It’s time for our annual staff holiday picks! We’ve put together our list of our favorite holiday music to download now, handpicked by Harp Column staff! While you’re at it, check out our lists from previous years right here.
(Titles marked with an asterisk* are playable on lever harp. All pieces listed are for solo harp unless otherwise noted.)
Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column magazine. She also plays frequently with the Grand Rapids symphony and teaches students of all ages.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
Tchaikovsky, arr. Ekaterina Afanasieva
If you are tired of sitting wistfully looking on in the orchestra pit as the celeste player has all the fun playing Tchaikovsky’s iconic “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker, then this arrangement is for you. Ekaterina Afanasieva has done a skillful job of distilling the solo celeste part and the accompanimental strings into a challenging, but rewarding edition for solo harp. While the harp might not be able to execute quite the same attack as the pizzicato strings or the staccato celeste, our instrument shines in the middle section, with its flowing 64th-note arpeggios. You’ll enjoy dancing around your harp with this arrangement of a seasonal favorite.
José Enrique Guzmán
This original composition by José Enrique Guzmán is like a breath of fresh winter air during the holiday season. With its lilting arpeggios and uplifting melody, Angelus is perfect for December…or any time of the year! If you grow tired of playing the same tunes come Christmastime, or if you are just looking for something beautiful but unrecognizable to your audience, look no further than Angelus.
Christmas Lullaby* (series of two books)
You’ll enjoy—and use—many of the nearly 30 tunes from these collections well beyond the Christmas season. Kim Robertson has a way of arranging music to allow its simple beauty to shine, and she does a masterful job of that in these collections of carols, airs, and lullabies from around the world. You’ll enjoy the quiet, reflective moments these pieces provide during the busy holiday season.
Harp Column customer service representative Danielle Kuntz performs and teaches in Ann Arbor, MI. If you have a question about your subscription, she’s here to help!
I Wonder As I Wander
This upbeat, jazzy setting of the traditionally slow, lyrical carol is the perfect addition to your holiday gig repertoire! Plus, if you’re anything like me and struggle with jazz improvisation, this arrangement has everything written out for you. But, it’s simple enough that you can still add your own embellishments. Arranged for the pedal harp with minimal pedal changes. Your audience will love this unexpected twist on the traditional tune!
Christmas Eve* and Christmas Day*
Both of these collections have been a staple of my holiday gig repertoire for years. Sunita’s arrangements are beautiful as written, but intentionally left simple so the harpist can use them as a foundation for improvisation. Both collections included carols less familiar to me, which adds some interest (for me!) during multi-hour holiday gigs!
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
This carol is often requested, but also can be quite treacherous with the chromatic harmonies. This lovely arrangement uses the traditional harmonies and voicing, but with clear fingering solutions. Perfect both for gigs and students!
Amy Nam is an award winning composer and professional harpist living in MN. As managing editor at Harp Column Music, she also helps curate and organize our catalog!
Feel your stress melt away as these lush harmonies caress and refresh your ear. This meditative rendition features just a single verse of the hymn, ideal for church offertories and interludes.
Traditional Christmas Tunes with a Twist*
Across its three volumes, Verlene Schermer’s Traditional Christmas Tunes with a Twist series contains thirty Christmas classics arranged with jazzy harmonies. A go-to for seasonal gig music, these refurbished standards are also fun to play through for your own enjoyment!
Kirsten Agresta Copley
If you grow weary of the classics, this original piece will rejuvenate your spirits. Continuous sixteenth notes flow cheerfully in 6/8 while harmonics ring out like bells, evoking the imagery of the title, which refers to a Russian sleigh pulled by three horses. Bright, clean, and joyful, let this music take you for a ride across the snow!
Harp Column founder Kimberly Rowe is web editor at Harp Column, Harp Column Music, and Harp Column Academy. She lives in Camden Maine, where she also designs websites for others.
When the Lights Twinkled
Feeling nostalgic for the hustle and bustle of a busy shopping street during the holiday season? Amanda Whiting will turn your frown right upside down with her jazzy original, “When the Lights Twinkled.” There’s nothing overtly Christmassy about this solo except the title, but nevertheless it has a festive feel to it in the style of an old-time holiday standard. Whiting is a master of using chord voicings that fall perfectly into harpists’ hands. Also included is a solo section with chords and pedals so you can practice your improv skills (or just skip it if you’re not in the mood!). If you’re looking for a fun, jazzy new addition to your holiday rep, look no further.
It’s hard to improve on a tune as traditional as “Silent Night,” but Claire Ryan has done just that with her new rendition of the classic Christmas hymn. Her version includes non-traditional harmonies, mixed meters, and a hefty dose of cross rhythms, all of which help breathe life into a melody we’ve all heard a thousand times. If you’re looking for a fresh interpretation of this Christmas standard, you’ll want to check it out.
