Seasonal Sounds

by Derek E. Nickels, DMA, Director of Music

There isn't much free time for many of us between Thanksgiving and New Year's that could be described as "calm and serene," but there are traditions that all of us hold dear that do have a sense of serenity to them.  One tradition of preparation is our Annual Lessons and Carols Service which will be on Sunday, December 9th, at 5:00 p.m.  This service, with its readings from Genesis, Isaiah, Luke, Matthew, and Mark illuminates the proclamation of the Christ's birth and helps set the tone of the short season of Advent and joyous season of Christmas.  Each of the readings will be followed by music by Archer, Cleobury, Ledger, Manz, Palestrina, Phillips, and Stainer.  This will be the first time for our Youth Choir to be included in our Lessons and Carols service.

The history behind this service can be traced back to Truro Cathedral in Cornwall, England.  In 1878, the Rev. G.H.S. Walpole, a clergyman of Truro Cathedral organized a carol service that was to be sung by the cathedral choir prior to Midnight Mass.  Walpole was concerned that many of the congregation had spent too much of the evening in the local establishments celebrating and that their thoughts were nowhere near the true meaning of Christmas by the time of Mass.  Since this service was very similar to Morning and Evening Prayer, the service order was later modified after consulting medieval service books and Bishop Edward White Benson to consist of nine short lessons interspersed with carols.  The lessons were devised to range from innocence to wisdom and were read by officers of the church beginning with a chorister and ending with the Bishop.  When Bishop Benson became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1883, his carol service began to be more widely known.  In December 1918, the Rev. Eric Milner-White (the newly installed Dean of King's College, Cambridge) introduced the service to King's Chapel for the first time.  He composed a Bidding Prayer at the beginning of the service which further increased the popularity of this service.  The service was revised in 1919 to begin with Once in Royal David's City, as it has done ever since.  Milner-White also rearranged the lessons and replaced the traditional extracts from the Messiah with carols.  The popularity of this service continued to grow, and in 1928 the BBC broadcast it for the first time.  With the exception of 1930, it has been broadcast ever since; even through the Second World War, when the name of the Chapel could not be mentioned for security reasons.  Its broadcast today reaches an audience of millions.  In 1934, sixteen years after he had introduced the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols to King's College, Cambridge, the Dean, composed a service for Advent, what we now use. He insisted that there was a need for a service which celebrated the anticipation of Christmas.  So come and celebrate the anticipation of Christmas with our Annual Lessons and Carols on December 9th at 5:00 p.m.