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A Star in the East: Three Carol Settings consists of three songs (revisiting traditional carols) which combine the intimacy of a solo voice with the varied instrumental timbres. A central message is the tenderness of the Mother's love for Child. The gift is of the heart. (Originally written for a solo voice, later versions were prepared for SATB or SA choruses.)
The first song in the set is a traditional french carol, "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." There is joy for those coming to the manger. And Mary, guarding her sleeping son, must quiet the noisy shepherds! Hush! Hush! Ah! que l'enfant est beau! [Ah! the beautiful son!]
"In the Bleak Midwinter" (text by Christina Rossetti) follows next. In order to suggest bleakness of landscape, the music opens with a low, sustained chord in the organ. Above this barren land floats the melody played by the french horn. Maracas add a touch of quiet, peaceful slumber.
The voice enters to present the four verses, each with an increasingly active accompaniment. Finally comes the plaintive question of What can I give him, poor as I am? This is repeated with urgency until the answer brings resolution: I would give my heart.
"Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" presents a new dimension to the Nativity story. For it is shepherds (i.e., working-class folk) who follow the star to Bethlehem, in contrast with the Magi (kings). The shepherds travel by foot, perhaps at a jaunty, swing-rhythm pace. They heed the angel's word: You'll forget your flock, you'll forget your herd. And thus, they leave behind all that they own to witness the Savior's birth.
Notes by the composer