A Star in the East
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
A new holiday album featuring reimagined traditional Christmas favorites alongside new works
Ronn McFarlane, lute
Carolyn Surrick, viola da gamba
Jackie Moran, bodhran and banjo
It is alchemy. While Ronn McFarlane, and Carolyn Surrick, have both had significant and brilliant careers, their remarkable partnership has led them to this newfound musical life —and that has led to a rethinking and recasting of what a holiday concert can be. Yes, there are favorite Christmas carols. Yes, there is virtuosity, and yes, there are unexpected musical surprises. But there is a journey here. There is wistful memory, there is shared history, there are new stories to tell, and there is joy—joy in the making of the music, joy in the celebration of the season, and joy in the sharing of it. The unspoken communication between these two master musicians is beautiful and deep.
The partnership of Ronn McFarlane, lute, and Carolyn Surrick, viola da gamba, is one of a shared musical passion. They are both well established in their fields, have toured extensively, and recorded numerous CDs. But most importantly, they compose, arrange, and are always available to think about old music in new ways. As musicians, they are eternally productive and irrepressibly imaginative. As performers, they are luminous.
A STAR IN THE EAST
1. Carol of the Bells, Mykola Leontovych (1914), arr. Ronn McFarlane
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Traditional English
L’Homme Armé, 15th Century Burgundian, arr. Ronn McFarlane
2. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, 15th Century French
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, Traditional Polish
I Saw Three Ships, 17th Century English
3. A Star in the East, Ronn McFarlane
4. Greensleeves, Traditional English
5. Sure on this Shining Night, Samuel Barber, op.33, no.13 (1938)
6. Grinch on the Run, Ronn McFarlane
Personant Hodie from Piae Cantiones (1582)
7. What Wondrous Love is This from Southern Harnony
Walking in the Air, Howard Blake, arr. Ronn McFarlane
8. The Wexford Carol, Traditional Irish, arr. Ronn McFarlane
9. Mizzie Mine, Carolyn Surrick
10. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, arr. Ronn McFarlane
11. Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, J.S. Bach (1734), arr. Carolyn Surrick
12. Early Christmas Morning, Ronn McFarlane
13. Lully Lullay (The Coventry Carol), Robert Croo (1534)
14. Good King Wenceslas, tune from Piae Cantiones (1582)
“A Star in the East is pure joy.”
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sipping mulled wine, stoking the fire, falling snowflakes or the wind rushing through a forest of pine trees are just a few of the inviting reminders when turning the final page of the yearly calendar…all heartwarming images to say the least, but the brilliance of these memories seemed to be transfigured into something vastly different as the world’s scourge began to surface in 2020.
Sometimes, however, devastation has silver linings and silver hope. In this case, it brought together the talents of Ronn McFarlane and Carolyn Surrick in their first construction, “Fermi’s Paradox”, that sorted out musical solvency during the current teetering state of affairs. Now with a more promising outlook, the duo returns to re-engage the memories of Christmas through music that has deep profundity. The venture wasn’t an easy task, but the end result touched a wider galaxy. The folksy, well-articulated booklet preambles the music, and it allows a spiritual awakening for every listener.
Christmas, the central focal point surrounding “A Star in the East”, gives occasion to transfigure traditional music into relevant optimism. Reciprocity is that dignified jewel glistening throughout: M. McFarlane and Mlle Surrick take turns at the melodic helm. Several of the pieces, arranged by the lutenist, are soothing and slightly contemporary. When adding the viola de gamba’s bass harmony, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is one of the most endearing extractions on the album. Personal stories are integrated into the matrix, adding shavings of nostalgic sweetness and semisweet reflections such as Mizzie Mine.
In addition to the percussive bodhrán, M. Moran opens Lully Lullay with his tangy banjo plucks that give strong tartness to the score. Medleys are also a returning favorite which have interesting transitions and refreshing variations.
“A Star in the East” is pure joy.