Easter 2024

31 December 2013
hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 4

It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section. You may wish to begin with part 1 of this series, or get caught up on part 2 or part 3

We're using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. (On this scale, we cranked it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.) Here we look at hymns that fall right in the middle, first the 5's, and then the one hymn we scored as a 4.

Code 5: Middle ground

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hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 3

It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section. You may wish to begin with part 1 of this series, or refresh your memory on part 2

We're using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. (On this scale, we cranked it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.) Here we look at hymns that still score fairly highly, starting with 7's and then 6's.

Tier 7: Deeper cuts

We now arrive at an area where some personal preference plays a larger role. No Christmas service would be considered "incomplete" without these hymns, but it's also fairly common to have one or more included.

Tier 6: A certain earthiness

This next batch of hymns all happen to mention the words "earth" or "snow" which, incidentally, is something that periodically falls to earth in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year.

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30 December 2013
hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 2

It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section. You may wish to begin with part 1 of this series.

We're using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. (On this scale, we cranked it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.) Here we look at hymns that score highly, starting with 10's, then 9's, then 8's.

It may seem a little counterintuitive to continue with more of the most popular Christmas hymns in the Hymnal in a study of the most uncommon Christmas hymns, but I think this will help weed out all the ones we know, and maybe we'll even learn a thing or two along the way.

Level 10: The well-designed super-classics

It may seem strange to talk about something as folksy as a Christmas hymn as being "designed" but these next four hymns all score a 10 in large part because of the symmetry of their respective tunes.

Level 9: The sugary classics

The next grouping of hymns all have a certain sweetness about them, some cloyingly so.

Level 8: Other classics, but with tune issues

One final note: in The Hymnal 1940, which provides two tune choices under the same hymn number, the Second Tune given for this hymn is CAROL. This is a fascinating appearance of the tune which is now fully associated with "It came upon the midnight clear".

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hymns - Christmas, uncommon, part 1

It's Christmas time. And what better time to take a look at the Christmas hymns in The Hymnal 1982? In particular, we will be looking at the less commonly sung hymns in the Christmas section.


First, some context. The Hymnal 1982 is the official hymnal of the Episcopal Church and has been since, well, around 1982.

There are 39 hymns in the Christmas section. There are 12 days of Christmas. That's 3.25 hymns per day. Compare this with Advent, which has 24 hymns. This year, this only provided one hymn per day. Epiphany is even worse, depending on how you look at it. Again, there are 24 hymns, but the time after Epiphany is often much longer than Advent.

So, why so many Christmas hymns?

Well, people love Christmas. And people especially love singing "carols" at Christmas time. (I'm using the word hymns to refer to the pieces of music in this hymnal, but yes, surely many of these also count as carols). So perhaps the demand is greater, and it is prudent to include more.

But what has prompted this little study is that there are hymns in the Christmas section that I have never sung.

I am a professional church musician, and I have never sung these hymns. Not even on my own. I am not aware of others singing them either.

What gives?

This is a puzzle. Why aren't they sung? Are we missing something? Should we be singing them? Are others actually singing them, and we just don't know about it?

Methodology for ranking popularity

Let's attempt to rank these hymns according to their popularity. And I mean man-on-the-street/woman-in-the-pew popularity. Since I haven't surveyed anyone I'm just guessing here, and I'm surely way off in a few cases.

I'm guessing about how "well known" they are: how much they are in institutional memories, and to what extent there is an actual practice of these hymns being sung in Episcopal churches during Christmastide.

So we're not talking about congregational singability (a couple of these hymns are a little suspect), we're just talking about hymn and tune recognition. In some cases, the tune can boost the "popularity" of a hymn when it is familiar from another context.

I'm using a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the least popular and 10 being the most popular. On this scale, we can crank it up to 11 for hymns which are unbelievably popular.

Let's get started, shall we?

Turning it up to 11: incredibly popular Christmas hymns

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11 December 2013
Nine Lessons and Carols - A Festival of, 2013 (Preview)

It is time, as it so often is this time of year, to "prepare ourselves to hear again" the annual Preview of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.

