To also view a performance of this work, visit the video section of the Media Center or YouTube.
Commissioned by the Georgia State University School of Music
Translation by Constantine Kokenes
Audio streaming of the entire piece is available on SoundCloud.
The term “kalanta” (singular, “kalanton”) refers to types of folk songs written in commemoration of religious observances in Greece. While the subject matter of kalanta are often sacred, the folk songs are not intended for use in formal, liturgical worship services. When approached by the Georgia State University School of Music to write a festive work to be included on the School’s annual Holiday Concert, I immediately thought to create a setting of the well-known and perhaps most beloved kalanta of the season surrounding the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. These kalanta are written in honor of Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.), considered a Saint by the traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity and one of the towering figures of the early Church. St. Basil was a bishop of Caesarea, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and was an influential Christian theologian and monastic. In addition to his work as a theologian, St. Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. From this, the tradition has developed in Greece that it is St. Basil, rather than St. Nicholas (Santa Claus), that brings toys and treats to children. Furthermore, gift giving does not traditionally take place on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ (December 25) but rather on the Name Day of St. Basil (January 1). Because this commemoration falls upon the civil New Year, it is common for Greeks to sing these traditional kalanta at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The text of this piece is set both in Greek and English in a translation prepared by Dr. Constantine Kokenes, a noted Byzantine Chanter and “lampadarios” (second cantor) at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Atlanta, Georgia. The music incorporates both a baritone soloist in the Byzantine Chant tradition and a solo clarinet that performs and improvises in a Greek folk style. I have also composed original material for one of the text settings to add both contrasting material to the simple tune presented throughout and to accentuate the folk nature of the music. Finally, because the singing of these particular kalanta is always associated with the season of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, there is a brief quote of the Byzantine hymn sung during this liturgical cycle of worship within the Greek Orthodox Church. The quote, “Η γεννησις Σου Χριστε Ο Θεος ημων” (Your Birth, O Christ our God, did shine upon the world) appears at the very end of the piece.