December has begun! During this month, the Egyptian music scene will enter into the Christmas spirit with a variety of events. With the Christian population being in the minority in Egypt, Christmas festivities are not as evident on the city’s streets and squares. Traces of Christmas trees and decorations can be found only in certain Cairo and Alexandria districts, while festivities are mostly enclosed within Christian households and churches. However, in Egypt, the field of music is among the strongest mediums conveying the atmosphere of these beautiful festivities and musicians focus on delivering Christmas charm to Egyptian audiences.
Many singers are engaged in concerts including carols and other songs usually performed at this time. Understandably carols make up the best-known music associated with Christmas. Their history sends us back to the beginning of popular songs, relating to the Nativity plays accredited to St. Francis of Assisi in Italy, back in the 12th century. Early songs performed during those plays, canticles, were sung in the language that people watching the play could understand. This was unusual as the music world was dominated by Latin at this time.
Psalmus in Nativitate, a Latin hymn in honour of the Nativity, is believed to have been written by St Francis. Curiously, not all of those songs were related to Christmas festivities. Several of them were not even based on religious themes but on interesting historical events or legends, some even relating to daily life. Historians tell us that St. Francis wrote mainly in Italian and Italy is considered to be the birthplace of the Christmas carol.
Dominican mystics of the 14th century followed in St. Francis’s footsteps and Blessed Henry Suso is accredited to have written In dulci jubilo. By the 15th century travelling singers or minstrels, popularised their songs across Europe. Singing around Christmas time suffered a decline in the 16th and 17th centuries – the Reformation period – however, England revived the tradition at the beginning of the 18th century.
From this time we have Joy to the World written by Isaac Watts and first published in 1719. It was during the 19th century that singing around Christmas became particularly popular and accordingly songs started carrying more themes related to religion and the nativity. Stille Nacht (Silent Night) was written by a German priest, Father Joseph Mohr, in 1818, O Holy Night was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem Minuit, Chretiens.
However, Jingle Bells doesn’t have a religious theme as it is a winter song though often sung around Christmas time all around the globe.
In the 19th century more people started singing carols to entertain people, especially on Christmas Eve. Today, carol singing has become an important part of Christmas traditions and Christmas-related concerts are organised throughout the world during the festive season.
Ahram Online brings you closer to Christmas events which will take place in Cairo during the month of December.
Christmas Carols, choral and orchestral works:
5 December, British Ambassador’s Residence garden at 5pm.
The concert will include Christmas carols sung by choir of students from four British Schools in Cairo. This event is open to the public and tickets can be purchased at the British Embassy and British Council in Agouza. Tickets cost LE10. All funds raised will go to charity. Every year the Residence Garden Christmas concert attracts a few hundred attendees.
7 December, All Saints Cathedral, Zamalek; at 8pm
8 December, Ewart Memorial Hall, American University in Cairo, (AUC) Downtown; at 8pm
10 December, British International School, 6th October city, at 7pm.
Cairo Choral Society, conducted by John Baboukis, will perform Messiah, one of the most popular Handel's oratorios, often performed around Christmas time.
The Cairo Choral Society was established in 1983 by Larry P Catlin with the purpose of understanding great works through performance. The choir operates under the umbrella of the AUC and its Performing and Visual Arts department.
13 December, Wekalet El Ghoury, Al Azhar area, at 8pm.
A Christmas concert with four harpists, Manal Mohie el Din, Mona Wassef, Olga Shurkhovetska and Samia Soliman. Christmas music within an Islamic setting sounds like an interesting combination. The location operates under the Cultural Development Fund and offers a variety of interesting music concerts throughout the year.
Cultural Development Fund – telephone no: 02 2735 7001
14 and 28 December, El Sawy Culturewheel, at 8pm
El Sakia String Orchestra Christmas concerts including theTi-Oro choir, the choir of Saint Mary and Saint George church in Boulak Eldakror. The concert will include: Joy to the World, Deck the Halls, Adeste Fideles, Ave Verum Corpus, Angels We Have Heard on High, Silent Night and more. Featuring: Soprano Amira Reda and Maysa Orensa
15 December, El Sawy Culturewheel, at 8pm
Riff Band Christmas concert. The Riff Band is one of the best-known Egyptian bands, reviving music from the 1940s and 1950s. For many years we have witnessed the Riff Band perform and grow on a variety of stages.
18 December, Cairo Opera House Small Hall, at 2pm
Osiris Choir and Osiris Kids will perform Christmas carols and songs. The Osiris Choir was created in 1992 by the late Larry Catlin from the American University in Cairo.
18 and 19 December, Gomhoria theatre, at 8pm
Jesus’ Heart Choir Christmas concert
22 December, El Sawy Culturewheel, at 8pm
Soprano Amira Reda’s Christmas recital
22 December, Cairo Opera House Small Hall, at 8pm
Gala El Hadidi's Christmas Concert
25 December, Cairo Opera House Main Hall, at 8pm
Cairo Opera soloists and Cairo Celebration Choir will perform carols and other well-known Christmas songs. Singers will be accompanied by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nayer Nagui who has also orchestrated and arranged many of the compositions. It has become an annual tradition for Cairo Opera Soloists and Cairo Celebration Choir to perform at Christmas time. Cairo Opera Soloists will include: Eman Moustafa, Mona Rafla, Jacqueline Rafiq, Nevine Allouba, Dalia Farouk, Gala El Hadidi. Ragaa Eldin Abdellatif, Elhamy Amin, Reda El Wakil. Two guest singers will join the stage, Dina Iskander and Sobhi Bedair. Book early as this event is usually sold out.
26 December, Cairo Opera House Small Hall, at 8pm
Violinist Hassan Sharara and guitarist Emad Hamdy will perform a Christmas concert
30 December, Cairo Opera House Small Hall, at 8pm
Talents Development Center - Christmas
Last but not least, there would be no Christmas celebrations without a share of ballet. The Cairo Opera Ballet Company will be performing The Nutcracker ballet on December 23 and 24, 26-29, at 8pm, at the Cairo Opera House main hall. The ballet is based on the story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice by E.T.A. Hoffman. The story begins during Christmas eve and understandably this is the reason that the ballet is usually performed around Christmas time. Even though the story diverts a little bit from Hoffman’s text (as Pepita, choreographer, used Dumas' revised version of The Nutcracker), the basic plot line remains the same and tells of a girl dreaming of a Nutcracker Prince battling against a Mouse King with seven heads. The Nutcracker always serves as lovely Christmas family outing.