What Sweeter Music

I refer to the John Rutter piece of that name. The chorus I sing with is performing it at our holiday concert.

Here’s a clip of the St. Olaf Chapel Choir performing the piece.

The harmonies are so exquisitely voiced and the modulations built so tightly into the vocals that I’d be curious to hear a gospel group like the Martins see what they could do with it. Think an arrangement along the lines of their acapella-hymns style. 

The sacred-music purists would probably go into cardiac arrest on the spot, but it ain’t such a stretch for those of us who believe one of the signatures of sg is close harmony. Plus, it’s about that time of year when I need to remind you to gird yourself for bad Christmas music, so anywhere you can find alternatives to the 17-millionth rendition of O Holy Night, the better, I say. Just trying to do my part …

Update: In response to commenter Judi’s request, here’s a link to the chorus.

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  1. Irishlad wrote:

    The rendering of Ave Maria by the St Olaf mens chorus is exquisite also.

  2. Grave Digger wrote:

    Our choir did a John Rutter anthem Sunday morning. I have yet to hear anything by this composer that is short of brilliant.

  3. Harry Peters wrote:

    Old Harry Peters has done a little John Rutter. His music is beautiful, but he has it in for basses. His bass scores are as high as some tenor parts. lol.

  4. Irishlad wrote:

    It’s interesting to note whilst Rutter is very popular in America the Choral Anglicans of his home country don’t consider him a’serious’ composer. That’s British snobbery for you.

  5. Irishlad wrote:

    Harry P my man, how the heck are you? Rutter and basses. The Brits are too poofy to have bass singers.lol. Seriously though take Chanticleer and the King’s Singers,one American the other English. Both similar and both very very good. The difference i hear you cry is; Chanticleer the American group have a decent bass(Eric Alatorre) The King’s Singers bass you can hardly hear. Different tastes i suppose.

  6. judi wrote:

    Where can we get tickets to your concert?

  7. judi wrote:

    Speaking of bad Christmas music, an FM station in Missouri (101.1) started playing really hokey Christmas music TODAY. It’s awful. Also, I was in Kmart today shopping for some fall party decorations, and noticed that the artificial Christmas trees are up and decorated, too. All this to stimulate us to spend our way out of the recession, no doubt. Ugh.

  8. Rutter is great! wrote:

    Ahhhhhhhh… What Sweeter Music, THE one piece of Christmas music I listen to all year long. That melody and those harmonies always bring me to tears - every time I hear that piece. I think Rutter is great - love his Angels’ Carol, too. Remember when Volvo ran that ad several years ago with What Sweeter Music as the music bed? Again, ahhhhhhh…

    Irishlad, I agree. It seems like composers of the 20th century, like Aaron Copland, who wrote things with memorable, pretty, “hummable” melodies weren’t taken as seriously as someone like a John Cage whom some consider to be a genius?!?! Crazy.

    I was trained classically in music, have a degree from a pretty decent music school and now write songs for a well known publisher… and I write a lot of SG, by the way. That said, Avery, I wouldn’t want to hear ANY SG group, Martin’s included (and I LOVE the Martin’s) try What Sweeter Music. That recording on the Christmas With The Cambridge Singers project is perfection on a compact disc. Why mess with it? Some things should just be what they are and What Sweeter Music is a classical choir piece and should only be sung by a choir.

    To support my case, I would offer David Phelps’ recording of Puccini’s Nessun dorma (another classical melody that never ceases to bring a tear to my eye) on his strangely eclectic CD “The Voice.” Granted, he’s got an amazing voice and could absolutely pull it off, but he chooses to treat it like a pop song rather than an opera aria. And I KNOW he could have ripped off a version by Pavarotti or Bjorling or Corelli and I would have completely bought it. But instead he chooses to sing a beautiful Italian aria with an American pop voice and it just comes across… weird. Kinda like I would imagine the Martin’s singing What Sweeter Music.

  9. RF wrote:


    After 30 + Christmas programs over the years, it seems appropriate to mention that the masses want to hear traditional Christmas music in their annual extravaganza.

    I live in a small town and one year we tried to do Handel’s Messiah, to a restless crowd. We even tried Jimmy Webb’s “The Animal’s Christman” (which is just brilliant) to yawning crowds. Joe Six Pack wants “O Holy Night.”

    This year we do a generic program with the typical Christmas song in every piece and I guarantee they’ll be throwing babies and kissing sisters. Nothing like being popular in a small town.

    I envy that you are doing great music to appreciative people. I need to move.

  10. Irishlad wrote:

    #8 I totally agree with you about Phelps,he gives Unchained melody the same treatment, instead of singing it straight with his great voice he gives it the Maria Carey and totally tears the backside out of it. Go to youtube and listen to Jan Werner sing Air or You raise me up and hear someone(sadly gone at 30)with a similar range giving them a straight,classic rendering.

  11. KDM wrote:


    John Cage is a favorite among college music undergrads. Everyone wants to program his 4′33″ on their recital. I can rock that piece OUT.

  12. Rutter is great! wrote:

    ha ha ha! 4′33″ is the only John Cage piece I like. At least when you hear it on a college undergrad recital there’s a chance some oboe or violin major could be practicing down the hall and a beautiful melody might bleed through the walls…

  13. Irishlad wrote:

    #12 Yes indeedy. 4′33″ of Sweet Fanny Adams, very innovative.

  14. Shawn Degenhart wrote:

    I was able to conduct Belmont’s chorale singing “What Sweeter Music” during a weekend festival Belmont hosted with John Rutter in attendance. He critiqued during the masterclass and it was great hearing his feedback on his own piece!

  15. Ted wrote:

    I love Rutter!
    My daughter sings in the Upper Canada Chorus, a Childrens Choir.
    They sing a lot of Rutter.
    Here is a clip of a song they sang in England. A Cape Breton Lullaby.

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