Must Leave Thy Lowly Dwelling, from l’Enfance du Christ
Healey Willan, The Three Kings, pub. Oxford, not easy but well worth the effort!


Joseph Ahrens, Das Heilige Jahr, vol. 1, pub. Willy Müller, Heidelberg Among many options, I love his settings of Es ist ein Ros and Wachet auf Johannes Brahms, Es ist ein Ros
John Barr, Two Preludes on Christmas Carols, pub. HW Gray, St. Cecilia Series
1    - Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
2    - We Three Kings (for Epiphany)
John Barr, Meditation on I Wonder as I Wander and Prelude on Hark the Herald pub. HW Gray, St. Cecilia Series
John Barr, Four Christmas Pieces, pub. HW Gray
1    - Noel Nouvelet
1-3 - Two Preludes on Silent Night    (Unequalled in my opinion)
4 - Fife and Drums (Patapan)

The Oxford Book of Christmas Organ Music, pub. Oxford University Press Highly recommended anthology of music covering the past 400 years.

I hope this short list will inspire your creative imagination as we all prepare to celebrate the important days which lie ahead.



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