Welcome All Wonders:
A Christmas Celebration
A Christmas cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra. There are no vocal solos. An arrangement for choir with brass ensemble, organ, and percussion is also available. This piece can be found on the CD Eternity Shut in a Span, available in the Store.

Duration: 25'
Difficulty: 4/5

  • Welcome All Wonders (4:35)
  • Christmas Mourning (6:45)
  • The Nativity of Christ (3:20)
  • Good Is the Flesh (5:20)
  • Christmas Now (4:45)

Single movements can also be programmed individually. Two of these movements, Christmas Mourning and The Nativity of Christ, are published by Roger Dean.

Click here to view the Orchestral score.
Click here to view the Brass Ensemble score.

Welcome All Wonders

Christmas Mourning

The Nativity of Christ

Good Is the Flesh

Christmas Now

Voicing/Instrumentation - Orchestral Version

Mixed Chorus (no solos)


2 Flutes
1 Oboe (doubling English horn)
2 Clarinets in B
2 Bassoons
2 Horns in F
2 Trumpets in B
2 Bass Trombones (Tuba optional)

Percussion (3 players)
Bass Drum
Floor Toms (small, medium, and large)
Snare Drum
Tam Tam
Suspended Cymbals (medium and large)
Finger Cymbals
Small Triangle
Crotales (C, D, F, G, and A)
Chimes (Tubular Bells)

Voicing/Instrumentation - Brass Ensemble Version

SATB Chorus (no solos)


2 Trumpets
2 French Horns
Tenor Trombone
Bass Trombone

Percussion (2 players)
     Bass Drum
     Floor Toms (small, medium, and large)
     Snare Drum
     Tam Tam
     Suspended Cymbals (medium and large)
     Finger Cymbals
     Small Triangle
     Crotales (C, D, F, G, and A)
     Chimes (Tubular Bells)

Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration includes five songs with texts carefully selected by the composer from four different English and American poets. It is a sacred, religious work in the tradition of an oratorio or cantata rather than a secular grouping of five carols. One will not find references to reindeer or chestnuts in the poems, or sleighbells in the orchestration. Instead, Mr. Redford takes his inspiration in part, from his travels to Europe. The sights, sounds and smells of the cathedrals built during the middle ages and Renaissance stirred his own devout Christian beliefs. He set about flavoring Welcome All Wonders with some of that Medieval/Renaissance character in a number of ways. Two of the poets lived during the Renaissance. Antique cymbals, similar to those announcing various stages of the mass are used. Harmonically, Mr. Redford relies heavily on quartal structures (chords built on fourths) which, while modern in sound, hearken back to the modalities of the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

The first poem, "Welcome All Wonders" by the seventeenth-century poet Richard Crashaw greets the birth of Jesus and salutes his mission. In Redford's setting, the number four takes on importance. A splashy opening theme announces the poem's title with a descending and rising fourth, then a descending fifth (the inversion of a fourth). Responding to the choir, the woodwinds use hemiola a metric device not uncommon to the Renaissance. Redford employs a sectional form for this first movement where both theme groups make four appearances each. To conclude, the opening theme quickly cascades from the sopranos down to the basses with four statements of "welcome all wonders" in imitative counterpoint.

Redford chose a text by the modern American poet Vassar Miller for the second song. The play on words in Miller's title "Christmas Mourning" foreshadows something bittersweet. The poet poignantly articulates a sense of relationship with Christ. In this verse, one comes face to face with the core of Christ's message and in the process, discovers something new about personal truth and resolve. The language in this poem is perhaps the most emotional of the entire work. Unlike the buoyant first movement where musical ideas seem more diffuse, this quasi-rondo forms a tight, alternating form conjured from two ideas. The woodwinds open in even eighth notes along a chromatic path centered around G. This introduction acts as the dominant leading to the second idea a lilting, somber theme in C-minor with hints of C-phrygian. The treble voices sing the melody first, followed by a brief interlude of the first idea in the violins and strings with the antique cymbals charming the texture. The men then take up the melody and both ideas continue to dovetail throughout. The piece ends with a reprise of the eight-bar introduction.

"The Nativity of Christ" by the Renaissance poet Robert Southwell celebrates the seeming contradictions of Christ's incarnation. "Behold the father is his daughter's son" opens the verse, and several other paradoxes follow. Harmonically, the composer uses a mixture of both triadic and quartal patterns. The violins open in tremolo on a quartal chord as the women chant a single syllable in rapid sixteenth notes. Concurrently, the men sing a strong melody that begins with a rising fifth on the word "behold." After what can almost be described as a men's chorale, the strings, winds, and brass revisit in succession the sixteenth note idea, only now in triads instead of the original quartal structures. The opening material returns, but the women and men have interchanged: now the sopranos and altos sing the melody and the tenors and basses accompany. A middle section develops into a fortissimo climax, "God shall have me." This intensity eases, but another buildup ensues in a textual (and nearly melodic) canon. Although the words for the men and women begin out of phase, Redford compresses them until finally, the chorus simultaneously thunders the word "renew" on an A-major triad with an added ninth. A short, colorful orchestral coda underscores the excitement.

