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Philip

Kings Nine Lessons

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Ah, I didn't know that matins had 9 lessons.

 

A. C. Benson said, "My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve — nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop." The service also included a sermon.

 

So can I then assume that you have a sermon at your carol service?

 

Hi

 

We have a sermon (and it's not the reason for only having 8 lessons! I use the full 9 some years, and alternative "sets" of readings others.

 

every Blessing

 

Tony

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Interesting seeing this discussion in the light of having been to Southwell for the first of their (identical) carol services tonight. It was 'traditional' in the sense of being lessons and carols, but beyond that it was somewhat different.

 

There were eight lessons (counting them was what brought this discussion to mind), and only four of those came from the traditional nine (two of them being the Shepherds one split in two parts). 3 Old Testament and then 5 Gospel, finishing with John 1 as it rightly should.

 

The service began with the choir in the quire(!), singing The Truth from Above, before the Bidding Prayer and then a Procession round the Nave to Of the Father's love begotten (if I may so, one of the most underrated carols). Of the choir carols that followed, I knew only two out of ten (and even those I wouldn't call hugely well-known). I would have liked personally to see a few more traditional ones feature; new things are good but there is a balance and I'm not sure this service achieved it. I was rather taken with Carl Rutti's O little town, but I'm not sure too many of the others will stick in the memory. With so little mainstream stuff, it almost didn't feel like a carol service - part of the thing at these occasions is hearing some stuff you know and being able to relate to it, and you hear certain things which tell you its Christmas. With it being a service where non-regulars will be attending, this is perhaps even more important.

 

Obviously, congregational carols were far more traditional and would have been well-known, and all with Willcocks descants/arrangements. I did have one minor gripe, that being that in O come, all ye faithful and Hark! the herald the repeated notes were treated with a real staccato, presumably in order to keep the large congregation together. I felt it was somewhat overdone, and that with well-known Christmas carols they really ought to be able to keep themselves going. Purely a personal thing I guess, but a touch more legato there for me.

 

In voluntary terms, it was very traditional though. Lots of Bach and Desseins Eternels in the half-hour before the service and BWV 729 then Mulet's superb Carillon-Sortie to send us out into the snow at the end.

 

I'm not sure whether your average visitor (non-regular) will bother about whether there are eight lessons, nine lessons, six lessons and so on. I like the nine lessons format, and I think the sequence works well, although making amendments should by no means be discounted. I think what matters is the content of those lessons and that people hear some music they can enjoy and relate to and have a good sing. Tonight we got the third of those things for sure but I wasn't convinced by the first two factors. As I said, it didn't feel to me like a carol service, but perhaps I'm just a bit stuck in my ways (and I'm only 21!).

 

There is always a balance between tradition and innovation. We shouldn't always be stuck in doing the same thing every year, but the nine lessons format has clearly survived for so long because it works and people appreciate it.

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Thank you for this interesting account, Philip.

 

You make some sensible observations. I agree that a balance between new and the more familiar items is important - particularly so when this is perhaps one of the few occasions in the year when a normal congrergation is augmented by a goodly proportion of visitors.

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I have just been to "Carols for All" - a sing-along with the Oxford Bach Choir and a children's choir in the Sheldonian Theatre. It's the first time I've been in there since the ceiling was restored, and I gather the void above it is now filled with wool for insulation. This has somewhat deadened the acoustics, and as a result made the electronic organ sound even more dreadfully plastic than usual.

 

Paul

 

 

I believe Michael Heighway (organ scholar at CCC Oxford) was playing for this gig - at least he got let off the four other services in the Cathedral that day (a rather grumpy Sub organist was heard to say earlier in the day...........)

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May I just add briefly to my post last night. I realise that looking back on it it may seem rather negative. I don't want this to be a reflection on Paul Hale or the music team at Southwell who IMO do a wonderful job. Often I am in fact blown away by what they do. Unfortunately this wasn't so yesterday evening, but take it back a couple of weeks and I attended an absolutely superb evensong (Howells St Paul's Service - which to me seemed one of his finer offerings in terms of canticles - and Naylor's excellent Vox Dicentis). On that and many other occasions I have found inspiration from their wonderful music - I simply felt something was missing last night.

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I believe Michael Heighway (organ scholar at CCC Oxford) was playing for this gig - at least he got let off the four other services in the Cathedral that day (a rather grumpy Sub organist was heard to say earlier in the day...........)

