Pat-a-pan

Conductor Notes:

Written for SSSAAA, this energetic a cappella arrangement is probably best suited to adult voices. The lowest alto part has several low Es.

Composer / Arranger Notes:

Pat-a-pan is a gem of a carol, with a brilliant and catchy melody, and lively, memorable words by Bernard de La Monnoye. The original Burgundian/French has some wonderful verses that are either lost in translation, or never translated in the first place, such as the traditional third verse:

Ce jour le Diable est vaincu,/ Rendons en grace a Jesus./ Au son de ces tambourin,/Tu-re-lu-re-lu, pat-a-pat-a-pan,/Au son de ces instruments,/ Faisons la nique a Satan!

I hesitate to attempt to translate, because I don’t have adequate knowledge of contemporary usage, nor do I want to offend, but suffice it to say that this verse ends with “we’ll thumb our noses at Satan” – unless a rougher rendering is more the idea. This kind of concentrated expression and rustic flavor — often found in older carols — is delightful. I wanted to include this colorful but seldom-heard verse in my setting, and made my own translation:

On this day our Savior’s grace / Makes the Devil hide his face;/ Let the merry tune play on:/ Tu-re-lu-re-lu…,/ For the tune that you now play/ Drives the darkness far away!

The impetus for the creation of this setting was a carol sing-off humorously couched by LA Master Chorale music director Grant Gershon as a “battle of the sexes.” For a couple of years running, the women of the Master Chorale sang the gentle lullaby Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella for the annual LAMC carols concerts while the men countered with the extremely robust Brightest and Best. It didn’t seem entirely fair to compete on such contrasting material, so the next year I switched things up, and wrote the women this vibrant Pat-a-pan, and gave the men the Czech Rocking Carol as their own lullaby. The SATB piano version of Pat-a-pan was later created at the request of Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, and premiered by the USC Thornton Chamber Singers.

References:

This lists any discs, concerts or collections where this piece is included.

Collections:

Concerts:

Pat-a-Pan is a fairly familiar carol to North American ears, written by Frenchman Bernard de la Monnoye (1641–1728). He was well-educated man, trained to be a lawyer but much more interested in poetry. His carols, including Noël Bourguignon, were written using a variation of French that is supposed to sound rustic and traditional. Here the choir calls the shepherds to bring their drums and flutes to the stable to welcome the Christ Child. “Pat-a-pan” is supposed to be the sound of the drums and “tu-re-lu-re-lu” the sound of the flutes.