Lessons and Carols services traditionally are made up of music from a variety of musical sources, from different countries and times and musical traditions. Back in 2007, I wondered what would happen if we turned this tradition on its head and performed music by a single composer or tradition for our Love Feast service of lessons and carols. There was something kind of fun about staring down a dead composer and saying, “I’m making an Advent/Christmas service out of your work. What do you have for me?”
We started with Felix Mendelssohn, and he was more than happy to oblige. Bach had much to offer in 2013, but it was one of the most exhausting Love Feast services the choir has ever sung. Because Bach. The sweet sounds of John Rutter were the perfect way to recover in 2014; Rutter is about as Christmasy as The Hallmark Channel, and his music sings like fresh butter. In 2015, we featured music from Black American and African sources, which may have been the most powerful Love Feast service in recent memory. Last year, we featured music by Johannes Brahms. The choir and I learned quickly that Brahms was a Romantic, but there is very little Hallmark Channel in him. After a challenging, thorny service of Brahms (and, in the midst of a challenging, thorny year of politics), we needed a warm, cozy composer to usher in Christmas of 2017.
David Willcocks (1919 – 2015) was the fourth organist to serve at King’s College, Cambridge, after the creation of the Service of Lessons and Carols there. He composed the two most famous soprano descants in the universe, one for “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and one for “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” From his sturdy arrangement of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” to his witty and expansive “See Amid the Winter’s Snow”, Willcocks’ carols embody the tradition of Lessons and Carols and, to many choral singers, sound like Christmas. And, if Willcocks isn’t Christmasy enough, I’ll accompany the distribution and enjoyment of the buns and cocoa with movements from The Nutcracker.
Our annual Love Feast service of Lessons and Carols will be Sunday, December 17, at 6:30 PM. Really, everyone should come and bring some friends.
Doug Brown is GPPC’s Director of Music. He has led our Love Feasts since 2004, and probably assumes you know – along with buns and cocoa served in the pews – there will be candle lighting, and glo-sticks for the younger members of the family-friendly gathering.