Sir Christëmas Suite

Conductor Notes:

Chamber ensemble (flute, cello, harp, piano and percussion) or Piano (moderately difficult). Composer Derek Holman was one of Canada ‘s most accomplished and gifted composers. His music demonstrates a wonderful technical skill but also, and more importantly, a witty, insightful and creative mind. Sir Christëmas is a 23-minute suite of eight short pieces that announce Christmas in a noisy and jubilant way. In using a well-selected collection of medieval English texts, this piece has something in common with Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols”. Having rehearsed and conducted both in concert and recording with Elektra, I feel that the Holman holds greater challenges in notes and rhythms, but is also a brighter and less serious take on Christmas. Where the Britten is strictly a sacred work, the overall flavour of Sir Christëmas is secular. Here we have Holly and Ivy vying to prove their superiority and carolers who, having been refused a welcome at a house, proceed to curse the household and all its future generations. For all of its sometimes jaunty and angular levity, this is also serious music that is a delight to rehearse week in and week out. Elektra’s singers, who initially found the intervals in some of the movements quite daunting, rose willingly to the challenge once they realized this is indeed one of those pieces that is worth the work. Movements could be performed separately, and some (Omnes Gentes Plaudite, Here Comes Holly, and Nay, Ivy, Nay) are much more accessible than others. There are several opportunities for soloists and several moments of quiet beauty in the piece. Although Sir Christëmas can be performed satisfactorily with piano accompaniment, I strongly encourage you to program this work when you have some instrumentalists with you: professional-level players on flute, cello, harp, piano and percussion. The colours and moods Holman creates with this small ensemble are amazing and a terrific and energetic high point in a women’s choir Christmas concert which, as we all know, can get a little too sugary and legato all too easily! Timings of the individual movements are: Proface, welcome! – 2:13; Sir Christëmas – 4:14; The Wassail – 4:16; Omnes gentes plaudite – 1:25; Here comes holly – 1:36; Ivy, chief of trees – 4:16; Nay, ivy, nay – 1:32; Now have good day! – 3:01

Composer / Arranger Notes:

From 1975-1985, I was musical director of the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus, and after my retirement, I was commissioned by the chorus to write an extended suite of Christmas pieces for high voices with instrumental accompaniment. The result was ‘Sir Christëmas’, which they premiered in 1987. The texts that I chose (largely mediaeval or 16th century) are concerned with Yuletide festivities and traditions: the contest between Holly and Ivy, the wandering wassailers who offer blessings in return for gifts, and so on. When the jovial Sir Christëmas departs, he does so with words so often heard in our times – ‘Now have good day!


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




English, 15th & 16th century. Texts not available here for copyright reasons. Please contact the publisher