A Christmas carol written in Hawaii in 1895 by Alatau Atkinson, the son of explorers Thomas and Lucy Atkinson, received its world premiere in an English country church on Saturday night, accompanied by choirs and – in recognition of his place of birth – a talented Kazakh folk duo. The words to Christmas Bells were set to music by composer Michael Csanyi-Wills, an associate of the Royal Academy of Music and Head of Keyboard and Composition at the World Heart Beat Music Academy in London. He conducted the Mosaica Choir and Choir of Angels, along with the Kazakh duo Qos Arna and a group of ukelele players in a remarkable performance of the new/old work.
The event took place at the beautiful St Bartholomew’s Church in the small Somerset town of Crewkerne, the home of Alatau’s great-great granddaughter Pippa Smith, whose original idea it was to perform the carol. Around 100 people heard a programme of carols, choir music, Kazakh songs and readings before the finale in which all the players came together to perform Alatau’s carol. Members of the audience were presented with Hawai’ian lei flower garlands in recognition of Alatau’s life there, where he became a reknowned educationalist and newspaper editor.
The event included a display illustrating the life of Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson, who was born in the then remote settlement of Kapal in the Djungar Alatau Mountains of Eastern Kazakhstan in 1848. His first name came from the nearby mountain chain, whilst his second came from the sacred spring close to the place he was born. He moved to Hawai’i from England in 1869 and never returned to his homeland. Ian Tribe, chairman of Arts @ St Bart’s and the Friends of St Barts, told the audience that everyone in the music scene in south Somerset had got together behind the project to put on the carol concert, funds from which will go towards the upkeep of Grade I listed St Bartholomew’s.
The words to the carol are as follows:
Chime, Christmas bells, in old cathedral tower,
O’er frozen field and snow-wrapped vale,
Chime, Christmas bells, though storms may darkly lower,
Chime out to all, the happy tale
Of Peace on Earth.
Chime, Christmas bells o’er southern sunlit shore,
O’er wave-kissed isle and fern-clad hill,
Chime, Christmas bells, and let your music soar
On high. To man proclaim Christ’s will
For Peace on Earth.
Chime, Chrismas bells, proclaim the end of strife,
Let love prevail, let faction cease,
Chime, Chrismas bells, arouse to higher life
Our better selves. Proclaim sweet Peace
Aye, Peace on Earth!