Lessons and Carols, anyone?
  • Greetings from northern Illinois!

    It has become tradition (5 years now) to do a Lessons and Carols service preceding the midnight Mass on Christmas. Does anyone else do this or something similar? (Christmas concert, etc.?) I am looking for ideas for literature...possibly for this year but also to start considering for future years. I mainly find a lot of my repertoire from the Oxford "Carols for Choirs" collections and CPDL, but perhaps there are others out there that have had great success with certain pieces.

    Here's my $.02...among others, we have done Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" and Pearsall's "In Dulci Jubilo" with good success. This year my repertoire list looks like this...preliminary...very preliminary...I'm waiting for sample copies before I make any final decisions.
    What Is This Lovely Fragrance (Willan)
    Lullay My Liking (Holst)
    I Wonder As I Wander (arr. Niles/Horton)
    Today the Virgin (Tavener)
    Adam lay ybounden (Ord)
    God So Loved the World (Stainer)
    There Shall A Star Come Out of Jacob (Mendelssohn)

    As I look at my own list, it is all in English. This may need to change...I need Latin. :-)

    What are your ideas?
  • Your choir can sing “Corde natus ex parentis” (“Of the Father’s love begotten”), either to the Liber hymnarius’s melody or to the melody found in many modern hymnals.

    John Goss “Behold, I Bring You Good Tidings”

    Praetorius “Psallite unigenito” (short)

    Schnabel “Transeamus”

    GIA publishes a nice Gloria setting that uses the “Les anges dans nos compagnes” melody for a refrain but sets the LATIN text (and well!) in SATB.

    In St. James’s Sunday by Sunday II collection there is a “Verbum caro” by Louis Halsey that’s very doable. Like with much RSCM stuff, though, watch for leaps to dissonances that your singers aren’t expecting and may have trouble with. Very pretty, though.

    There are a few “Personent hodie” arrangements out there; that one’s always a hoot. :)

    Gaudete (lots of editions on CPDL)
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 311
    Looking over my Christmas programs for the past five years, some of my favorites for a program like this would be:

    Hodie Christus Natus Est (Sweelinck)
    Lullaby for the Holy Child (Gramann)
    When God's Time Had Ripened (Fedak)
    Gloria in Excelsis from the Christmas Cantata (Pinkham)
    A Babe is Born in Bethlehem (Thiman)
    In Dulci Jubilo (the old Westbrook arrangement)
    O Magnum Mysterium (Near -- this one's for unison treble voices)

    Of things I *wish* I could do, I remember getting the Luckner setting of the "Dominus dixit ad me" from Paraclete Press, for mixed choir, brass quartet, and oboe. It is very faithful to the chant, and builds up to a spectacular scope over about 5 or 6 minutes. Listen to the sample http://www.paracletepress.com/dominus-dixit-ad-me.html -- the last minute or so is breathtaking. If ever I was responsible for a Midnight Mass at a big church, I would start this at about 11:55!

    Try going to cpdl.org and plugging in things like "puer natus" and the first words or phrases from the propers of the various Masses of Christmas. You'll find all sorts of goodies.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 990
    And I wanted to swap tips on "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and which tenor gets to sing "O Holy Night" - darn. If I weren't on someone else's organ bench, I'd be thrilled to hear music like this before Midnight Mass.
  • I'm partial to David Schelat's arrangement of The Angel Gabriel, which puts the melody in the SA voices for the most part (at times in unison) and has the TB voices singing the Magnificat in Latin in a conductus fashion underneath. It's quite lovely, appropriately sparse (rather than made quasi-Romantic lush), and one can use a flute or oboe or violin (or clarinet if you transpose, although I dislike the clarinet most of the time) on the accompaniment. The finger cymbal/triangle part is tactful and does add to the appeal but you can omit it. For Mixed Choir, Organ, Finger Cymbals/Triangle. Published by Oxford University Press. (ISBN 9780193860841). (Plus, if your choir has learned it for Christmas Eve, it works on IV Advent in the OF, maximizing rehearsal time.)

    Benjamin Britten, A Hymn to the Virgin: an SATB semi-chorus (or soloists) responds to the full choir SATB; the full choir sings English, the semi-chorus Latin. Gorgeous and not difficult. Of course there are movements from A Ceremony of Carols--There is no Rose works well with organ and is feasible for a small choir, quick to learn, and SLOW.

    Herbert Howells, A Spotless Rose. Baritone soloist (must be GOOD!) and SATB choir, mixed meter that feels like written-out chant, gorgeous post-Romantic piece.

    John Rutter, There is a flower. SSATBB, hard but gorgeous.

