Brightest & Best

A lively arrangement for SATB, SSAA, or TTBB chorus of the sturdy American hymn tune STAR IN THE EAST with text by Reginald Heber. A banjo-inspired piano accompaniment provides sparks while the tune is presented in unison (verse 1), in canon (verse 2), and adorned with mirrored counter-melodies (verse 3). The homophonic four-part refrains grow in intensity, culminating in a dramatic a cappella outburst. Great concert opener or closer. This piece is available with a non-Christmas text (Great is Thy Faithfulness).

Brightest & Best is published by Boosey & Hawkes. Press “Order Score” or Click here to view music.

Available as: SATB piano | SSAA piano | TTBB piano (string accompaniment available)


I first arranged a trio version of Brightest and Best for the 2004 CBS Christmas Special, Enter the Light of Life, and sang it with Kimberly Murray Poli and Ryan Harrison, accompanied by my mentor Steve Kinzie on banjo and mandolin prodigy Jacob Jolliff.  The men’s chorus/piano version came about the following year, when I was commissioned by Russell Shelley and the Juniata College Concert Choir to write a CD’s worth of Christmas arrangements.  (When we recorded the new arrangements for their CD, Velvet Light, we performed “Brightest and Best” in A minor to accommodate guitar, although it is written in G minor, bringing the first tenors up to high Cs at the peak of the piece. That was exciting, not to mention the breakneck tempo we took!)

For many years, this TTBB arrangement has been a staple of the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s family carols concerts, sung with great gusto by the men of the choir while I bounce on the piano bench having fun with the bluegrass groove.  So that more choirs could share in the fun, I wrote a SATB version.  Boosey & Hawkes has published both men’s and mixed versions, and the SATB octavo includes optional fiddle, string bass, and simplified piano scores.  Boosey also publishes parts for full string ensemble that fit both versions.

One of my favorite aspects of Brightest and Best is the rich text by Reginald Heber.  He is constantly offering up vivid images in quick alliterative succession, such as “cold on the cradle the dewdrops are shining, low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall.”  My favorite phrases are from the third verse: “Shall we not yield him, in costly devotion, odors of Edom and off’rings divine: gems of the mountains and pearls of the ocean, myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?”  Such a string of images is a delight for the tongue to tell and the ear to hear.

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