By David Sinden
I wrote an article about this yesterday, but my editor said it was tl;dr. Here's the cool kid version.
You can listen to a live broadcast recording of the 1962 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Spotify. The service was directed by David Willcocks. Here's what to listen for.
Notice anything? Yes, it's the right hymn. Yes, it begins with a treble solo. But, wait, where's the descant? There isn't one.
The famous Willcocks descant may not have even been written yet. It bears a copyright date of 1970, eight years after this service took place.
In the hymn "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" the word "wind" is sung to rhyme with "mind" in the lines of the third stanza, something which is not done at King's (or anywhere that we know of) today.
The shepherds at those tidings Rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a-feeding In tempest, storm and wind,
I would never tell my choir to sing it that way.
Nowadays you really have to have your radio cranked up to hear the very soft pitches given by the organ before the choir sings. But not so in 1962. The organ plays the first phrase to remind them exactly how it goes, and the registration isn't always very subtle.
The organist introduces the hymns in the typical way. But when it comes time to sing the organ plays a chord a full beat before the singing begins. Every time. What is that about?
It's not a carol you know. You probably haven't heard it before. It's not a carol that anyone seems to know, and I don't think it's been sung very much since 1962. I believe it was written by Christopher Morris (1922–2014).
read the full version of this article: An in-depth listen to a recording of the 1962 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge
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