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Noel is a collection of the best known carols in the American Christmas tradition. The many moods and musical styles of the carols themselves are well represented in the arrangements for this anthology of pre-20th century holiday favorites. Noel is unique among the ten volumes of the Guitar Ensemble Core Catalog, in that each arrangement is comprised of five parts. In the scheme for these arrangements, each melody is accompanied by two simple harmony parts (A1 and B1), and by two more challenging harmony parts (A2 and B2). The A1 and B1 parts are very drone-like, often consisting of only one note per measure. The simplicity of these parts is of particular importance for beginners, since it will allow for participation in making ensemble music even by those who have only just begun developing technical skill at playing the guitar. In performance, the full ensemble arrangement can be preceded by a first pass consisting of only the two drones and the melody (in either a group or solo rendition). The two drones can also be combined into a single part based on sounding two notes at a time. Combining the drone parts in this fashion, which in effect transforms the arrangement into a four part scheme, can in many instances only be accomplished by making use of equivalent notes.
The anthology begins with "Away In A Manger", given here in an instrumental style arrangement (as opposed to a vocal style arrangement) which is characterized by considerable movement in the A2 and B2 parts. In "Good King Wenceslas", the melody is sounded in a lower register, and is offset rhythmically by numerous syncopated notes in the A2 part. Notice that the arrangement for "We Three Kings", like the melody itself, consists of two distinct parts, the first in a minor key, and the second in a Major key. The arrangement for the hauntingly beautiful "The Coventry Carol" is in a minor key but concludes with a Major chord. This type of final cadence was used with some frequency in the Baroque era, and is known in theoretical terms as a "Picadilly 3rd". "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" is given in an instrumental style arrangement suggestive of Classical chamber music (chamber music is music performed by a relatively small group in a relatively small room). The most striking feature of the arrangement for "Angels We Have Heard On High" is the unison in octaves sounded by all five parts halfway through the chorus.
The pastoral simplicity of the melody for "Silent Night" is preserved in the arrangement for this well known Christmas standard, which makes use of parallel harmony throughout in the A2 part. Apart from its length,
the most noteworthy feature of the arrangement for "O Holy Night" is the occasional use of triplet rhythms in the A2 part (triplet rhythm consists of sounding three evenly timed notes during the interval of time normally associated with two evenly timed notes). The A2 and B2 parts are very active rhythmically in the arrangement for "What Child Is This?", which is probably equally well known in the folk music adaptation called "Greensleeves". The engaging compound meter effect of "I Saw Three Ships" makes this one of the most enjoyable pieces to play in the entire anthology. The arrangement for "Joy To The World" centers around the use of parallel harmony in the A2 part and a recurring bass run in the B2 part. The first half of the anthology concludes with "Deck The Halls", the arrangement for which includes numerous syncopated notes.
In "The First Noel", the A2 part sounds the melody notes a half beat later in several instances, creating an interesting effect not unlike the ringing of bells. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is given in a highly syncopated arrangement which contrasts well with the noticeably linear character of the melody. The stately and majestic bearing of the melody for "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" has been preserved to the greatest extent possible in the arrangement for that piece. The most interesting feature of the arrangement for "Bring A Torch Jeanette Isabella" is the contrast between the incessant movement of the parts and the passages in which all five parts play damped notes. The drones (A1 and B1) are used to good advantage in "The Little Drummer Boy", the arrangement for which also utilizes parallel harmony throughout in the A2 part, and an interesting and emphatic ostinato figure in the B2 part. In "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing", each phrase is characterized by the delayed entrance of the A2 and B2 parts.
The low register used for all the parts in "I Wonder As I Wander", and particularly for the melody, complements the mysterious and contemplative quality of this song. The arrangement for "Oh Christmas Tree", characterized by triplet rhythms in the melody line and by measures containing varying numbers of beats, is rather Germanic sounding, in keeping with the Germanic origin of this tune. The arrangement for "O, Little Town Of Bethlehem", on the other hand, is characterized in all the parts by the rhythmic simplicity of the melody. In "Jingle Bells", the bouncy rhythms created by an abundance of damped notes are suggestive of a jostling sleigh ride. "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" has been given, for obvious reasons, in an abridged version. Although the arrangement given here is for the fourth and the eighth days, ensemble arrangements for the other ten days can be readily devised from this partial score. The anthology concludes with "We Wish You A Merry Christmas", a lively number which is especially well suited for use as the finale to a concert of Christmas music.
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