The night of Sunday the sixth of January 1839 was a night
of madness. On this night, Ireland was hit by a devastating storm.
The day began well enough. Children outside playing in the snow were
looking forward to the festivities that evening, as this was Little Christmas,
Nollaig na mBan, the day that had been Christmas before the introduction of the
Gregorian calendar and it was a major social occasion with céilís and festive
Earlier that day there was a strange heat and an unnaturally calm air – voices
floated between houses over a mile apart. That evening a light westerly
breeze grew to a fury and after midnight it blew a fearful gale, reaching its
height between three and five a.m. The ensuing pandemonium saw buildings
blown away, people and things flung about. In its aftermath, seaweed was
found on hilltops and herrings were picked six miles inland. The timing
of the storm was significant. Epiphany is a feast of revelation, the day
Christ made his being known to the world and Nollaig na mBan, a celebration of
Little Woman’s Christmas.
Little Christmas focuses on the events of that day, leading to
the arrival of the storm itself. The piece opens with a blast, which is
quickly hushed by a motionless phrase whose silence suggests something not
quite right. A solo euphonium mimics the local seer who prophesies the
coming of the storm but who is ignored by the locals who are accustomed to his
rantings and ravings. A brief percussion improvisation hints at an
uncertainty in the air but this is quickly ignored by the following fast
section with the bustle and excitement of the day’s preparations. Quiet
solo chromatic lines swoosh over harmonic pillars of sound before the final
“dizzy” section where the band lets rip at the arrival of the storm!
Little Christmas was commissioned as the Section B test
piece for the 2006 Belfast European Brass Band Contest.
Score and parts are published by The Music Company (UK): www.themusiccompanyltd.com