No Room At The Inn

carol for SATB choir and piano; 6′ (2009)
text: traditional
(commissioned by the Festival Choir of Madison)

performed by the Festival Choir of Madison, dir. Bruce Gladstone:

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composer’s note:

UnknownIn writing a new Christmas carol, I searched through books of old carols that have fallen out of favor in our modern world, looking for a text I could re-use in a new way. When I stumbled upon this one, I immediately loved it. It re-casts the story of Joseph and Mary being turned away from the inn as one of social justice, where the rich should’ve been helping the poor, but instead turned their backs. Not that the poor come out of this telling of the story unscathed either; as the song says, “from the rich to the poor, they are mostly unkind.” In this way, the carol, in addition to its message of social justice, presents a story where our own preoccupation with our lives prevents us from being kind to each other as fellow humans. This angle on the Christmas story struck me as a particularly resonant message with our modern-day life. So, my setting of this carol is harmonically and rhythmically a bit thorny, lending an unsettled and distinctly modern air to the whole thing, while still maintaining a fluid melodic sense that allows storytelling and beautiful singing to be the focus. Through a set of variations on the basic tune of this new carol, “No Room At The Inn” explores this unsettled melodic material fully, before blowing it wide open for the last verse, turning it into a rapturous yet contemplative final statement about what it means when we turn people away.

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No Room at the Inn