Watch: Cappella Sanctae Catharinae choir brings old Maltese carol to life

Jien Tifel Fqajjar - A Christmas Carol from Cappella Sanctae Catharinae

The pandemic has been hard on us all. As a choir we've had to halt our rehearsals and concerts, and we've missed our audiences terribly.One of the choir's traditions has been the 'Maltese Carols Project', and we've done our best to keep the tradition going even in the middle of the pandemic. For several years in a row now, Cappella Sanctae Catharinae has released one carol each year from an old collection that were on the brink of extinction, were it not for the late Mr Joseph Zammit from Birkirkara who, a few years before his passing, hummed and sang these carols from his childhood into an old tape recorder and passed them on to us. 'Jien Tifel Fqajjar' is a combination of two carols that we pieced together to form the melody you hear in this recording.Although the pandemic may have hit the arts hard, it's also hit others in ways that have hurt. The Franciscan community of Ta' Ġieżu in Valletta is one community for whom donations have dried up completely, right as they were about to launch their soup kitchen for the poor and needy who are struggling to make ends meet. The convent itself is in dire conditions and parts of it are collapsing, and they desperately need our help.We ask you, from your hearts, after watching this video to make a donation to the Friars using the details below. No donation is too small, and every little helps enormously.BOV MobilePay - 99246768 Revolut - 99246768 BOV A/C - 40020877477 IBAN MT56VALL22013000000040020877477. Otherwise you may write out a cheque payable to Fr. Ramon Farrugia and post it to the Franciscan Convent, 291, St Paul Street, Valletta.On behalf of the Franciscan community we thank you.Meanwhile, we hope you'll enjoy this little video we've prepared for you. Although we still can't meet you to sing for you, and our Christmas festivities will be a little muted this year, we wish you a peaceful Christmas, and one that will fill your heart with hope for better days to come - when we can meet up again and celebrate the gift of music.

Posted by Cappella Sanctae Catharinae on Saturday, December 19, 2020

Due to the pandemic, the Cappella Sanctae Catharinae choir has had to halt their rehearsals and concerts, and they have missed their audiences terribly.

One of the choir’s traditions has been the Maltese Carols Project. For several years in a row now, the choir has released one carol each year from an old collection that was on the brink of extinction, were it not for the late Joseph Zammit from Birkirkara who, a few years before his passing, hummed and sang these carols from his childhood into an old tape recorder and passed them on to the choir.

This year’s carol is Jien Tifel Fqajjar – an amalgam of two different tunes to the same text.

“We do not have details on authorship – all we know is that they existed in the 1950s and were sung by the late Ġużeppi Żammit in Birkirkara,” explains choir director Alex Vella Gregory, “Since the video has been made public we’ve learnt that one of the versions was also sung at the Church of the Annunciation in Birgu, the conventual church of the Dominican friars. The person in question informed us that it was sung as a duet, with one child playing the ‘poor boy’ and the other child playing baby Jesus. We are currently trying to trace more information and the full lyrics. Discoveries like this are one reason for such projects!”

The choir’s message is simple – this is not going to be a Christmas like any other.

“This is not business as usual. No glitz, no glamour. We realise this is painful for those who have lost loved ones to Covid, difficult for those suffering financial setbacks, lonely for those whose social life has been curtailed. We are offering a glimmer of hope. That is why the video steers away from decorations and candles and Christmas fluff,” he says.

According to Vella Gregory, logistics were extremely challenging: “We had to record audio and visuals separately since singing requires more social distancing. We therefore recorded the music spread out across the church – a challenge not only from a technical point of view, but also for the choristers. Part of the joy of being in a choir is the sense of closeness with the other singers. Singing far apart from each other was a psychological challenge, since it is easy to feel isolated. We had to ensure everybody’s safety every step of the way.”

As is also their philosophy as a choir, there is a philanthropic cause attached to this undertaking. This year it is to help the convent of the Franciscan Minors in Valletta to raise funds for their massive restoration project.

Donations may be made as follows: BOV Mobile Pay – 99246768; Revolut – 99246768; BOV A/C – 40020877477 IBAN MT56VALL22013000000040020877477. Otherwise you may write out a cheque payable to Fr Ramon Farrugia and post it to the Franciscan Convent, 291, St Paul Street, Valletta.