What Child is This?

by Michael Wayne Smith

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This is a fresh, instrumental arrangement of an old, favorite Christmas carol. The main theme, of course is the familiar Old English melody "Greensleeves" from the sixteenth century.

The lyrics of the Christmas carol, penned by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 are the inspiration for choice of instruments, rhythm, and layers of sound. The verses reference the humble and quiet beginnings of the Christ child contrasted with the grandeur of angelic visitation announcing his birth, the tragic violence following his trial before Pilate, suffering in Gethsemane, death on Golgotha, and triumphant resurrection from the tomb.

The piece begins with a counter melody on oboe, like the angelic proclamations that announced the Nativity. The piercing tonal quality of the oboe is supported on a gentle framework rolling acoustic guitar arpeggios with a pastoral musical style.

The first verse the develops the story led by the warm, bold quality of an English horn, followed by the heraldic call of a trumpet. Layers of brass, strings, and harpsichord are woven into the tapestry of instruments recalling to the mind the question in the title, "What Child is This?".

The 2nd verse explores the sounds of a hopeful melody of woodwinds in the soprano range coupled with somber, solitary deep bass tones of the contrabass clarinet.

The interlude between the 2nd chorus to the 3rd verse marks the troubled journey of Christ on the path to the final sacrifice as he bore the cross on his shoulders, was raised up on the cross, and eventually succumbed to death.

The triumphal resurrection and appearance to his most faithful followers is unfettered with a symphonic proclamation punctuated with timpani and cymbal.

Finally, the piece resolves back to the original manger scene and the reminder of the simple beauty of the birth of Christ.


This arrangement doesn't have any lyrics, but they are so integral with the music, I've included them here. I like that the chorus is a progressive continuation of the storytelling rather than repeating the same words each time:

1. What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

[Chorus] This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

2. Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

[Chorus] Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

3. So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

[Chorus] Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


released December 14, 2015
William Chatterton Dix (lyrics, 1865), Old English tune "Greensleeves" (1500's), Michael Wayne Smith (arrangement & production, 2015)

Cover art is humbly shot in our living room with my cell phone camera using small Nativity statuettes that we display each year. Lighting is with incandescent white Christmas lights: from the high left a "star" decoration hanging on the wall, and very soft side lighting from the right from our Christmas tree. I created a makeshift softbox to give Baby Jesus a luminescent glow using a cool white LED keychain flashlight filtered by a single sheet of college ruled paper. Black foam core sits behind the scene to block out the background. You'd laugh if you could see me holding all this stuff and trying to get the shot. It took me several takes and a few different angles to get just enough light on Jesus and a gentle reflection on Mary's face. (Photo is lightly illustrated in post production using a filter to smooth out the grainy artifacts from the low lighting conditions and some hand-illustrated shadows around the perimeter)



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Michael Wayne Smith Seattle, Washington

Michael Wayne Smith is a classically trained pianist. He explores instrumental and vocal on a neo-classical music canvas washed with jazz, bluegrass, baroque, and ethnic overtones.

With the nuance of acoustic performance Michael records each note by hand for a live performer feel rather than a sterile, electronic sound.

Michael currently lives in the Seattle area with wife and children.
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