I have sung the Hallelujah Chorus!

Most of it, anyway. It was the grand finale to Sunday’s carol service, and a pretty good service it was too. An excellent, well rehearsed and conducted choir; mostly trad carols played on the organ; an equally well rehearsed trio of piano, bass and drums for the rest. Everything sung at a decent speed and not too many verses. The proceedings kicked off with “the 12 Days of Christmas”, arr. John Rutter, sung by the choir and finished – as I say – with a bit of Handel. The choir sung it properly and drowned out the crude vocal fumblings from the congregation, but it’s still pretty satisfying to be growling out “And he shall reign forever and e-e-ver” at the right pace and with all the right ups and downs. (Singing in the choir in your youth does pay off, children.) With the umpteenth repetition of “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” from the sopranos, each one an octave higher than before, your ears begin to ache and small glass objects start to vibrate alarmingly, so it’s as well it ended when it did.
Another treat was having Canon David Winter of Thought for the Day fame as the preacher. He sat in the very front row, immediately behind the choir conductor, who was on a little podium. He isn’t tall – think Ronnie Corbett with a beard, grey jacket and clerical collar – and so seemed to spend most of the carols with his nose pressed into the conductor’s armpit. But he praught well.
And so, as Christmas looms, I start to think of all the seasonal favourites I haven’t sung, or heard sung, and at this stage probably won’t for another year. Depending on how many I can find on YouTube, I thought I’d share some with you.
The Sans Day Carol is similar in content to “the Holly and the Ivy”, but finds a better balance of theological and botanical accuracy, and has a better tune anyway. “The Holly and the Ivy” teases us with its chorus – “the rising of the sun and the running of the deer …” and makes me want to shout, “WHAT ABOUT THEM??”

The Shepherd’s Pipe Carol: like the above, an annual favourite of my school carol service at which yours truly was a cherubic treble. This isn’t saying much, as in a boys’ school where the maximum age is 13 everyone is either a cherubic treble or has recently acquired a voice like a concrete mixer and isn’t singing anything.

Its carols like this that I like the most – taking an event of cosmic importance and bringing it down to a personal level. “Going through the hills on a night all starry, I heard this shepherd boy playing his pipes, see, and …” (lyrics paraphrased).

Actually it has just occurred to me from the last verse that this could be a cunning ruse by King Herod, having failed with the Wise Men:

“May I come with you, shepherd boy piping merrily,
Come with you to Bethlehem?
Pay my homage too at the new King’s cradle,
Is it far to Bethlehem?”

So I’ll move quickly on.

And now some old traditionals, though not necessarily done traditionally.

Joys Seven. Aren’t the little kids cute? This one wins the Tim Rice Award for Forced Rhymes:

“The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of two;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ,
Making the lame to go(o) …”

Gaudete. Last year I linked to Steeleye Span so this year you get Angel Voices. Watch for the little blond kid who bobs his head with the music.

And of course Mike Oldfield’s version of “In dulci jubilo“. This was playing in Tesco the other day. I started whistling along to it, then realised someone else in the same aisle was doing likewise. Another few bars and we would have been in a TV ad, with everyday shoppers suddenly breaking into dance, so I forced myself to stop.

And finally, it is of course Rutting Season, i.e. the time you’re most likely to hear something by John Rutter (d’you see what I did there?).

The Candelight Carol comes back to the theme of bringing Christmas home.

“Shepherds and wisemen will kneel and adore him,
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep;
Nations proclaim him their Lord and their Saviour,
but Mary will hold him and sing him to sleep.”

And the Angel’s Carol. This is Christmas, encapsulated. No more need be said. Merry Christmas, everyone.

“Have you hear the sounds of the angel voices
ringing out so sweetly, ringing out so clear?
Have you seen the star shining out so brightly
as a sign from God that Christ the Lord is here?
Have you heard the news that they bring from heaven
to the humble shepherds who have waited long?
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels sing their joyful song.

He is come in peace in the winter’s stillness,
like a snowfall in the gentle night.
He is come in joy, like the sun at morning,
filling all the world with radiance and with light.
He is come in love as the child of Mary.
In a simple stable we have seen his birth.
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels singing ‘Peace on earth’.

He will bring new light to a world in darkness,
like a bright star shining in the skies above.
He will bring new hope to the waiting nations
When he comes to reign in purity and love.
Let the earth rejoice at the Saviour’s coming.
Let the heavens answer with the joyful morn:
Gloria in excelsis Deo! Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Hear the angels singing, ‘Christ is born’.”