The Magic Behind "New Year's Carol"

This holiday season, we have the distinct pleasure of premiering a brand new choral work by one of America's most prominent contemporary composers, Ola Gjeilo - "New Year's Carol," featuring text from Charles Anthony Silvestri.

In 2012, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus traveled to Denver, CO for the GALA Festival, and part of the repertoire was Ola Gjeilo's "The Ground." Written in Latin, it's a stunning and soulful piece that reverberates with warmth and richness. At that point, SFGMC member Curtis Ponzi worked with artistic director Dr. Timothy Seelig to commission a new piece from Ola Gjeilo for the holidays, and thus "New Year's Carol" was born.

For the text, Silvestri sought to take symbols from the holiday season and dig into the ways we use them to deal with loss. He writes,

"Everyone looks for meaning in life – especially at the holidays. We find it in various ways. We find it in the symbols of our childhood and our past. Sometimes we find meaning in new things and traditions when old ones no longer serve us. Sometimes loneliness is the result of seeking 'comfort and joy' in the old images and icons and traditions and finding neither there. That is the time to find new meaning in old things or new meaning in new things.

Looking through all of that for what really matters is difficult, but it is possible. I think it might be love that can cut through the din."

Tony and Ola then came up with the idea of the seasons of the year represented in our lives and in our shared journeys: the wheel of the year. The inspiration came for post-holiday activities: gifts opened, candles burned down, friends departed, etc. The frostbite of pain and loss giving way to the flower of hope and renewal. The song ends by giving us permission to move forward from the old traditions that may have beat us down or whose meaning is no longer there in “that which is hollow in faith letting go.”

The story of "New Year's Carol" is quite touching, and it begins with Curtis Ponzi, who so graciously commissioned the work in memory of his mother, Sylvia Ponzi, who meant the world to him at the holidays, as all of ours do or did.

This year, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sings its 25th annual Home for the Holidays concerts on Christmas Eve at the iconic Castro Theatre. The tradition began as a gift to those suffering through horrible times at the height of the AIDS pandemic. "New Year's Carol" recognizes and embraces those who we've lost, but also helps us to look forward and carry their legacies with us.

Curtis Ponzi remembers his mother, Sylvia:

My mother was full of life, outgoing and friendly and easily one of the kindest and most compassionate people I have ever known; she made friends easily, caring little about age, race, ethnicity or anything else. She loved music and from as early as I can remember, there was ALWAYS music playing in the house from opera (Caruso) to show tunes (West Side Story) to contemporary music (Roberta Flack). She had a great voice and would often sing along. She also wrote poetry and ran a printing business.

She LOVED Christmas! Every year starting at Thanksgiving, she would gather a children's chorus of 30 to 40 kids from the neighborhood to start practicing Christmas Carols, which, of course, we'd sing door to door on Christmas Eve followed by a big house party. I owe my love of music to her; she was not just my mom - she was also my best friend growing up. She died in 1992 at the age of 67 after a long bout with leukemia. She was a remarkable woman and would have absolutely LOVED New Years Carol.

Join us this holiday season for the premiere of "New Year's Carol" by Ola Gjeilo. NEW YEAR’S CAROL - Lyrics

After all the gifts have been opened, After the candles all have burned down, After the warmth comes the chill of the season; After the carols, the winter wind’s sound.

After all our friends have departed, After the tinsel is all put away, That is the time to reflect and remember— The gifts of the season last more than one day.

The wheel of the year keeps turning, returning; The sun, ever-dancing, shall lengthen the day. Soon will the frostbite give way to the flower; Under the snow waits the promise of May.

We hold in our hearts the joys of this season, Warming our spirits as bitter winds blow; Bringing to mind our soul, all that matters; And that which is hollow, in faith letting go.

Charles Anthony Silvestri, 2014