Easter 2024

31 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 7: Illuminare, Jerusalem - Weir

One of my very favorites. Crank up your subwoofer.

And bonus: the composer reflects on the premiere:

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30 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 6: Shepherd's Cradle Song - Macpherson

The lovely Shepherd's Cradle Song arranged by Charles Macpherson has entered into our Christmas conciousness as it was just sung at the King's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols this year.

We last made note of it when we had an in-depth listen to a recording of the 1962 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge. It looks like the last time it was sung at King's was possibly 1981.

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29 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 5: Personent hodie - Holst

I don't know about you, but I'm in the mood for something in E minor today.

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen" might be a good choice. "What child is this" also qualifies. I suppose "We three kings" would also fit the bill.

Time for a listicle? "The top five carols in E minor you should know"?

But no, the one I haven't heard yet this Christmas is "Personent hodie" arranged by Gustav Holst.

Here's King's singing it in English (but look out! because they've been known to do it in Latin! And sometimes in F minor as well!)

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28 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 4: Long, long ago - Howells

I'm thinking about the carol "Long, long ago" quite differently this year after hearing this wonderful, in-depth look at the piece with Robert Hollingworth and Paul Spicer.

It's like plainchant at the beginning, isn't it? What a wonderful way to evoke the "Long, long ago."

And this carol-anthem, perhaps, gets overlooked somewhat in comparison to the incredibly popular "A spotless rose" and the other two carol-anthems from that set of three: "Sing lullaby" and "Here is the little door".

Yes, indeed, "Long, long ago" stands alone, and it is worth a closer listen this Christmas.

Long, long ago, oh! so long ago
Christ was born in Bethlehem
To heal the world’s woe.

His Mother in the stable
Watched him where he lay
And knew for all his frailty
He was the world’s stay.

While he lay there sleeping
In the quiet night
She listened to his breathing
And oh! her heart was light.

She tended him and nursed him,
Giving him her breast,
And knew that it was God’s son
In her crook’d arm at rest.

Shepherds at the sheepfolds
Knew him for their King;
And gold and myrrh and frankincense
Three wise men did bring.

For he should be the Saviour,
Making wars to cease,
Who gives his joy to all men,
And brings to them peace.

John Buxton

There must be something in the air, because Church of the Advent, Boston, has just posted this very fine live recording of Long, long ago today.

And don't miss this wonderful, in-depth look at the piece with the score for you to sing along at home:

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27 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 3: God would be born in thee - Judith Bingham

Under Stephen Cleobury, the previous director of music at King's College, Cambridge, one new carol was sung in each year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that had never been heard before.

I don't know if I was ready to hear this carol in 2004 when it premiered, but in the years since, this carol has grown on me bit by bit. When I hear it now it stops me in my tracks.

Lo, in the silent night a child to God is Born
And all is brought again that ere was lost or lorn
Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night,
God would be born in thee, and set all things a-right.

Virgo Maria, non est tibi similis 
Orta in mundo inter mulieres,
Florens ut rosa, fragrans sicut lilium 
Ora pro nobis Sancta Dei Genitrix 
Sancta Maria 

A translation of the Latin

Virgin Mary, there is no other
Woman in the world like you,
Flourishing like the rose, fragrant as a lily,
Pray for us, holy mother of God,
Holy Mary

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26 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 2: O little town of Bethlehem - Walford Davies

This list runs the risk of being all rather wild twentieth and twenty-first century stuff, so let's head that off at the pass with this rather conventional and lovely setting of "O little town of Bethlehem" by H. Walford Davies.

One of the nice thing about this carol is it bypasses that perpetual tension over hymn tunes in American churches: ST. LOUIS or FOREST GREEN?

Oh, let's just have the choir sing that one, shall we?

But it also sort of begs the question: where are the wild contemporary settings of this text?

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25 December 2020
12 Carols for Christmas, No. 1: A Gallery Carol - John Gardner

Merry Christmas to you, dear reader!

To celebrate this twelve-day Christmas season, I thought posting twelve carols that I am particularly enjoying might be duly celebratory and edifying for all of us.

To start out with, here's A Gallery Carol by John Gardner which is probably as close to punk rock as the Anglican tradition gets. Turn the volume up to 11, flip the strobe light on and have a listen.

The most apt line—for today, anyway—is "for this is the birthday / Of Jesus our King". A raucous birthday anthem for Jesus, if there ever was one!

And, as with most carols, if the Gardner isn't to your liking, you can always find some music for these words that's a bit older:

Rejoice and be merry
In songs and in mirth!
O praise our Redeemer;
All mortals on earth!
For this is the birthday
Of Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation,
His praises we’ll sing!

A heavenly vision
Appeared in the sky;
Vast numbers of angels
The shepherds did spy,
Proclaiming the birthday
Of Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation,
His praises we’ll sing!

Likewise a bright star
In the sky did appear,
Which led the wise men
From the East to draw near;
They found the Messiah,
Sweet Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation,
His praises we’ll sing!

And when they were come,
they their treasures unfold,
And unto him offered
Myrrh, incense and gold.
So blessed for ever
Be Jesus our King,
Who brought us salvation,
His praises we’ll sing!

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