Lessons and Carols
Saint Margaret’s Choir will be singing at both the 8AM and 10AM services this coming Sunday, the 18th for the yearly Lessons and Carols Service.
Lessons and Carols. The “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” tells the story of mankind through a “tour” of Biblical readings: the fall from grace, the promise of the Messiah and the birth of Jesus, are told in nine short Bible readings from Genesis, the prophetic books, and the Gospels – interspersed with the singing of carols, hymns and choir music. The format is based on a service created by Edward White Benson, (later Bishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Truro in Cornwall for use on Christmas Eve, 1880. His service was also designed to encourage greater participation by including contemporary songs (carols). His intent was to link the teachings of the Bible with everyday song and society.
First Lesson: Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden.
Our Selection: “Adam Lay yBounden” is a 15th century English text of unknown authorship. The British Library dates the work in which it is found to c.1400. The carol relates the events of Genesis, Chapter 3. In medieval theology, Adam was supposed to have remained in bonds from the time of his death until the crucifixion of Christ (the “4000 winters”). The second verse, which narrates the Fall of Man following Adam’s temptation by Eve and the serpent, has a tone of astonishment – almost incredulity – in the phrase “and all was for an apple”. An apple such as a boy might steal from an orchard seems such a little thing to produce such overwhelming consequences. But, as the carol goes one to say, it must be so, because “clerkes” say so in their “book” (probably the Vulgate itself). The song concludes on a positive note hinting at Thomas Aquinas’ concept of the “felix culpa” (blessed fault). And we end this carol on a major lift to signify that promise. (As an aside, It is interesting to note that there is no apple mentioned in Genesis.)
Second Lesson: Prepare for Redemption
Our Selection: Prepare the Way is a carol based on a Dala melody and arranged for the Real Group by group member Margareta Jalkeus who says it reminds her of “the warm feeling of candlelight in the dark and icy Swedish winter.” If you were to attend a Swedish church in early December, you’d probably hear this lovely tune. As the pastor lights the Advent candle, Swedes sing “Prepare the Way”. The melody comes from the Dalarna province of Sweden, a region with a rich and unique folk culture, and distinct music often centered on Biblical themes.
Third Lesson: Prophesy of the Birth of Immanuel
Our Selection: Saw You Never in the Twilight is based on the 15th century love song Chartres, “Hellas! je l’ay perdue,” as published in G. Paris and A. Gevaert, Chansons du XVe siècle, 1875. The harmonization was done by Charles Wood for the Cowley Carol Book, 1901. The lyrics were written by the Irish poetess Cecil F. Alexander in 1853, who based her poem on the writings of Isaiah. Born in 1818 in Dublin, Cecil’s husband was William Alexander, bishop of Derry and Raphoe – and later the Anglican primate for Ireland. Alexander wrote over 400 hymns in her lifetime; her best know piece: “All Things Bright and Beautiful”.
Fourth Lesson: A Song of Joy to Celebrate God’s Promise of Peace
Our Selection: Shepherds Arise is from the Copper Family of Sussex, England who appear to be the only traditional source. Probably from the 18th century, extensive searches have failed to reveal its origins. James ‘Brasser’ Copper (b.1845), founder of the Copper family singing tradition and sole archivist of many traditional English songs, said it was one of the oldest carols he knew. This arrangement is based on one found in “The Sacred Harp”, first published in 1844 by B.F. White and E. J. King and later revised in 1991. This style of singing is based on singing schools from the colonial period in America. For many years only preserved in the rural South, Sacred Harp singing (also called fasola singing or shape-note singing) is making a major resurgence in cities throughout North America.
Fifth Lesson: The angel Gabriel tells Mary she will bear the Son of God.
Our Selection: The Angel Gabriel. Please join us in singing this traditional carol. The Angel Gabriel is a Basque carol collected and translated by Sabine Baring-Gould of “Onward Christian Soldiers” fame. It was originally a Pagan carol celebrating the Mother Goddess. It was transformed into a Christian carol between AD200 and AD500, and then transformed once again by the Basques into their native language. It was finally translated into English as an Anglican hymn by Baring-Gould. It is interesting to note that Baring-Gould “transformed” Gabriel – an archangel of “terrible” being in stature and deed who, according to scripture, presided over the “Ikisat” (fiery serpents) – into a typically Victorian diaphanous being with white wings. Gabriel would have been mortified.