Season of Celebration Round to Learn

by Deborah Henson-Conant

 The Story of “Season of Celebration”

My former manager, Stephanie Maillet, and I would sit down once a week for our fantasy “Future-Now” sessions in which we’d describe our world as if it were a year from now, and then five years from now.  We’d use a timer and each fantasize aloud for two minutes, while the other took notes.  One of these sessions happened while I was composing a new holiday suite to premiere with the “New England String Ensemble.”  During Stephanie’s fantasy session she said, “I see you playing this suite and the whole audience is singing along.” 

Boom! Everything stopped. I loved this idea!  I love getting to sing with orchestra. The exhilaration of that experience is what keeps me going during the sleep-deprived weeks and months it takes for me to compose and orchestrate the pieces I play with orchestra.

How could I give other people that same experience … INSTANTLY? People who may not read music, people who don’t have weeks to practice?  How could I write something that would give them that exhilarating experience of singing together, in harmony and with an orchestra – but something they could learn in less than three minutes?

I kept thinking of the moment, in Beethoven’s Ninth, when the chorus stands up and sings “Ode to Joy,” and how, if I’m in the audience, it feels soooooo unfair that I can’t ALSO stand up and sing — I mean, I KNOW the tune …

That’s when I thought of writing a simple, beautiful round I could quickly teach the audience just before we sing it. I jumped up and started writing “Season of Celebration.” I wanted a simple holiday song that celebrated the common message throughout all the traditions of this holiday, and that seemed to me to be the fact that this is a season of celebration and song, whether religious or secular, thus the lyrics: “This is a season of celebration. This is a season of song.”

And I wanted to include the idea that this celebration, and the messages of peace, reverence, joy and celebration, are really just a kick-off for the rest of the year, a kind of running-start, a re-affirmation of those feelings.  And I wanted to also include a Scottish tradition I especially love, of holding hands and singing at the end of every Ceilidgh (music party) — so those two ideas make the second half of the lyrics: “And when you take my hand it’s celebration all year long.”

When it’s played with orchestra, the round (or “canon” as a round is called in concert parlance) comes at the end of a suite that includes some of my favorite holiday tunes starting with horns playing “Dona Nobis Pacem,” then woodwinds and harp playing “Lully Lullay,” and pizzicato strings, winds and brass swelling into a rousing chorus of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Then the orchestra segues into an introduction for the “choir” (aka. the audience) – a hush falls over the hall – we stand, and with a single violin line as accompaniment, we begin “Season of Celebration,” first very simply, getting our bearings, and then — we begin the round: one voice, two, three, four — with the orchestra swelling, we sing it through and repeat the lines “All year long, all year long, all year long…” . And just like that … we are a Heavenly choir!!  For a moment.

Hey, I know I’m not Beethoven.  I know we’re not the Mormon Tabernacle choir — but why shouldn’t we have the chance to feel just a little of that exhilaration of singing together in harmony, part of a whole, with a symphony and choir of a hundred voices … or nine hundred? Or two. If only to help remind us that just because we’re sitting in the audience doesn’t mean our voices aren’t an essential part of the music.

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