Commissioned by Gaithersburg Community Chorus in Celebration of their 25th Anniversary. Premiered December 8th & 9th, 2012 by Gaithersburg Community Chorus, Gaithersburg, Maryland, Hugh Harvey, director
Let Us Be Merry is a charming a cappella setting of William Billing’s Judea (from The Singing Master’s Assistant, published 1778 in Boston).
This version tells the Christmas story in three verses, taken from eight verses found in most versions of this hymn.
William Billings (1746-1800) was an uncommon man, described by a contemporary as “a singular man, of moderate size, short of one leg, with one eye, without any address and with an uncommon negligence of person. Still, he spake and sung and thought as a man above the common abilities.” Which, indeed, he was: He was America’s first professional composer, founded the first church choir in America, taught choral singing and pedagogy for 30 years, and published six book-length collections of hymns and anthems, many of which are still sung today!
Desiring a new setting of an American Christmas carol, Let Us Be Merry was Commissioned by Gaithersburg Community Chorus in Celebration of their 25th Anniversary. It is a charming a cappella re-composing of William Billing’s Judea (from The Singing Master’s Assistant, published 1778 in Boston). More commonly known as A Virgin Unspotted, the text retells the Christmas story.
This new version keeps the raw energy so typical of Billings, but adds depth—the music throughout reflects the mood of the text, from the boisterous “let us be merry!” of the chorus, to the simple story telling of the first two verses, to the haunting beauty of the third verse.
A Virgin, Unspotted
A Virgin, unspotted, by Prophets foretold,
Should bring forth a Saviour which now we behold,
To be our Redeemer from death, hell, and sin,
Which Adam’s transgression involved us in.
Then let us be merry, put sorrow away,
Our Saviour Christ Jesus was born on this day.
At Bethlem in Jewry a city there was,
Where Joseph and Mary together did pass,
And there to be taxed with many one mo’,
For Caesar commanded the same should be so.
To teach us humility all this was done,
Then learn we from hence, haughty pride fro to shun.
A manger’s his cradle, who came from above,
The Great God of mercy, of peace, and of love.
To help choirs prepare, here are several recordings of Let Us Be Merry. Please note that your director will likely choose different tempos, and conduct tempo changes differently than on these recordings. These recordings are not authoritative, but rather are a useful aid for learning notes and for getting a feel for the piece. As always, keep one eye up and follow your director!
Note that in some of these recordings (i.e. the Soprano only, Alto only, etc.), long rests are shortened to about 3 seconds. Also, these recordings are of the most recent revision of this piece (currently D6—look in the lower corner of any page with music and you will see which edition your music is).
Please note that these recordings are protected by copyright—please do not post them to other web sites, and if you wish to link to these recordings, please link to this page, not directly to the MP3 file. If you’ve purchased an adequate number of octavos for your group, you may burn an audio CD with the relevant tracks for your members to use in preparing the music.