Ice Lanterns for Christmas

When we first started planning our Candlelight Christmas concert, we had this beautiful idea of lining the walkways up to St John’s Cathedral with ice lanterns. Patrons would have arrived to our special candlelit evening with beautiful frosty candle light…

Well we decided to do it anyway, even though  we don’t have an audience arriving!

And the result…well, you’ll see in the live stream!

We loved it so much we thought that you should try it at home to give your yard a magical glow for the holidays.

What you’ll need:

  • balloons
  • water from the tap
  • a cold night
  • water proof LED lights – like these

This is something so easy, anyone can do it!

Essentially, make a bunch of water balloons – just big enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Pick a nice cold night, and put your balloons out in a snow bank for the night.

Armed with your waterproof led lights (warm white for the effect we got), remove the  ice globes from the balloons and decide how you want to place them.

Then place the light in the snow, and the ice globe on top.

It’s really that easy – and it’s down right magical!

 

Toffee for Christmas – Watch Party Idea

At the SSO offices, December means one thing…our Director of Administration is bringing Toffee to work.

Natal Laycock’s role at the SSO is an important one (not just because of the toffee!), and we all think she’s part super-human as she handles work, home, kids, even piano lessons! In her 5 years at the SSO, her toffee has become the stuff of legends – its not every day that someone has made toffee for you, so when it happens its a memorable moment.

We invaded Natal’s toffee making this year to steal her recipe for you to give a try as a pairing with our Candlelight Christmas concert!

 

Delicious – let’s get started!

Here’s what you need – Ingredients:
1 can condensed milk (Orignal, not low fat)
1 cup cane sugar (ie Roger’s Brand)
1/2 cup butter (scant)
2 cups golden or brown sugar

But you’ll also need…
Heavy bottom sauce pan (2.5L or larger)
Long handled wooden spoon
Candy thermometer (optional, but recommended)
cookie sheet
parchment paper (or extra butter)

Optional – up to you, but not in ours:
chopped nuts

Now let’s get to it!

Step 1: Line the cookie sheet with parchment, or grease with butter and set aside. If using nuts, sprinkle on the sheet now.

Step 2: Combine all ingredients into sauce pan, and set the burner to at least med-high.

Step 3: Stir continuously, scraping the bottom, so the sugar does not burn to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will begin to change color, and fleck with darker pieces.

Warning: boiling candy splatters, and it burns!

The mixture will need to boil until it reaches over 300*F (hard crack). This will take roughly 20 minutes, depending on your burners. Keep stirring and scraping! Stick the candy thermometer in after about 10 minutes, ensuring it stays below the surface, and off the bottom of the pan to get an accurate read.

Step 4: Once the mixture has reached hard crack, remove from heat and pour over prepared cookie sheet.

Optional step: ‘score’ the toffee when it is partially set. Leave the toffee out at room temperature. Drag a butter knife across the surface to create break or ‘score’ lines in roughly the size of the pieces you want to make. If the toffee sticks to the knife, or the lines fill back in, it’s still too hot.

Step 5: Set tray in fridge/freezer/snow bank until set and then break apart. If you’ve scored it, turn the toffee upside down so the score lines are facing down.

Step 6: Break it up! As you can see from the video, even a screwdriver works…

Important: Store in a ziploc bag, or sealed container, and keep refrigerated.

It’s an incredibly tasty treat that is worth all that time standing over the heat! And once you’re done, it can be enjoyed with a number of classic holiday drinks…hot cocoa, milk, tea, coffee (Baileys optional!), and peppermint schnapps.

If you’ve never tried to make homemade toffee, this is your year. Let us know how it turned out!

A Fantasia on Greensleeves

This exquisite four-minute orchestral miniature has far eclipsed the song it was inspired by: namely, ‘Greensleeves’, a traditional melody that was doing the rounds in the days of the Tudors and which was put to masterful use here by Vaughan Williams.

He didn’t create it as a stand-alone piece, though; instead, it was initially used in the third act of the composer’s Shakespeare-inspired opera Sir John in Love, based on the play “Falstaff”. In Falstaff, Shakespeare makes mention of “Greensleeves”…and thus we have history made.

There is all sorts of unfounded claims that the original tune was written by Henry VIII. But being that the tune first appears more than three decades after the many-married-king had died, its likely that this unfounded claim is just that.

Vaughan Williams once commented, “The art of music above all arts is the expression of the soul of the nation”. In this delightful piece, he manages to capture the very essence of England in music. The serene, pastoral sounds evoke images of bucolic bliss, with lyrical string writing and particularly descriptive flute passages. The title of Fantasia is in some ways misleading: the work is neither long enough nor complex enough to deserve the description; instead, it is a rather faithful setting of the original.

