Pat-a-pan (SSSAAA a cappella)


A lively and intricate setting of the classic French carol that builds to a powerful close.  In imitation of the flute and drum mentioned in the carol, the singers play back and forth with their “tu-re-lu-re-lu’s” and “pat-a-pat-a-pan’s” on interludes throughout the piece.  After a straightforward first verse, the second presents the melody mysteriously, in pianissimo octaves, while a “tu-re-lu-re-lu” ostinato trades off in the inner parts.  The third verse presents the melody in a three-part canon, and finally, with a powerful 3-part women’s texture reminiscent of Britten’s This Little Babe, the fourth verse rises to a powerful and rafter-raising conclusion. Available in English or French.

A licensed copy is required for each member performing.




Pat-a-pan is a gem of a carol, with a brilliant and catchy melody, and lively, memorable words by Bernard de La Monnoye (1641-1728).  The original Burgundian/French has some wonderful verses that are either lost in translation, or never translated in the first place, such as the traditional third verse:

Ce jour le Diable est vaincu,
Rendons en grace a Jesus…
Au son de ces tambourin,
Tu-re-lu-re-lu, pat-a-pat-a-pan,
Au son de ces instruments,
Faisons la nique a Satan!

I hesitate to attempt to translate, because I don’t have adequate knowledge of contemporary usage, nor do I want to offend, but suffice it to say that this verse ends with “we’ll thumb our noses at Satan” — unless a rougher rendering is more accurate.  This kind of concentrated expression and rustic flavor — often found in older carols — is delightful.   I wanted to include this colorful but seldom-heard verse in my setting, and made my own translation:

On this day our Savior’s grace
Makes the Devil hide his face;
Let the merry tune play on:
Tu-re-lu-re-lu, pat-a-pat-a-pan,
For the tune that you now play
Drives the darkness far away!

The impetus for the creation of this setting was a carol sing-off humorously couched by LA Master Chorale music director Grant Gershon as a “battle of the sexes.”  For a couple of years running, the women of the Master Chorale sang the gentle lullaby Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella for the annual LAMC carols concerts while the men countered with the extremely robust Brightest and Best.  It didn’t seem entirely fair to compete on such contrasting material, so the next year I switched things up, and wrote the women this vibrant Pat-a-pan, and gave the men the Czech Rocking Carol as their own lullaby.  The SATB piano version of Pat-a-pan was later created at the request of Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, and premiered by the USC Thornton Chamber Singers.

Additional information


SSSAAA a cappella (English), SSSAAA a cappella (French)

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