Music with Minnesotans: Stephen Paulus

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
December 1, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — Stephen Paulus tells me that writing a Christmas Carol has its challenges.

If one is simply arranging an existing carol, the expectations are high to not mess around too much with what is familiar.

And when one tries to set an old text to new music, there's the added pressure of having your piece compared to Christmas music that's been passed down through the ages, has stood the test of time and is easily on everyone's lips.

Stephen Paulus passes with flying colors when writing in either form.

His arrangements of ancient tunes bring color and vivacity to the words where an unusual timing or chord or even an added instrument lets us know we're in a new century.

Paulus' original music can take the most familiar text - like "The Holly and the Ivy" and illuminate a deeper more profound meaning.

Stephen Paulus is my guest at noon and shares five of his pieces for Christmas - some reflective, others more upbeat and bursting with joy.

Commissioners often ask for an additional instrument - harp and oboe in the case of "welcome All Wonders" or the triumphant sound of brass as is the case in a spectacular setting of words from Shakespeare's "Hamlet." While a capella choir is very special, the use of instruments gives an added dimension and loft to the choral parts.

While Stephen Paulus is thrilled to share such terrific recordings of just this thin slice of his oeuvre, he brings two discs that get a lot of play in the Paulus household - an unusual collection of Norwegian religious folksongs sung by Anne-Lise Berntsen as well as an acoustic collection of Christmas music sung by the rock star Sting and a band that includes melodeon, lap dulcimer and frame drum. It was an eye-opener for me and I hope passes the 'cross-over' test for classical radio!

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Stephen Paulus' playlist: Welcome All Wonders, Stephen Paulus - National Lutheran Choir

The Holly and the Ivy, Stephen Paulus - Orpheus Chamber Singers

Gabriel's Message, arr: Stephen Paulus - Dale Warland Singers

Gabriel's Message, arr: Sting - Sting and friends

In God is sheer joy!, Norwegian religious folk song - Anne-Lise Berntsen, soprano and Nils Henrik Asheim, organ

We Sing Thy Birth, Stephen Paulus - Pittsburgh Bach Choir and brass ensemble

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Check out more on the "Music with Minnesotans" series:

Mayor RT Rybak, Mayor Chris Coleman, Lois Quam, Classical Music in the OR, General Larry Shellito, Joe Dowling, William Gurstelle, The Reverend Spenser Simrell, Karen Hansen, Linda Z. Andrews and Stuart Loughridge.

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Join me next week when VocalEssence director Philip Brunelle shares his holiday music favorites - as well as those discs he couldn't live without if stranded on a desert island far from his chorus!

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