Sleep, Sleep, Happy Child
Commissioned by and dedicated to the South Bend Chamber Singers
Nancy Menk, Artistic Director
When Nancy Menk approached me to write a new work for the South Bend Chamber Singers, I was overjoyed. Nancy is one of our profession’s stalwart supporters of living composers, having commissioned, premiered, and recorded dozens upon dozens of new choral works throughout her career. For this project, Nancy requested a new work for their concert in December 2020, something appropriate for the holiday season.
Sleep, Sleep, Happy Child is a combination of two much older historical texts. The first is the William Blake poem, “A Cradle Song,” which exists in many versions and editions. I’ve chosen one of the eight stanza versions for this work, which I segment and deploy throughout the work out of order. The second work is the music—and occasionally the text—of the famous Coventry Carol, in its oldest surviving version deployed in a mystery play from the 16th century. These two historical sources are juxtaposed to illustrate the oft-forgotten dark side to the Christmas story—Herod’s deplorable infanticide—while also drawing our attention to full arc of Jesus’ story, from newborn babe to sacrificial lamb.
This work was written during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed a still unknown number of people worldwide, including many young children. There is no better way to remember those lost to us than with music of beauty and resolve. I dedicate this work fondly to Nancy and the South Bend Chamber Singers, as well as to the many lost loved ones that have fallen to this virus. May we remember them with solace in song.