What the Star Saw

A Christmas Cantata for unison and two-part choir and soprano soloist, optional flute and percussion.


Every performance area will be different, so these suggestions will need to be adjusted according to the facilities and equipment available. If there is a blank wall or a place for a screen, two projectors showing the starry heavens will give an exciting effect and highlight the "star" theme of the cantata. The first projector shows a slide of a starry sky on a winter night. The second projector shows a slide of one large and beautiful "Star of Bethlehem" to be superimposed upon the other. Both slides are shown during most of the cantata. Some kind of special light that can be easily turned off and on should always shine on the Star as she sings. If possible, she should be robed in "shimmery" material and sing from a higher elevation than the choir.

PART ONE: The Prologue

The lights are lowered on the words "silently, one by one," and the slide of the "starry sky" is shown (first projector). If possible, the choir should sing from memory in order to keep the soft lighting as an effective background for the slides.

PART TWO: The Hillside

A simply constructed "fire" of crossed sticks, built on an easily removed round of plywood and concealing a small flashlight, should already be in place. The Shepherds enter during the introduction and take their places by the fire. One of the Shepherds can "light" the fire by turning on the flashlight. On the words "Suddenly a bright shining star," the second slide is superimposed on the one already being shown. The Shepherds shield their faces and pantomime fright. They gather their crooks, etc., and leave during the last page of music. A blockrobed stagehand quickly removes the fire in the short pause between PARTS TWO and THREE


The Landlord (Innkeeper) enters first, carrying a lantern; a small, rough stool; and other desired props that he can easily carry off himself at the end of the scene. (The rough stool will remain in place for the manger tableau that follows.) Guestscarrying packs, bundles, rugs for sleeping, etc. enter down the aisles and take their places in the "Inn." Jugglers and Entertainers also enter, moving among the Guests with the Landlord. A skeletal framework with shutters and door that can be opened would be effective if light enough to be removed quickly by stagehands at the end of the scene. When the Landlord says "Throw open the door, unlock the shutters," the lights are raised and the Guests show mounting annoyance with the sudden, brighter light (but not enough to distract from the Star's singing until after the words, "Hiss of angry voices.") Then they shake their fists and demand the Landlord to close the shutters. (If rehearsal time for the actors is not too limited, they may do the shouting rather than pantomiming the spoken parts of the choir.) The lights are reduced to their original intensity as the voices shout "Shut out this starlight," and the door and shutters are closed. The lights are dimmed, and the Landlord and Guests leave quietly at the conclusion of the music.

PART FOUR The Stable

The small stool remains, and a manger crib is quickly put in place while the lights are down for "The Inn" scene exits. Mary and Joseph quietly take their places during the introduction, forming a traditional manger tableau. A soft lighting change on the tableau would be effective, but this is not necessary. At the conclusion of the scene, on the words "The star sheds a benediction of beauty on all who kneel," the Shepherds and Guests may come and kneel by the manger. If desired, the children and the Landlord may join them. They exit quietly as the llahts go down.

PART FIVE: The Desert

The manger tableau remains in place. The Kings (Wise Men) may come down the aisle, kneel, and present their gifts; or they may come slowly into the performance area and out again as if still traveling onward. As the Star sings, they gesture toward their "guiding" star.

PART SIX: Look Starward

At the conclusion of PART FIVE, the "Bethlehem Star" (second projector) should disappear, leaving the heavens as they were at the beginning. On the words "Perhaps if we live the Christmas message," the drama cast reenter and quietly take their places around the manger. As the Star sings her final phrase, the "Star of Bethlehem" (second projector) appears again and remains as the cantata ends.


An effective concert performance (without drama) may be achieved by using the two projectors suggested in the "Suggestions for Dramatization." The slides of the "starry sky" and the "Star of Bethlehem" should be used as described, and the special lighting, robe, and position arranged for the soprano soloist The audience section should be kept as dim as possible to create the most effective atmosphere for the slides and lighting effects.


BELLS: A set of orchestra bells (2-1/2 octaves) that open flat on a table will be most effective. They should be played with a hard mallet (without padding). Since the range written for the bells is not extensive, small table bells may be used; but they will not give as bright an effect as the larger ones. If no bells are available, a triangle can be used for rhythmic emphasis and a bell-like stop on the organ can play the essential bell notes.

WIND CHIMES: Any wind chimes using glass pieces or strips will be effective. They should be played by holding them in the leh hand and working the flngers of the right hand in among the glass strips from underneath. Finger lightly for shimmering effects and more firmly when a brighter sound is required. (A soh triangle tremolo may be used if wind chimes are not available. )

CAMEL BELLS: A single string of assorted small bells (not sleigh bells) will be effective. If these are not available, a single lower-pitched bell may be substituted.

WOODBLOCK, TAMBOURINE, CASTANETS: These instruments are to be played in the customary way. Finger cymbals may also be needed for special effect in "The Inn" and "The Desert," particularly if castanets are not available.