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Brian Holmes Notes on "Carol of the Field Mice"

The "Carol of the Field Mice" was composed by Brian Holmes as an annual Christmas greeting card for the year 1997. The second voice part was added for publication in 1999.

No. 392-03064 - SA & Piano
No. 392-03087 - SATB & Piano

Excerpt from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open. In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of a horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coatsleeves a good deal. As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, “Now then, one, two, three!” and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in the fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry streets to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

Villagers all, this frosty tide,
Let your doors swing open wide
Though wind may follow, and snow beside,
Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;
Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,
Blowing fingers and stamping feet,
Come from far away you to greet—
You by the fire and we in the street—
Bidding you joy in the morning!...

Brian Holmes

Brian W. Holmes was born in Washington D.C. on August 6, 1946. He graduated from Pomona College and earned a PhD in experimental low temperature physics from Boston University. He is now (1999) a professor of Physics at San Jose State University in San Jose, California, and is active as a free-lance horn player, performing with the San Jose Symphony and Opera San Jose. While in Boston, Holmes studied horn with Harry Shapiro and played in the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Quintet. Many of his arrangements for brass and chorus have been performed and recorded by Revels, Inc. One such arrangement, "Strike Up Your Instruments of Joy," is published by Thorpe as part of the Revels Choral Series (No. 392-03032).

As a composer, Holmes often writes for solo voice and chorus. His involvement with Revels sparked an interest in setting texts related to Christmas. Five Medieval Songs and Carols for women's chorus, Five Medieval Carols for mixed voices, Now is the Time for baritone, chorus, brass and timpani, and the one-act Christmas opera One Shepherd Stayed Behind (with words co-written with his father, Fenwicke Holmes) all reflect this interest. Brian Holmes has also composed numerous songs, song cycles, choral works and instrumental works, including a concerto for toy piano and orchestra. Several works have been recorded by the Peninsula Women's Chorus and by the Stanford University Chorale.

Holmes interests in physics and music overlap. He does research on the physics of musical instruments and has occasionally composed music related to science. His "Updike's Science," for example, is a set of six songs about science, composed to humorous poems of John Updike. He has also lectured on the physics of musical instruments at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oberlin College, Cornell University, Brown University, Boston University, Boston College, Pomona College, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Physical Society, and the Acoustical Society of America.

Kenneth Grahame

Kenneth Grahame was born on 8 March 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and died on 6 July 1932 in Pangbourne, England. His childhood was not a happy one. He and his mother both contracted scarlet fever when he was five. She did not survive the illness and left him wondering why she was not at his bedside. Following her death, Kenneth and his siblings were given into the care of their maternal grandmother by their father, who was an alchoholic. The grandmother expressed little interest in the children, so Kenneth withdrew into a world of childhood fantasies. He Grahame aspired to academic studies, but was refused the opportunity by an unsympathetic uncle who controlled the family finances and who refused to fund Kenneth's continuing education. In 1876 Kenneth began working as a clerk for that same uncle, but left the following year for a position as clerk at the Bank of England.

Following the death of his father in 1887, Grahame began writing magazine and journal articles extolling a need or people to regain their more animal-like aspects, which he thought were being repressed by the industrial revolution. These writings were collected and published in 1893 as Pagan Papers. His next work, The Golden Age, a collection that included adventures about children, was published in 1895 and brought Grahame widespread recognition for the first time. This was followed by several other works about children and animals.

He married Elspeth Thomson in 1899. The following year their only child, Alistair, was born prematurely. Grahame was deeply fond of Alistair, who was born with severely impaired vision and whom Grahame affectionately called "Mouse." Soon Grahame began captivating his son with a series of bedtime stories about Mr. Toad, Mole, Rat and several other animals that assumed human characteristics. Alistair loved these stories, which continued in letters to "My dearest Mouse" while the boy was vacationion at the seaside with his governess in the summer of 1907.

These stories, with their vivid animal characters and episodes, were eventually published in 1908 as The Wind in the Willows. Highly praised by the press and enthusiastiaally endorsed by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, The Wind in the Willows soon became a classic, enchanting readers of all ages and affording Grahame enough money to leave his position as secretary of the Bank of England. It is in this collection that the text for "Carol of the Field Mice" first appeared. During the ensuing years, Grahame wrote very little. Aside from the devastating loss of Alistair, who was hit by a train in 1919 while a student at Oxford, Grahame and Elspeth lived a quiet life until Kenneth Grahame's own death in 1932.

Historical Perspective

When Kenneth Grahame finished writing The Wind in the Willows in 1907, a new Cadillac automobile cost $800; Austrian and Norwegian women were granted the right to vote (a decade before American women); Oklahoma became a state; motorbuses and electric trolleys replaced horsecars in major cities; the ill-fated steam ship Lusitania made her maiden voyage; wireless telegraph communication was established betWeen Ireland and the U.S.; Pablo Picasso and the cubists revealed their radically new painting style in Paris; Australian long-distance swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested at a Boston's Revere Beach for appearing in public in a skirtless one-piece bathing suit; Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Holst, Stravinsky, and Vaughan Williams were among the active composers of the day; Edvard Grieg died; Great Britain's King Edward VII appointed 87-year-old Florence Nightingale to the Order of Merit; Theodore Roosevelt became the first sitting U.S. president to travel abroad by visiting the construction site of the Panama Canal; Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize in literature; and tuna fish was sold in cans for the very first time.

When Brian Holmes wrote the music for this carol in 1997, Queen Elizabeth IT and Prime Minister Tony Blair headed the government of Great Britain; U.S. President William Clinton was in his second term; Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown by Laurent Kabila; control of the British colony of Hong Kong was transferred to the Peoples Republic of China, one of the world's remaining communist governments; the Liggett Group became the first American cigarette manufacturer to acknowledge that tobacco is addictive and causes cancer; NASA's Soujoumer landed on Mars and beamed images back to Earth as its small robot scooted across the planet's surface; singer Elton John recorded "Candle in the Wind," which he wrote and performed that same year at the funeral of Britain's popular Princess Diana; 21-year-old American golfer Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament by a record 12 strokes; a sheep named "Dolly" became the first animal ever cloned; George Lucas updated and re-released his film classic, Star Wars; and the price of a new Cadillac automobile had increased to approximately $30,000.

Brian Holmes
Choral Music of Brian Holmes


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