From the context it's clear that Mr Heighway is at Christ Church. Generally Ch. Ch. is used for the college and the cathedral; CCC usually refers to Corpus Christi College.

 

Season's Greetings,

 

Michael

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From the context it's clear that Mr Heighway is at Christ Church. Generally Ch. Ch. is used for the college and the cathedral; CCC usually refers to Corpus Christi College.

I am very conscious of this distinction, having been at both places (Ch Ch chorister and CCC undergrad).

 

As well as the "organ", Michael played the piano in Gardner's "Tomorrow will be my dancing day"; I've not heard the (original, I think) piano and perc scoring before.

 

Paul

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Is having one fewer lesson really going to upset anyone enough to cause them to leave the church? Why does a format drawn up 80 years ago have any more validity than something drawn up today?

 

Hear hear! As someone once wrote in an RSCM article some years back, "your carol service does not have to be like Kings College Cambridge." Even the best endowed of choirs and most patient of congregations would struggle to match their typical offering of (by this year's reckoning) 20 musical items of which 15 are sung by the Choir alone - a result of putting an average of 2 carols between each of the 9 Lessons. With a total running time of about 2 hours, I don't know how those young choristers cope... I have a number of Choir parents who would almost certainly remove their sons from my choir if I made them work for anything like that length of time! (I didn't hear that history of the carol service programme on the radio, but I'd be interested to know if it pointed out that before the Truro format was popularised in the early C20th, most churches and cathedrals simply sang a bunch of carols in place of the anthem or sermon at Choral Evensong on Christmas Eve - I'm sure there are some places that still do such a thing, although they are surely few and far between.)

 

At Bath Abbey, we used to have 7 Lessons separated by 1 or 2 carols, and I remember Peter King saying that it seemed about the limit of the Boys' endurance. (He also expressed his awe of Stephen Cleobury for having to make it through the "whole hog!") Amongst the many schools using Bath Abbey for its annual carol services, there would be frequent variations on the number of lessons and carols - Beechen Cliff School had something of a "world record" each year with 10 Lessons! Fortunately not every item between them was choral. (I should add that both choral and ensemble standards were quite high for an ordinary comprehensive school!) At the other extreme, when I was Organist at Clifton College, the Upper School Carol Service had a mere 5 Lessons with no more than 1 carol between. They had a few traditions of their own, most notably "The Dorset Carol," sung at maximum volume and at a tempo that made any funeral dirge seem sprightly by comparison...

 

I think finding a balance between choir-only and congregational items is the trick when planning a Carol Service. Last year at Kendal, our congregational feedback included an observation that they might have liked to join in with a few more things. We'd had 14 musical items, of which 7 were choral and 7 were congregational. This year our forces are somewhat limited (in fact, due to the snow I had even fewer than anticipated: 6 Boys, 0 altos, 3 tenors and 3 basses) so I upped the number of congregational items to 8, leaving 6 for the Choir plus two verses of "Wancin Woyal" and half a verse of "Away in a manger" for dramatic effect.

 

Whilst I'm here: I do agree with all that's been said about Willcocks' descants - some of them, anyway! His "God rest you merry" beats all others hands down, and his last verse for "O come all ye" (for Christmas Day only) is always a thrill to play or hear. However, I find myself weary of others, especially "Wancin Woyal" for which there are plenty of good alternatives out there - indeed, this year at Kendal we did the James O'Donnell version and it went down very well indeed. It's in the Novello album "Noel" for anyone who's interested...

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How wonderful it was to hear the Willcocks versions of O come and Hark the herald this afternoon. How utterly magisterial the last verses of both sounded. "That" chord in O come was really out of this world. If I had a G-spot it would certainly have hit it.

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^^

Someone was speaking to me as O Come was beginning so I missed the intro: please, someone, tell me whether it was introduced by the first line or the last?

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re posts 2 & 4

The credits of the BBC 2 Carols from King's

included . . .

 

By kind permission

of the Provost and Scholars of

King's College, Cambridge

 

In Memoriam

The Revd IAN THOMPSON

 

RAC

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^^

Someone was speaking to me as O Come was beginning so I missed the intro: please, someone, tell me whether it was introduced by the first line or the last?

