Composer Bio Topic Thursday

Tis the Season

The holiday season means different things to different people, but most of us associate the holidays with certain pieces of music. Whether that’s the Hallelujah chorus, Hänsel und Gretel, La Bohème, or Christmas carols, it’s been difficult this year to celebrate with music.

I decided to start looking around for some Christmas music by women. During Hannukah last week, I was fortunate to perform Ella Milch Sheriff’s Shacharit in a livestreamed concert, which made me think there must be some Christian holiday music by women out there too.

Furore Verlag has several fantastic compilations of Christmas carols, which feature music by Amy Beach, Luise Greger, and Emilie Zumsteeg, among others. I thought about picking one of these pieces and performing it for you all when I remembered that there’s a well-known carol loved by British choristers called “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.”

Elizabeth Poston

Born in 1905 in Hertfordshire, Elizabeth Poston was a composer, pianist, and supposed British agent during WWII. She attended the Royal Academy of Music, starting in 1924, and received several prestigious composition awards while there. Like Elizabeth Maconchy, another composer two years her younger, Poston studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams and developed a strong professional relationship with Peter Warlock, both of these established composers encouraging her compositional career.

In 1930, Poston went abroad to collect folksongs and study art architecture. When she returned in 1939, Poston started working with the BBC, composing over 40 scores for radio and TV. During the war years, many speculate that she sent coded messages embedded in gramophone discs to underground groups in Europe, taking orders directly from Churchill.

After taking some time off to recuperate from her efforts during the war, Poston returned to the BBC and remained there for decades. Her pieces included collaborations with many famous authors, including CS Lewis, and she created the BBC’s Third Programme, which broadcast plays, operas, and concerts in their entirety, without interruptions.

By the 1960s, Poston had turned her attention toward song collections, focusing on collecting and curating six compilations, including the famous Penguin Book of Christmas Carols. Together with Vaughan Williams, she also edited The English Hymnal, creating the widely used Cambridge Hymnal that many choirs know and love today. She also gave a five-part talk about Warlock’s life and music for the BBC.

In the early 1970s, Poston was forced to take a step back after an aneurysm. After recovering, she continued to work on her song collections and compositions. She suffered a stroke and passed away in 1987 while working on a collection of Christmas carols. Her legacy remained, with over 40 scores for radio and tv, many pieces for voice, both solo and choral, and an impressive number of academic writings and song collections.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

One of Poston’s most well-known arrangements is the beautiful 6-part acapella version of the Christmas carol “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” I wanted to perform some Christmas music, and unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a choir together in these strange times.

Instead, we figured we would record it for some festive fun! Here’s our first-ever attempt at a multi-track recording, featuring yours truly on Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto 1, and Alto 2, and Dave singing tenor and bass. We hope you enjoy and have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday.

By lisanewillsmith_soprano

Soprano Lisa Newill-Smith has performed across Europe and the United States. A passionate advocate of music by women, she is the founder of, performing livestream concerts and spreading information about female composers. Also a keen performer of contemporary music, Lisa has created roles by living composers, including Queen Gwenevere in Keith Beal´s Merlin, and Young Martha in David Wishart´s Absolved Passions. Lisa brings the energy from these passions to her performance of standard repertoire: her Despina was described by the Hastings Observer as “one of the most subtle performances I can recall, splendidly sung and totally alive to the text.” An extremely versatile performer, Lisa´s performance credits range from Servilia, to Gretel to Donna Elvira. Lisa has sung in masterclasses with Angel Blue, Dame Felicity Lott, Miriam Gauci and Renata Scotto. Her oratorio and concert works include Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. Lisa was a finalist in the Chicago Oratorio Award with the American Prize, the Opera Classica Europa competition, the Iuventas Canti Competition and a semi-finalist in the American Prize professional opera division. Lisa is from Virginia, USA and is currently based in Germany. For more information visit

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