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A Festival of Lessons & Carols

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On Sunday, December 23, the Senior, Junior and Cherub Choirs will present the church’s annual Festival of Lessons and Carols, a beloved tradition from England wherein God’s word is proclaimed and contemplated in a special sequence of readings, prayers, choral anthems and congregational carols and hymns.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is most affectionately connected to King’s College in Cambridge, England, where it has graced the Chapel on Christmas Eve since 1918. The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel. Sometime in the early 1930's the BBC began broadcasting the service on the World Service. It is estimated that today there are millions of listeners worldwide. It has since been adapted and used by churches and schools all over the world.

In the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, we weave together scripture, poetry and song, calling on readers and musicians from all ages and stages, and trace a spiritual progression that carries us from prophecy to fulfillment, from Old Testament foretelling to New Testament celebration of the birth of Christ. 

As a part of the Lessons and Carols, the Senior Choir will present Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s charming and vibrant Messe de Minuit pour Noël, or Midnight Mass for Christmas. Charpentier (1634-1704) was one of the most outstanding musicians in late seventeenth-century France. As a young man he spent three years in Rome studying with one of the leading Italian composers of the day, Giacomo Carissimi, with whom he acquired valuable first-hand experience of opera and oratorio - both relatively new forms at the time. On returning to his native Paris he put these skills to effective use, composing a number of operas and bringing the dramatic oratorio to France for the first time.

Charpentier’s output of sacred music was prodigious, with approximately thirty-five oratorios, eleven settings of the Mass, over two hundred motets and the well-known Te Deum. He was particularly drawn to writing Christmas music, producing instrumental carols, Latin oratorios on Christmas themes, French pastorales and a Christmas mass - the charming Messe de Minuit pour Noël. This piece dates from the early 1690’s (although it was not published until 1962) and was probably composed for the great Jesuit church of St. Louis in Paris, where Charpentier held the high post of “maître de musique.”

The use of popular carols in church music had long been an accepted practice. In England carols were more often sung than played, but in France noëls figured prominently in the substantial French organ repertoire. The liturgy of Midnight Mass permitted the singing and playing of these Christmas folksongs, and Charpentier’s idea of basing a whole mass on these songs was completely original. Altogether there are eleven noëls, most of which are dance-like in character, reflecting the carol’s secular origins. In addition to the carol melodies that he adapted to fit various parts of the mass text, Charpentier also composed new material, seamlessly blending the old and the new into a charming whole.

The nativity is calling. Please remember to join us for this festive and moving celebration in word and song, Sunday, December 23, 2012, 10:00 a.m.!

In peace,
Jane Ring Frank, Minister of Music

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