But of course at the holidays, we all know it as “What Child is This”.
“What Child Is This?” is a Christmas carol whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, in 1865. At the time of composing the carol, Dix worked as an insurance company manager and had been struck by a severe illness. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns, including lyrics to this carol that was subsequently set to the tune of “Greensleeves”.

At the time he was writing the lyrics to “What Child Is This?” in 1865, William Chatterton Dix was working as the manager of an insurance company. He was afflicted by an unexpected and severe illness that resulted in him being bedridden and suffering from severe depression. His near-death experience brought about a spiritual renewal in him while he was recovering. During this time, he read the Bible comprehensively and was inspired to author hymns like “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” and “As with Gladness Men of Old”. The precise time in 1865 when he wrote the poem “The Manger Throne” is disputed. While the St. Petersburg Times details how Dix penned the work after reading the Gospel for Epiphany that year (Matthew 2:1–12) recounting the journey of the Biblical Magi; Singer’s Library of Song: Medium Voice contends that it was actually authored during the Christmas of 1865.

The Fantasia on Greensleeves uses not only the traditional tune alluded to in the title but also the melody ‘Lovely Joan’, which Vaughan Williams came across in Suffolk. In 1934, under the watchful eye of the composer, Ralph Greaves arranged Vaughan Williams’s music into the version we most commonly hear today.

Enjoy this beautiful work by Vaughan Williams as part of our Candlelight Christmas.

Interesting Facts about Handel’s Messiah

While we can’t perform Handel’s Messiah this year, we are able to feature a few highlights from this holiday classic. We’re joined by Casey Peden, Lisa Hornung, and Spencer McKnight who will perform arias from Part 1 of Messiah (distanced and protocols).

We’re missing our colleagues in the Saskatoon Symphony Chorus and can’t wait to return to this more than century old tradition here in Saskatoon! But here’s a few intriguing facts about Messiah while we wait.

Messiah wasn’t originally intended for Christmas

The work premiered in Dublin in 1742 — at Easter time. In fact, Messiah was always intended for Lent. It was the Victorians who moved it to Christmas, to revive interest in that then-neglected holiday.

Incidentally, the first London performance was a disaster. The fact that a religious work was being performed in a theatre, not a church, scandalized London audiences. Eventually, when Handel gave all the proceedings from Messiah to charity, London came around, but only then.

Handel wrote Messiah for a fairly small ensemble

Handel’s orchestra and choir was pretty small, maybe 20 musicians and 15 singers. It was the Imperial-mad Victorians in the late nineteenth century who filled the Crystal Palace with thousands of singers and hundreds of musicians, completely distorting everything Handel had written — and making for a long evening.

At the lugubrious pace you had to take to get 5,000 singers to navigate Handel’s choruses, a single performance could take five hours (complete with a dinner break).

Handel wrote the entire three-hour work in 18 days

Handel supposedly composed the piece in a white-hot frenzy of creativity in July and August of 1741 (and then wrote his oratorio Samson in the following three weeks). Though…he was taken to exageration…

He did help himself to parts of earlier compositions he had written years before. The choruses “And He Shall Purify,” “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” and “His Yoke Is Easy” were all lifted from little Italian love arias Handel had composed 20 years earlier.

Handel wept while he composed the Hallelujah Chorus and claimed he saw visions of angels while he worked on the piece.

Was Handel a religious man? We haven’t the faintest idea. We know almost nothing about Handel’s personal and private life — which is surprising given he was one of the most famous men in England during his lifetime. But we do know that the compositional process moved him deeply.

Almost all the words for Messiah were taken from the Old Testament.

Even though Messiah tells the story of Jesus — from birth to death to Resurrection and beyond, almost all the texts were taken from the Old Testament — not the New. A neat trick, to tell Jesus’s life using texts written long before he lived.

The reason Old Testament texts were chosen for Messiah is that the guy who compiled them, Charles Jennens, was using Messiah to fight a battle with a religious sect of the time called the Deists, who denied the reality of prophecy in the Bible. Jennens wanted to prove that the story of Jesus was completely prefigured in the Old Testament.

Thus, the text for Messiah. So, for example, the aria “He was despised, and rejected of men,” one of Messiah’s most famous, was not written about Jesus. It comes from Isaiah, chapter 53, verse three – written 700 years before Jesus was born.

Messiah is most popular with English speakers.

Yes, there are performances of Messiah everywhere, but the preponderance of performances are in the English-speaking world, and those places on the globe where British imperialism spread its tentacles.

Messiah is popular in England, of course, as well as in Canada, Australia and the United States, but also in places such as Nigeria, Kenya, Trinidad and South Africa (as a YouTube search will confirm).

 

The arias featured in our Candlelight Christmas are Comfort Ye / Every Valley, O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion, and Rejoice Greatly!