The ancestors of "Jingle Bells" and its ilk reach back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when people already were celebrating the joy of Christmans with a body of participatory music that included both the sacred and the sacrilegious.
The musif for the National Shrine's "A Renaissance Christmas" program, presented last night and to be repeated tonight, draws from both the serious and the light-hearted repetoire of the 12th through the 16th centuries.
Robert Shafer, the shrine's music director, has a marvelous choir of 24 singers who blend perfectly, sing accurately and whose number includes fine soloists.
To assist in this program, he brought in the four instrumental artists of the Floger Consort whose piping, strumming, plucking and bowing lent an air of musicological authenticity to the music even if the Shrine's echoes prevented them from being heard to best advantage.
If the performance did not quite project the excitement and drama of the texts, it probably was because Shafer has his choir sing with no preceptible dynamic variety. Perhaps the composers of that time did not indicate dynamic shadings in their music, but certainly they expected the inflections and the messages of the texts to be reflected in and to dictate the shapes of the phrases.