“I Saw Three Ships” — Christmas anthem for unison voices (treble or mixed) with optional chimes or handbells; English carol; arranged by Patricia Lou Harris.
The history of this familiar carol is unsure although believed to be English in origin. Some mystery is connected to the interpretation of the “three ships” once thought to represent the three wise men, now considered to represent the holy family. This simple carol sets five stanzas of the text bringing variety through the accompaniment. The four-measure introduction establishes the flowing 6/8 meter with dancing eighth notes moving below the melody. Stanza four slightly slows the tempo, moves from F major to G major, adds chimes, and becomes more homophonic in the piano accompaniment, perhaps in reverence to Christ's birth. The eighth note pattern returns at stanza five with bells ringing and earth rejoicing.
The piano accompaniment presents no unique challenges. The voice parts are doubled or at least harmonically supported throughout the anthem. The bell part is well suited to intermediate ringers. A separate part is included in the score. Vocal ranges are appropriate for middle elementary singers through adult.
Performance options include performing this arrangement as a solo, unison treble choir, or unison mixed choir. Any single stanza may be performed as a solo or by a small ensemble. For variety, you could perform this anthem with adults and children: 1. tutti, 2. men, 3. women, 4. children, 5. tutti. Stanza one may be used as an introit. Stanza five may be used as a benediction.
Appropriate days: Christmas Eve; services in Christmastide; and Lessons and Carols after the Holy Family journeys to Bethlehem or following the birth of Christ.
Age Level 3-7
Difficulty of vocal parts 2
Difficulty of accompaniment 4