 

It was introduced from the beginning up to Bethlehem

 

Peter

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As far as I can recall they always play the beginnings of the hymns/carols at King's. When I was young several eminent organists taught me on different occasions that this is best practice. The purpose of the playover is to give the congregation the best possible chance of starting well, not to remind them how a hymn ends. But we have been through all this before.

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I tend to stick to this rule for most things, or do a first and then a last line. There are a few exceptions though - and Hark the herald is one of them, where I've come to believe that a full and loud last line (including pedal notes) does the job better. I don't think it matters when its carols they all know anyway.

 

Being a sucker for punishment, I tried out the carol service in St Mary's, Nottingham tonight. This time nine lessons, probably not quite the exact King's nine but near enough (and all in traditional language). St Mary's choir on great form, in contrast to last night I knew most of the stuff and it felt much more like Christmas to me. O Holy Night was the personal highlight. My only criticism - we had the somewhat weaker Ledger descants for O come and Hark.

 

re. msw's post - the choir at my home church back in Hornchurch always do a full nine lessons and carols, Kings-style. I am told that this year there were thirteen choir items, and probably about seven congregational I'd guess. It takes about an hour and three quarters - lets face it, thats only fifteen minutes longer than a somewhat drawn out Sunday morning Eucharist, isn't it, so hardly a massive burden? Oh, and they usually pretty well fill the church (400-500). I do rather think that if you're going to have nine lessons, then the pattern of the Kings service is about the best there is.

 

Lots of unfamiliar faces in Midnight Mass tonight although it was fairly full. I felt the atmosphere and the congregational singing suffered somewhat though in comparison to a normal Sunday morning. Those who bothered to stay and listen to the Widor were mostly the regular crowd, but at least they appreciated it.

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Interesting seeing this discussion in the light of having been to Southwell for the first of their (identical) carol services tonight.
Being a sucker for punishment, I tried out the carol service in St Mary's, Nottingham tonight.

Oh, to be young! I admire your energy, Philip.

 

the choir at my home church back in Hornchurch always do a full nine lessons and carols, Kings-style. I am told that this year there were thirteen choir items, and probably about seven congregational I'd guess. It takes about an hour and three quarters - lets face it, thats only fifteen minutes longer than a somewhat drawn out Sunday morning Eucharist, isn't it, so hardly a massive burden? Oh, and they usually pretty well fill the church (400-500).

If they get that many there surely can't be too much wrong.

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Many thanks for the opinions - I was still undecided last evening how I was going to tackle it. (O Come All Ye, I mean)

 

There were the usual revellers and although well behaved in the quieter parts, I am given to understand they tried to sabotage O Come by singing in a sort of canon, although I'm sure they didn't realise that was what they were doing.

 

I'm told I won (with the help of Willcocks.) :(

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As far as I can recall they always play the beginnings of the hymns/carols at King's. When I was young several eminent organists taught me on different occasions that this is best practice. The purpose of the playover is to give the congregation the best possible chance of starting well, not to remind them how a hymn ends. But we have been through all this before.

Quite coincidentally, this morning I caught the end of a TV service from Chester Cathedral (the choir was really excellent). At the end, I could not at first place the music played to introduce Hark the herald angels at all and it was only at the last minute that I recognised that the organist had been actually playing the end of the hymn. Now maybe I was being even more uncommonly thick than usual, or maybe I wasn't concentrating enough, but of how many in the congregation might this also have been true? If the organist had played the beginning of the hymn I'm sure I would have cottoned on immediately. You may think I'm making this up to prove the point, but I promise you I'm not.

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Quite coincidentally, this morning I caught the end of a TV service from Chester Cathedral (the choir was really excellent). At the end, I could not at first place the music played to introduce Hark the herald angels at all and it was only at the last minute that I recognised that the organist had been actually playing the end of the hymn. Now maybe I was being even more uncommonly thick than usual, or maybe I wasn't concentrating enough, but of how many in the congregation might this also have been true? If the organist had played the beginning of the hymn I'm sure I would have cottoned on immediately. You may think I'm making this up to prove the point, but I promise you I'm not.

 

I heard - in passing only, I'm afraid - the introduction to another carol, not Hark the Herald, and failed to recognise the introduction too. I don't think it was either the first or last line, but something else entirely, which might be the source of confusion here.