Brian Wren, the contemporary English hymnodist provides the text for the last two songs. In his setting of "Good is the Flesh," Redford does not feel obligated to subject the music to the strict formal constraints found in the poem. In a way, he liberates the verse by composing free, organic melodies for repeating lines of the text. After a short introduction in the woodwinds, the women sing a lullaby in a graceful six-eight meter. An interlude follows featuring flute, oboe, and trumpet each taking their turn with another melody. The men then sing their own gentle tune reminiscent of the women's. At the midpoint, the choir sings a capella in chorale fashion using rich pandiatonic harmonies. Near the end, the voices freely alter the original theme now transposed up a second. A quiet instrumental postlude concludes softly on a D-major triad with an added ninth.

Wren's second poem "Christmas now" celebrates Christ's victories over Herod, Caesar, Caiaphas, and death. The poet ends each stanza with "From your cross and cradle, sing a new song." Redford adroitly saves this poem for last, taking full advantage of those last four words when the choir sings his new song. He divides the movement into two sections. The opening recalls the flamboyant beginning of the first movement followed by a complete setting of the text in homophonic style using powerful, quartal sonorities in both choir and orchestra. The second part, a polyphonic "Alleluia," acts not only as the ending to the fifth song, but as a sizable and profound conclusion to the entire work. Each voice takes its turn with the nimble subject first heard in the altos. Near the end, the material becomes fragmented and the excitement builds until the choir comes together once more before the final ascent to the the highest and loudest expression, "Alleluia!" (Thomas L. Durham, Professor of Music, Brigham Young University.)
Mars Hill Audio Journal
Volume 41: Nov/Dec 1999 (MHT-41.2.3)

Listen live to all three parts of the interview:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
The five movements of Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration bring together two Renaissance and three twentieth century poems. The first movement, "Welcome All Wonders," is based on an excerpt from "Hymn in the Holy Nativity of Our Lord God: A Hymn as Sung by the Shepherds," written by seventeenth-century English poet, Richard Crashaw. "Christmas Mourning," by Vassar Miller, an American woman writing in the twentieth century, provides the text for the second movement. The third movement is a setting of "The Nativity of Christ," by English Renaissance poet Robert Southwell. "Good Is the Flesh" and "Christmas Now" by contemporary English hymnodist Brian Wren, make up the fourth and fifth movements respectively.

Welcome All Wonders
Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one! whose all embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.
Welcome, though nor to gold nor silk,
To more than Caesar's birthright is;
Two sister-seas of Virgin-milk,
With many a rarely-temper'd kiss
That breathes at once both maid and mother,
Warms in the one, cools in the other.
Welcome, though not to those gay flys,
Guilded with beams of earthly kings;
Slippery souls in smiling eyes;
But to poor shepherds, home-spun things:
Whose wealth's their flock, whose wit, to be
Well read in their simplicity.
Yet when young April's husband show'rs
Shall bless the fruitful Maja's bed
We'll bring the firstborn of her flow'rs
To kiss thy feet and crown thy head.
To thee, dread Lamb! whose love must keep
The shepherds more than they the sheep.
To thee, meek Majesty! soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves.
Each of us his lamb will bring
Each his pair of silver doves;
Till burnt at last in fire of thy fair eyes
Our selves become our own best sacrifice.

Christmas Mourning
Vassar Miller (1924- )

On Christmas day I weep
Good Friday to rejoice.
I watch the Child asleep.
Does he half-dream the choice
The Man must make and keep?
At Christmastime I sigh
For my good Friday hope
Outflung the Child's arms lie
To span in their brief scope
The death the Man must die.
Come Christmastide I groan
To hear Good Friday's pealing.
The Man, racked to the bone,
Has made His hurt my healing,
Has made my ache His own.
Slay me, pierced to the core
With Christmas penitence
So I who, new-born, soar
To that Child's innocence,
May wound the Man no more.

Christmas Mourning by Vassar Miller has been used with permission of Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX.

The Nativity of Christ
Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

Behold, the father is his daughter's son,
The bird that built the nest is hatched therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs,
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Gift better than Himself God does not know;
Gift better than his God no man can see.
This gift doth here the giver given bestow;
Gift to this gift let each receiver be.
God is my gift, himself he freely gave me;
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast's food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.

