It is a yearly tradition for many of us to listen to the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast every Christmas Eve from King’s College in Cambridge. The first time King’s College held this service was in 1918, and it has been broadcast since 1928. All around the world, people tune in to hear this annual celebration of the birth of Christ and to listen to both familiar carols and newly composed works. Though the carols may change year-to-year, after a slight revision in 1919, the readings and prayers have remained unchanged.
Our Advent Procession of Lessons and Carols, which we will celebrate this Sunday at 5:00 p.m., is a modification of that service for use in Advent instead of Christmas. We end our lessons with the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she will become the mother of Jesus. The choir will process and sing from various places throughout the sanctuary, symbolizing our journey through Advent, from darkness into light.
Our carols this year range from familiar favorites to newer works from contemporary composers. We will sing “Adam lay ybounden” by Boris Ord, one of the carols most often sung in response to the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. “There is a flower” by John Rutter is a delicate and beautiful setting of a poem by 15th-century poet, John Audelay.
Peter Phillips was a Renaissance composer, priest, and organist who trained as a boy chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His joyful motet, “O beatum et sacrosanctum diem,” calls voices and instruments to join in the celebration of the coming of Christ.
The two youngest of our composers, Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) and Matthew Martin (b. 1976) both draw upon one of the oldest of musical sources – plainchant. Ešenvalds weaves a rich tapestry of harmony around the last of the ancient O Antiphons, “O Emmanuel.” Martin’s setting of “Christe, redemptor omnium,” a 6th-century hymn for the Vespers of the Nativity, alternates between verses of the original plainsong with organ accompaniment and newly composed, a cappella verses in his own rich harmonic language.
“Let us rejoice, in our carols and hymns, that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled. Let us celebrate the promise that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will bring all peoples and all things into the glory of God’s eternal kingdom.” (From the Bidding Prayer)
Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist