Easter 2024

31 December 2014
Nears - Y'ewe

Ten years ago I was hysterical. (I still am.)

Little lamb, covered in wool,
filled with food and so many beers.
A little sheep - warm and full,
The lamb aprochces; the happy Y'ewe Nears.

-formerly attr. William Blake

27 December 2014
Guite, Malcolm - "Theotokos"

There is so much marvelous poetry at Christmas, and not all of it is sung.

Earlier this year I became aware of the English priest and poet Malcolm Guite. His sonnets on the "O" Antiphons are really stunning. In fact, he has written sonnets for the entirety of the liturgical year.

His sonnet "Theotokos" is breathtakingly beautiful, and it graces page 5 of the service booklet [PDF] for this year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.

You bore for me the One who came to bless
And bear for all and make the broken whole.
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul.
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child,
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me,
Call me again, for I am lost, and  wild
Waves suround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore.
Open the door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose.
Enfold me too in Love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me.

There's much more like this available on Malcolm Guite's excellent blog

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26 December 2014
L'Engle, Madeleine - The Risk of Birth

I read this poem for the first time this Christmas. I love it.

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

-Madeleine L’Engle

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10 December 2014
Nine Lessons and Carols - A Festival of, 2014 (preview)

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge is surely single most listened to regularly occurring church service in the world. Through live and delayed radio and web broadcasts, this service reaches millions of listeners annually.

It has reached that magical point of the year where it comes time to examine what we shall hear at this year's Festival.

We at also made some predictions and we need to see how our crystal ball performed.

A larger number of carols have not been addressed by our predictions. Here they are, in order.

After the first lesson we hear Remember, O thou man by Thomas Ravenscroft. This lovely, simple carol was last sung in 2011.

After the second lesson we hear the Peter Maxwell Davies carol "One Star, at Last". This carol, with words by George Mackay Brown was commissioned for this service in 1984. It was the second in the series of annually commissioned carols in Stephen Cleobury's tenure.

Sung much less often that the Pearsall setting, the older setting by Hieronymus Praetorius of In dulci jubilo follows. This eight part motet was last sung in 2008.

The unbeatable Sussex Carol arranged by David Willcocks follows the third lesson. It last appeared in 2011.

The immaculate A spotless rose of Herbert Howells follows fourth lesson. It is the only Howells carol to appear in the service (at least in recent memory*), and it has not been sung since 2008. As it's superb final cadence fades, the choir will take up the strains of the medieval "There is no rose", a carol that appears frequently in the service of the years, and was last sung in 2009.

The fifth lesson brings the simple Gabriel's Message by Edgar Pettman, last sung just a couple years ago.

Harrison Birtwistle's "Lullaby" comes up after the sixth lesson. Though it hasn't been sung before, Birtwistle's "The Gleam" was the commissioned carol in 2003. The Birtwistle is followed by the familiar Gustav Holst setting of In the bleak midwinter. This carol was last sung in . . . wait a minute. We think the choir has recorded this, but we can't find any indication that it has been sung in this service in recent memory*. The homophonic ease of this carol is probably need as a foil to (we presume) the polyphonic difficulty of the Birtwistle.

Similarly, Hector Berlioz's L'adieu des Bergers (The Shepherd's Farewell), has also been sung by the choir (see below) but never at this service -- note that Carols from Kings, pre-recorded for television broadcast, is not the same as the Christmas Eve service, which is broadcast live on the radio only.

Director Stephen Cleobury has commissioned a new carol every year since 1983. This year the commission goes to Swiss composer Carl Rütti. His setting of "I wonder as I wander" (see below) is familiar to listeners to this service. "I wonder" was last sung in 2011. We will update this paragraph with information about this year's commission De Maria Virgine as that information becomes available.

After the Rutti commission follows the rather saccharine setting of Ding! Dong! merrily on high by Mack Wilberg. Though previously sung in 2007, 2009, and 2010, many of us question whether this carol will really have a long tenure in this service.