Good Is the Flesh
Brian Wren (1936- )

Good is the flesh that the Word has become
good is the birthing, the milk in the breast,
good is the feeding, caressing and rest,
good is the body for knowing the world,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body for knowing the world,
sensing the sunlight, the tug of the ground,
feeling, perceiving, within and around,
good is the body, from cradle to grave,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the body, from cradle to grave,
growing and aging, arousing, impaired,
happy in clothing, or lovingly bared,
good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.
Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh,
longing in all, as in Jesus to dwell,
glad of embracing and tasting and smell,
good is the body, for good and for God,
Good is the flesh that the Word has become.

Copyright © 1989 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Christmas Now
Brian Wren (1936- )

Child, when Herod wakes,
and hate or exploitation
swing their dripping swords,
from your cross and cradle
sing a new song.
Child, when Caesar's laws
choke love or strangle freedom
calling darkness light,
from your cross and cradle
sing a new song.
Child, when Caiaphas
sends truth to crucifixion
to protect his prayers,
from your cross and cradle
sing a new song.
Child, your helpless love
brings death and resurrection;
joyfully we come
to your cross and cradle
with a new song -
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Copyright © 1983 by Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Commission & Performance History
Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration was commissioned by the Utah Chamber Artists and premiered on December 11, 1993 at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City by the Utah Chamber Artists with Barlow Bradford conducting. A recording of the premiere performance was broadcast nationwide in December 1994 over NPR affiliated stations on the syndicated program The First Art. The work was recorded for CD by the Utah Chamber Artists for their album Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration (Bonneville Classics BCD 9501-2).The Utah Chamber Artists presented the work (with piano accompaniment) at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art during their series of concerts with the Israel Chamber Orchestra in 1995 and at the San Diego ACDA conference in 1996. Welcome All Wonders has also been performed by the California Master Chorale under David Hughes, the University of South Carolina Concert Choir directed by Larry Wyatt, the choir of Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas with Constantina Tsolainu conducting, and the Knoxville Symphony under Kirk Trevor, the Riverside Master Chorale, conducted by Karen Garrett, and the combined choirs and orchestra of Pacific Lutheran University under the direction of Richard Nance and Brian Galante.
Reviews & Responses
“Still, there was one more present under the tree Saturday, namely J.A.C. Redford’s Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration, commissioned by the Utah Chamber Artists for their first-ever concert in Abravanel Hall. And a handsome package it is, a five-movement choral symphony that weds poems from Renaissance and modern-day England and America to music that embraces all three. The result is a piece that sounds at once old and new, as the exuberant dissonances of the opening, drawn from the poetry of Richard Crashaw, give way in celebratory fashion to the antique piping of a shepherd’s dance. At times Britten and Rutter are recalled, but in a way that never sounds derivative. Likewise the second movement, a Waltonian meditation on Vassar Miller’s “Christmas Mourning,” whose violin solos seem almost a melancholic extension of Vaughan Williams, only here more “The Lark Descending.” At the center stands Robert Southwell’s “The Nativity of Christ,” here treated as a vibrant scherzo in which voices and instruments reinforce one another in bellike fashion. Then comes “Good Is the Flesh,” the first of two Brian Wren poems, whose pastoral serenity (with the voices unaccompanied at one point) leads to “Christmas Now,” its darker edge and Coplandesque tuttis culminating in an extended “Alleluia!” that returns us to the sharp enunciations that opened the piece. . . . throughout the scoring is imaginative, the counterpoint ingenious and the settings are at least as affecting as the texts themselves. Moreover, . . . despite their separable quality, [the movements] really do add up to a symphony, each section standing as an integral part of the whole.” (William S. Goodfellow, Deseret News, December 13-14, 1993.)

“The contemporary oratorio style has enjoyed the attention of Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, Walton and others in the early part of this century, and more recently of John Rutter. The 1993 debut of Los Angeles composer J.A.C. Redford’s Welcome All Wonders: A Christmas Celebration heralds a new American voice in this genre: Redford’s careful selection and interpretation of his texts are matched by profound musical inspirations, and executed by well-crafted orchestrations and genuinely masterful choral writing.” (Gene Parrish, The First Art, NPR, December 1994.)

“A model of the contemporary oratorio style, the work is remarkable for its synergy of voices and instruments, interacting to form an organic unity of expressive dimension, lovingly projected from Redford’s richly-hued musical palette. . . . Redford’s compositional style is marked by melodies that hold in the mind; by rhythms that are always propulsive, however gently or forcefully; and by harmonies that vary in color and intensity—all with sensitive accommodation of the text. Amid the innocent and unbridled glee of the first movement, the lament of the second, the jocular depth of the third, the tranquility of the fourth, and the majesty of the last, we hear the echoing of faint songs—on a wind whose scent carries the tradition of Christmas legacies handed down for generations—now sung with deliberate abandon by J.A.C. Redford. Invoking the ancient artist’s custom, he autographs the score “Soli Deo Gloria” —to God alone the glory.” (Peter Rutenberg, Liner Notes from Utah Chamber Artists Welcome All Wonders, Bonneville Classics BCD 9505-2, 1995)