 

Incidentally, full credit to Stephen Cleobury and the King's choir - I thought they sounded very good this year. In my very humble opinion, they have tended to sound rather vibrato-heavy and unfocussed in previous years' broadcasts, but not this year. The King's live R4 broadcast sounded a little odd to me - a little like singing in a concrete tunnel - but I was listening in the car, and the R3 re-broadcast heard at home sounded fine. It must be the car sound system.

 

And appropriate credit to the BBC for broadcasting a full round of services - the King's live broadcast and the Leeds Midnight Mass on radio, and the King's carols, Westminster Cathedral Midnight and Chester morning masses on television. I've recorded but yet to hear/see most of them in full - a pleasure to be reserved for a quieter day with a glass of Christmas-present port. Cheers!

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How wonderful it was to hear the Willcocks versions of O come and Hark the herald this afternoon. How utterly magisterial the last verses of both sounded. "That" chord in O come was really out of this world. If I had a G-spot it would certainly have hit it.

 

I would have expected the occasion to have had a more past flavour to everything in honour and recognition of Sir David's rather grand Birthday this year. So I heard some of my really great favourites perhapd becasue of it. Did he attend I wonder?

 

Greetings on this most special day.

 

Nigel

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I would have expected the occasion to have had a more past flavour to everything in honour and recognition of Sir David's rather grand Birthday this year. So I heard some of my really great favourites perhapd becasue of it. Did he attend I wonder?

 

Greetings on this most special day.

 

Nigel

 

I'm sure I saw him on the recorded TV carols broadcast.

 

Merry Christmas Nigel, and to all on the board.

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How wonderful it was to hear the Willcocks versions of O come and Hark the herald this afternoon. How utterly magisterial the last verses of both sounded. "That" chord in O come was really out of this world. If I had a G-spot it would certainly have hit it.

 

That chord is certainly special - but for me another special "Christmas moment" is the descant E flat in the last line of O Little Town...

 

Peter

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The King's live R4 broadcast sounded a little odd to me - a little like singing in a concrete tunnel - but I was listening in the car, and the R3 re-broadcast heard at home sounded fine. It must be the car sound system.

 

Umm, not sure that it was. I listened at home on a fairly elderly but high-end set-up and I thought that the microphone placement made the organ sound quite different to other years' broadcasts and very different to the live experience. The pedal foundations sounded enormous, so much so that I had to reduce the bass setting on the amplifier to -4 which is most unusual! The 32' pedal reed's first use is always a special moment for me, because of an historical connection detailed somewhere on another thread, and I wasn't sure if it was used in the usual places. I think that the Tuba was used in "God Rest Ye Merry..." but I couldn't be sure. It's not often one can say that. Perhaps a new team of sound engineers or director was working this year with the result that the organ sound was compromised in favour of the choral sound which was, I thought, superbly presented.

 

I did think that the choice of music was as good as it's ever been and the singing was a huge improvement on recent years. I enjoyed the George Baker voluntary; good to hear something new (to me).

 

I caught a few moments of the TV broadcast (in which the Tuba was perfectly audible :( ) and have rarely heard anything as gorgeous as a setting of O Magnum Mysterium they sang. I didn't see the composer's name as I missed the first few seconds of it along with the on-screen title.

 

With all good wishes for 2010.

 

P

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I enjoyed the George Baker voluntary; good to hear something new (to me).

P

 

There is a recording available here:

 

Hommage à Cochereau. (Together with David Briggs, Thierry Escaich und Loïc Mallié.) Recorded in 2008 at Saint-Sulpice, Paris (George Baker: Ricercar on "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland", Berceuse-Paraphrase, Toccata-Gigue on the Sussex Carol). Sigean: Solstice Music, 2009.

 

A

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Thanks AJJ.

 

Gosh, this is embarrassing! I've got that disc and whilst I've played the David Briggs track loads of times, the others have remained silent other than the first play through. It honestly didn't strike a chord with me at all when I heard it yesterday.

 

P

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I caught a few moments of the TV broadcast (in which the Tuba was perfectly audible :( ) and have rarely heard anything as gorgeous as a setting of O Magnum Mysterium they sang. I didn't see the composer's name as I missed the first few seconds of it along with the on-screen title.

 

It's by Morten Lauridsen who is a Danish composer by birth (I think) but now living in America. Written in the mid 1990's. I agree, it is absolutely beautiful. If you ever get the chance, hunt out his arrangement of Ubi Caritas - it's almost as effective as the Durufle

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