This service is, surely, the most famous regular church service in the world. It is heard live on the radio by a global audience numbering some 30 million. And nowadays it's heard by even more people in the days afterward through streaming audio from the BBC.

Keep in mind that we also made some very vague predictions for this service. First, let's check in on how we did.

There are quite a few things our predictions didn't touch on.

There's the "Joy the the world" after the Second Lesson which the choir will sing straight out of The New Oxford Book of Carols.

The wonderful Judith Weir (b. 1954) carol Illuminare, Jerusalem which is a true favorite of ours. Commissioned for this service in 1985, it's a piece that uses the choir very well and exploits the effect of the organ in that acoustic in the most remarkable way.

The David Willcocks (b. 1919) arrangement of "Away in a manger" is a literal repeat from last year's service. Same carol in the same spot. While Willcocks is, we think, always represented by at least a descant, the choir do not always sing one of his carols. This year, however, will be the third consecutive year that the choir have sung a Willcocks carol arrangement.

The hauntingly beautiful Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) "The Shepherd's Carol" is becoming more regular at this service. It has been sung three times since it's composition. It was originally written for the "Carols from King's" broadcast in 2000. It was sung at this service the very next year, and again in 2011.

Richard Rodney Bennet's (1936-2012) Susani is sung after the Eighth Lesson. This is fitting honor for a composer who died on Christmas Eve last year.

Finally, the sails are raised for Simon Preston's (b. 1938) "I saw three ships" in the year of the composer's 75th birthday.

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Nine Lessons and Carols - a Festival of, 2013 (spreadsheet)

The service booklet [PDF] for the 2013 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge, has now been posted to the college website.

We have taken the opportunity to update our famous spreadsheet with this year's carols.

Behold: King's College Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (1997-2013) (link corrected, sorry!)

However you choose to peruse this information, please be sure to familiarize yourself with this year's selections.

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06 December 2013
Musgrave, Thea - "Hear the voice of the Bard"

The inclusion of a newly commissioned piece of music at the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge is a tradition that began with Stephen Cleobury's tenure in 1982. This, of course, prevents the service from ever being the same from year to year.

It also is very fittingly incarnational. A creative response to God's greatest act of creation that we recall at Christmas.

This year's commissioned carol at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has been composed by Thea Musgrave.

The text she has chosen is a poem from William Blake's Songs of Experience

Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walked among the ancient trees;

Calling the lapséd soul,
And weeping in the evening dew;
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!

‘O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.

‘Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Is given thee till the break of day.'

William Blake (1757–1827)

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05 December 2013
Nine Lessons and Carols - a Festival of, 2013 (predictions)

There is surely no blog on the internet that geeks out as much about the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge as this one.

Last year, we even reported that the King's website's claim that the service booklet would be available in the beginning of December was a little bit hasty. It wasn't available until slightly later.

This year, King's only goes so far as to say that the service booklet will be available "in December".

Thankfully, this once again gives the opportunity to make semi-educated guesses about what long-time music director Stephen Cleobury has put down for this year's service.

Open Source Liturgy Information: By the way, you may view a spreadsheet of music at previous years' services that we at have maintained. And see below about how you can earn your VERY OWN HOMEMADE FRUITCAKE.

There's so much music to think about.

We haven't even mentioned the commissioned carol by Thea Musgrave. We're not sure where that will go. Probably later in the service.

In some ways the service is more unpredictable than it has been in years past. This is, in our judgement, a good thing.

Also, let it be stated that if you can email service information from earlier than 1997 we will gladly bake and send you a fruitcake ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

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04 December 2013
Carols - a Service for Advent with, 2013

It's that time of year again; the time when you can catch the webcast of the Advent Carol Service from St. John's, Cambridge, but only for a few more days.

You can also follow along in the service leaflet.

The service has certainly enjoyed its instruments lately, and this year is no exception, with harp and saxophone (not simultaneously).

Also notable is the number of commissioned works in this year's service.


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