The other traditional elements of the service are in place: the final two hymns are "O come, all ye faithful" and "Hark! the herald angels sing". The service concludes, as always with the Bach Organ Prelude on "In dulci jubilo," BWV 729. The final organ voluntary, which changes year to year, is the Final of the Sixth Organ Symphony by Charles-Marie Widor.

Our spreadsheet of all the carols since 1997 has been updated

*We have resorted to the phrase "in recent memory" when necessary because our records only go back to 1997. We very much wish to continue this research, in person, in Cambridge, in 2016/17. Surely a sabbatical is needed.

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Earlier today, was able to obtain information about the order of service for the 2014 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge.

To be clear, we have not obtained the official order of service, or any other confirmation from King's College.

We reported the information on our Twitter account.

The spreadsheet containing all the carols at this service from 1997 has been updated

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watch - King's service booklet

We're eagerly awaiting the King's service booklet publication online.

If history is any guide, it may be published today.

Follow all the action on Twitter: #kingsservicebookletwatch

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09 December 2014
Mama - Hurricane

The younger sister to the organ I most often play these days has some nice press in the New Yorker this week.

Wall of Sound: A resurgence of organ music in the concert hall. by Alex Ross

We just call our organ Rosie, if we remember to use a nickname at all. But Hurricane Mama is hard to beat as far as organ nicknames go.

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04 December 2014
RVA - A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in

Sometimes when I hear a choir singing Christmas music I put on funny robes and wave my arms a little.

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03 December 2014
Nine Lessons and Carols - A Festival of, 2014 (predictions)

Please read this article closely. There are many puns and there are TWO (2) possible ways to earn a homemade fruitcake sent to you ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD!!!

As it is our care and delight to await the coming of the PDF of the King's College service leaflet for this year's Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols, we must in heart and mind go to this webpage and refresh it endlessly until the document we seek is found.

OFFER OF FREE BAKED GOOD: If you find the 2014 service leaflet before I do I will send you a homemade fruitcake. You may email me at, tweet me @sinden, or even call me if you can figure out how. This offer is valid to the person who contacts me first, regardless of medium.

In the mean-time, I have some half-baked predictions (not like the fruitcake mentioned above, which will be fully-baked and delicious).

I have no clues about the commissioned carol this year, so I'm not going to hazard a guess.

A final note or two or three (so, a chord, really) about another fruitcake offer: If you can provide me with an order of service prior to 1997 so I can fill in more boxes on my nifty spreadsheet, I will also bake and send you a delicious fruitcake ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. One homemade fruitcake per person, please. Don't be greedy. They don't keep well you know.

That is all. Happy Advent. Happy refreshing. Happy baking.

*I am eagerly awaiting a fully funded sabbatical to visit King's College and really research these and other questions. My sabbatical year should be 2016/17ish. Ahem, vestry in the parish where I currently serve...

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02 December 2014
Light - From Darkness to

I posted the following on Facebook last year, and it seems timely to bring it up again -- especially because the recording From Darkness to Light is now available for free streaming on Spotify.

As an early Christmas (Advent?) present to myself, I recently bought "From Darkness to Light". You've probably seen pictures of this service recently (see below, for instance). I have to say that I'm rather captivated by this disc. And yes, I still buy CDs.
At first it sounded a bit slow. But as I listened more, I realized that it was all of a piece. The music, the liturgy, and the prayer is all so incredibly intentional, deliberately paced, and rich with meaning. I was particularly struck with the loud introduction of the organ in the service for the appearance of John the Baptist and his infamous cry. And to my listening ear Jeremy Davies's inimitably gracious precenting cannot help but draw one deeply into the liturgy. I found the closing blessing particularly beautiful.
I'm struck by the power of this remarkable service -- and I've only listened to it. I can only imagine what the sheer drama of this liturgy would be like in person.
This is the kind of experience that makes me so very grateful for the rich heritage of organ and choral music in the Anglican tradition.
This is the kind of thing that makes me very glad to be a Christian.

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