William Bennett, Assistant Conductor

ROBERT TAYLOR, conductor

Celtic Christmas Music



"Robert Taylor leads his own Taylor Festival choir in a choral feast that will linger long in your memory after you’ve heard it. The music’s spell is enhanced by the accompanying instruments... The exquisite vocal artistry of the 28-member Taylor Festival Singers will take your breath away in stylish, imaginative arrangements of carols and traditionals... The artistry of the choir and vocalists is such as to discourage home listener sing-alongs, though if you’re like me you will be more than content to sit back and enjoy this musical feast. I even liked the Little Drummer Boy, to which I’d been so over-exposed I didn’t think anyone’s version could possibly enchant me."
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta - December 2010
Imagine a wintry day in the Christmas season. Inside a pub, Irish and Scottish traditional musicians regale locals and travelers alike with their playing. In wander carolers, seeking shelter from the snow, but hardly in the mood to stop their evening’s music-making. Soon, caroling from the choir mixes with the instrumental riffs of the traditional musicians, and the warmth from their collaboration literally “chases the cold winter away.” This scene is created annually in Charleston, SC in the Taylor Music Group’s Celtic Christmas presentations —and it is brought into the listener’s living room with this recording.

The making of this CD represents years of dreaming with my wife Mary of a Christmas recording that reflects the musical universe we are lucky enough to inhabit every Holiday season. It brings together the worlds of classical and Celtic music in a fashion that may seem to be a dichotomy to some, but is perfectly natural to those of us that live with both “art” music and “folk” music on a daily basis. We have drawn inspiration from so many—including composer/song collectors Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst; the Baltimore Consort, Ensemble Galilei, and Yo Yo Ma; our friend Steve Rosenberg, and above all, my deceased father Bob Taylor, the namesake for the Taylor Festival Choir. Of course, the instrumentalists on this CD have been heroes for years, many of whom we met originally at the Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, NC, and subsequently brought to Charleston to teach in our annual summer festival. It’s hard to express the high that was generated in the recording sessions and even the rehearsals. How lucky is the conductor who has the fortune to stand in front of this wonderful choir while listening to the likes of Liz Carroll and John Doyle improvising on “Blarney Pilgrim” as part of a newly arranged I Saw Three Ships!

This recording expresses our abiding, childlike love for the Christmas season. Here you will find music of spiritual reflection, yearning, and awe; as well as music that expresses the celebratory, exuberant aspects of the season. Several of the songs presented here are arrangements and compositions created especially for the TFC, and, in some cases, specifically for this recording. Sing We Now of Christmas, Patapan and I Saw Three Ships/ Blarney Pilgrim all were especially commissioned and written to take advantage of the versatile, virtuoso playing of Liz Carroll and John Doyle, and offer fresh, Celtic-flavored takes on these familiar tunes. The Irish Wexford Carol combines the operatic baritone of David Templeton with a funky, middle-eastern backbeat (provided by medieval percussion virtuoso Danny Mallon), while Coventry Carol evokes the ancient bard (represented by Kim Robertson’s mellifluous harp), telling the haunting story of the slaying of the firstborns. Composer/conductor Brian Galante offers a beautiful new setting of Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, while Mrs. Fogarty’s Christmas Cake provides a moment of comic relief (think Irish pub sing-a-long) and inspired improvisation (by John and Liz).

The listener will also find familiar arrangements and original compositions. Vaughan Williams is represented twice: Wassail being one of his most famous settings, while the less frequently heard Children’s Song of the Nativity is one of his most exquisite arrangements. Stephen Paulus has long been a favorite of mine and the Taylor Festival Choir. This setting of Gabriel’s Message shows him at his lyrical best. David Mooney combines the traditional “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day” with Sidney Carter’s “Lord of the Dance” into the cleverly titled and skillfully written Lord of the Dancing Day. Eric Whitacre’s popular Lux Aurumque has become a modern holiday classic among choirs throughout the world, and the subject of the composer’s innovative virtual choir on YouTube. Vaclav Nelhybel’s Estampis Natalis, Michael McGlynn’s Sanctus from his Celtic Mass, and John Tavener’s Today the Virgin all add a neo-medieval flavor to the recording, in their composers’ highly individual styles. On a personal note, I could not have made a Christmas CD without including the timeless Little Drummer Boy. It has been a personal favorite since hearing my father’s high school choirs sing it annually throughout my childhood. Finally, I fell in love with Othmyer’s This Evenfall ‘tis Snowing when singing in the University of Central Arkansas Madrigal Dinners under John Erwin in the 80’s. This little carol has since become a staple in our own Madrigal Feast here in Charleston with my College of Charleston Madrigal Singers, its poignant beauty capturing the hearts of all who hear it.

*     *     *

Robert Taylor is the Founding Artistic Director of the Taylor Festival Choir and Taylor Music Group, the Director of Choral Activities at the College of Charleston, and the Director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus. Dr. Taylor’s ensembles have performed throughout the United States and Europe, and have been featured in numerous festivals and special concerts, including multiple appearances in National and Regional American Choral Directors Association conventions, the national NCCO convention, and annually in the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals. Called a “rising star on the national choral scene,” Dr. Taylor holds a DMA in Choral Conducting from Louisiana State University, a MM in Vocal Performance from Sam Houston State University, and a BME from the University of Central Arkansas.

The Taylor Festival Choir is a 28-voice chamber choir based in Charleston, South Carolina, whose membership is drawn from cities throughout the United States. In residence at the College of Charleston and part of the Taylor Music Group, the Taylor Festival Choir presents a full concert season in the Charleston area, performing repertoire ranging from choral masterworks from the medieval period to the present, newly commissioned works, and choral works which incorporate folk elements (particularly from the Celtic nations). It serves as the flagship ensemble for the annual Taylor Music Festival, a 5-day summer festival devoted to classical and Celtic musical instruction and performance. It is also regularly featured in Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Praised nationally by choral specialists and critics, the TFC was recently featured in the American Choral Directors Association 50th Anniversary National Convention. Founded by Conductor/Artistic Director Robert Taylor, the TFC is named for and inspired by the life and career of Bob Taylor, the conductor’s late father and noted choral conductor and pedagogue.


I Saw Three Ships / Blarney Pilgrim (English trad.; arr. Robert and Mary Taylor)

In the Bleak Midwinter (Brian Galante)

Sing We Now of Christmas (French trad.; arr. Susan Conant)

Wexford Carol (Irish trad.; arr. Robert Taylor)

Coventry Carol (English trad.; arr. Robert Taylor)

Today the Virgin (John Tavener)

Lux Aurumque (Eric Whitacre)

Sanctus from Celtic Mass (Michael McGlynn)

Estampie Natalis (Vaclav Nelhybel)

Gabriel’s Message (Basque trad.; arr. Stephen Paulus)

Mrs. Fogarty’s Christmas Cake (C. Frank Horn; arr. Robert Taylor)

This Evenfall ‘tis Snowing (Caspar Othmayr)

Lord of the Dancing Day (Sidney Carter / David Mooney)

Wassail (English trad.; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Little Drummer Boy (Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone)

Patapan (Bernard de La Monnoye; arr. Karen Marrolli)

Children’s Song of the Nativity (English trad.; Ralph Vaughan Williams)

MSR Classics