Oh, Holy Night*
I remember the first time I was asked to play this seasonal classic at church on Christmas Eve, shortly after I started playing the harp. I really wish I had had Meinir Heulyn’s simple and accessible arrangement back then! Heulyn has kept the tune’s familiar triplet motif, but simplified the original harmonies and range that can make other versions a challenge. Even better, this arrangement is also playable on lever harp! If you’re looking for an easier version of the Christmas classic, this one is for you.
Kristina Finch is host of the Harp Column podcast, 69 episodes and going strong! She performs and teaches in Hattiesburg, MS.
Tinsel and Bells
This shimmery little piece is a refreshing take on the holiday season. Although it isn’t overtly based on one of the traditional holiday songs, it evokes images of tinsel and bells on a holiday tree in front of a fire, family, and quiet joy. At times quite stark, this piece invites the performer to take a more meditative and introspective look at the holiday season while still offering a few challenges!
I love a good collection and this one has so much to offer. Full of new takes on old favorites like “The First Noel” and “Ding, Dong Merrily on High,” it also offers arrangements of lesser known German, Catalonian, and Huron Carols. The arrangements are beautiful and generally simple and pattern based, making them perfect for sight reading at a longer holiday gig, or for personal enjoyment. My favorite from this collection is “Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,” a Huron Carol whose opening instruction reads “mysteriously” and asks the harpist to become a one person band slapping the board in a steady rhythm while playing a melody in the right hand in the middle of the arrangement.
What Child is This?* (two harps)
Cindy has done it again! This fun and jazzy arrangement of a traditional holiday tune for two harps is an extremely rewarding piece that students and audiences will love. The first harp part primarily holds the role of melody maker throughout the arrangement with flurries of ornamental triplet figures sprinkled in, while the second harp provides the harmonic and foundational platform for the piece. The two parts are not equal in difficulty, the second having far more quick pedal changes than the first, making it an ideal teaching piece to work with young or new pedal harp players.
Elizabeth Jaxon is the circulation manager at Harp Column. She also writes some of our feature articles from her home in The Netherlands.
The First Noel*
Arr. Jodi Ann Tolman
Even if you already have “The First Noel” in your collection, this new version by Jodi Ann Tolman definitely makes a worthwhile addition to your holiday repertoire. It’s such a pleasure to play! The arpeggiated accompaniment fits comfortably between the hands, matching lush and satisfying harmonies to this well-known melody. Set in the key of C, with no pedal changes, it is accessible to any kind of harp and sight readable for the intermediate-advanced player. I’m delighted to have discovered this arrangement and am definitely going to be playing it more as Christmas approaches!
The First Noel/Pachelbel’s Canon* (harp and violin or flute)
While “The First Noel” is running through my head, I also wanted to highlight this fun setting for harp and violin or flute, by Megan Reeve. It starts out as a standard rendition of Pachelbel’s famous “Canon in D” before surprising listeners with the introduction of “The First Noel” melody in the violin, while the canon continues in the harp. If social distancing limits your options for musical collaboration, this arrangement also lends itself well to first being recorded on the harp and then played over by the melody instrument.
It’s always a relief during the craziness of the holiday season to be able to whip out a popular Christmas tune that sounds showy but doesn’t need too much practice to put together. Liana Alpino has given a liberal sprinkling of harpistic flourish to this otherwise simple arrangement of “Silver Bells.” At the same time, she’s made sure that it all fits neatly into the harpist’s hands and provides clear fingering notation throughout. This one is sure to be a hit!
Liana Alpino helps us keep our Harp Column Music catalog up to date. She frequently blogs for us when she’s not playing driveway concerts in Nashville, TN!
Song of the Bagpipers*
There’s something so warm and “homey” feeling about this Italian carol arrangement. I hadn’t heard this tune before, but it just feels and sounds like Christmas to me! It has an upbeat, tuneful, and cheerful melody with Angela Madjarova’s thoughtful accompaniment, and reminds me of walking outside in the snow amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday spirit. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy swaying along to the 6/8 beat this holiday season.
We Three Kings and Arabian Dance*
I am always a fan of medleys and mashups, so this unique and innovative arrangement is no exception! Anna Hagen effortlessly combines the well-loved Christmas carol “We Three Kings” with Tchaikovsky’s well-loved melody from The Nutcracker in “Arabian Dance.” The switching back and forth between melodies and time signatures mixed with the drone-like left hand and delicate right hand ornaments keeps things interesting throughout. I look forward to adding something different into my holiday repertoire this year with this piece.
Mary, Did You Know?
This arrangement has been a staple in my holiday gig repertoire for the last few years. I always look forward to pulling it out at the beginning of the season and it always makes its way into EVERY holiday gig setlist. Erin Freund has arranged this song beautifully for the harp, really allowing the lower register to shine. It’s also arranged in all flats, so it is that much more resonant. The syncopation in the left hand is a nice contrast to the rest of my holiday music. Rounding out this arrangement are a few sparkly glissandos elevating this piece to be suitable for background music or the stage!