God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Felicia, my awesome and talented sister, wanted to arrange God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for Vox Singulae. “I might reharmonise it,” she said. “Go nuts,” I told her.

A while later, she sent me an arrangement-in-progress that was the twenty-first cousin of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, five times removed. The resemblance was there, but only if you knew what to look for and looked very, very hard indeed. It was in no way bad, but it wasn’t very recognisable as the tune we all know and love.

“Umm… could you dial it back a little? Actually… could you dial it back a lot?” I said, rather sheepishly.

That’s how we ended up with this Glee-inspired arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. (Maybe next year we’ll revisit the reharmonised version.)

Felicia’s comments on the arrangement

First things first: this has got to be one of my favourite Christmas songs, ever. (The fact that it’s in minor just makes it a whole lot more beautiful.) There were a few versions of lyrics when I was looking up this song. I discussed this with my sister and we decided to use the lyrics that were used in the Glee version. I’d been so, so tempted to do some strange reharmonisations but… no… not this time.

I started off in a very cliché and classic way, one voice starting alone. I couldn’t help myself, though, and threw in a short second voice soon after. This happens twice before the second voice starts singing a harmony line under it. The second verse sees the continuation of the soprano 1 carrying the melody, and the official entrance of the soprano 2 and tenors as the accompaniment. The tenors stuck to the root notes or the fifths or the passing notes, and the soprano 2s were the main time-keepers, marking every quarter note. I did start having a bit of fun with the soprano 2 line, as I sought an independent melody of sorts for it.

The third verse is when all four lines enter the verse together. The melody is handed over by the soprano 1s to the soprano 2s, and the soprano 1s went above the soprano 2s. I kept the soprano 1s relatively close to the melody till the end of the verse, where I moved them up, in anticipation of the fourth verse. Here, the altos and the tenors were the accompaniment. The previous accompaniment lines had half notes in the first verse, and quarter notes in the second verse, while the third verse was mainly filled with eighth notes.

The increasing movement in the rhythm culminates in the fourth verse, where all the SSAT parts sing together with the melody, which is still carried by the soprano 2s, snugly cradled by the other parts. Here, the tenors leave their post of singing the root tones, and the soprano 1s get stretched to sing the high G. They all end unisono on E.

The finale is started by one voice, and the melody moves down the parts. The soprano 2 and alto share one repetition together. The tenors take the last repetition, while augmenting the rhythm. It all slows to an end, a tierce de picardie on “joy”.

Grace's comments on the recording process

One thing I learnt about my own voice and singing ability in recording God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was that I’m not equally adept at using my voice up and down its entire range. If I stand in front of a piano and sing notes in isolation, I can go down to D3 and up to G5 pretty comfortably. However, singing a G5 note as part of a passage is challenging, and you can clearly hear me reaching for the note all throughout the song. Just take a listen from 1:22 onwards, and you can hear how challenging the G5 notes are for me. That’s something I’ll have to work on.

These three songs – Stille Nacht, O Tannenbaum and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – are all I’ll be doing this Christmas season, so I hope you’ve enjoyed them. Merry Christmas!