    Robert Scholz, Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. Don't be put off by the fact that the scoring is 2-part treble choir (can be done by the ladies of the choir or three soloists, and it's short), SATB, Organ, flute, handbells (3-octaves), piano/synthesizer (optional flute 2 & bell tree). Everything but Published by MorningStar Music Publishers. (50-1034) Even if you leave out the flutes, handbells, the piano or synthesizer, and definitely the bell tree , this is a wonderful piece. It's a fantasia on the Praetorius hymn. We use it as the last prelude piece before the Introit, followed by two minutes of silence; the piece is meant to create a mystical musical incense--that's the best way to describe it--and it does. We use a flute (me) but nothing else (our organ is tuned at 437 and our bells at 440 so we never get to use them together). We may try the bells on the new keyboard this Christmas. (The pastor let us buy it to use only for the harpsichord sound; we recently used it on a beautiful string sound to supplement the inadequate organ in a Rheinberger motet, and the pastor thought it sounded "like a funeral home". Chacun a son gout.)

    Derek Holman, Make we joy, a macaronic carol in a lively, joyful mixed meter. His music is available from Sheet Music Plus (he's a Canadian composer mostly known in the northern regions of the US--always enjoyable music to sing and hear).

    There's an Advent piece on the Radix David text in Latin and mixed meter we used last year (fun!)--I'll have to go look for it; these others are off the top of my head.

    These I have all done at my 'work' church (Anglo-Catholic).
  • I introduced a "lessons and carols" concept at my church, loosely shaped around the office of readings for Christmas Eve, including the reading from the sermon by Pope St. Leo the Great.

    We do a setting by Wolgemuth of "Of the Father's Love" and a really nice arrangement of "Gaudete" by Hurd. This year I'm introducing "Bethlehem Down" by Peter Warlock, poem by Bruce Blunt. It's a truly moving poem that draws the connection between the cradle and the cross.

    Bearing in mind that when I arrived the choir sang about 1/2-hour's worth of rather generic, often mawkish stuff from Hope Publishing and the like, this is a terrific turn-around.
  • The Advent piece I mentioned is a modern piece on cpdl: Tim Blickhan's Et egredietur virga (http://choralwiki.net/wiki/index.php/Et_egredietur_virga_(Tim_Blickhan)). A mixed-meter piece all in Latin, a bit up-tempo for Communion (which is where we must sing our anthems, unfortunately) but we toned it down just a bit for Communion and did it rolickingly for the pre-Midnight liturgy prelude-concert. "Et egredietur" is the part of the text just after "Radix Jesse", which is why my brain wouldn't locate it right away...

    If you don't own the Boston Camerata recordings "A Medieval Christmas" and "A Renaissance Christmas", you should treat yourself this year--they are treasure chests.

    Now if someone would write a lovely piece on "And the Word became flesh..."
  • Patricia,
    I did some of my undergrad work with Dr. Tim Blickhan (Northern Illinois Univ.). Small world.
    We did "Et incarnatus" from Bach's B minor (I think...) last year accompanied by organ and two violins. Quite nice.

    Thanks for the recommendation of "Gaudete." I've since dropped the Stainer and added the "Gaudete." Much easier and in Latin!

    Also, for what it's worth...I finally got the Tavener "Behold A Virgin" in. Good text and not that difficult (must have good basses).

  • jdan
    Posts: 11

    If I may steer this conversation in a slightly different direction -

    The music minister at my parish has asked me to orchestrate the traditional Christmas Eve youth concert, which is followed immediately by the Vigil Mass. For years, the format has simply been to pick a selection of diverse carols and arrange them in some logical manner. I would like to maintain the festive spirit of the event but also prepare the listeners for Mass. I think a Lessons and Carols concert would elegantly accomplish this.

    So here is my question: Are there any prayers out there of a more Catholic flavor suited to this wonderful Episcopalian invention? Or are the current prayers (according to the Cambridge use) appropriate? I did a little research and found that the USCCB offered a Catholic version of L&C, but changed the readings, removed the opening and closing prayers, and generally butchered it.

    Any help would be great!
  • Westminster Cathedral in London does this:

    Christmas Eve 2009
    Wednesday 24th December
    Mass at 07:00, 08:00, 10:30 (Latin), 12:30, 13:05
    07:40 Morning Prayer
    16:00* Solemn First Vespers of Christmas
    18:00 Vigil Mass with Carols
    23:30* Vigil and Midnight Mass

    Confessions 9:30- 15:30
    Cathedral closes briefly after the 18:00 Mass

    Christmas Day
    Thursday 25th December
    08:00 Mass
    09:00 Mass with Carols
    10:00 Morning Prayer (Sung)
    10:30* Solemn Mass
    12:00 Sung mass with Carols
    15:30* Solemn Vespers and Benediction

    Cathedral closes after 15:30 Vespers

    I've seen this and the Vigil is wonderful...instead of lessons and carols....I can't find the program, but it is worth considering.
  • First, let me put my oar in for CanticaNOVA press, whose motto is "Traditional Music for the Contemporary Church." The repertoire is new compositions and some arrangements. They publish Cal Schenk, among others.

    Next, if I can be forgiven this since it is (after all) on topic: CanticaNOVA published a setting of the Angelus which I wrote some years ago. It has solo, unison and 4-part (SATB) sections. The edition has both English and Latin texts (interlinearly) and includes the prayer "Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord".

    We used a very simple setting of Thou that art so fair and bright (from the New St. Basil Hymnal).

    I would be remiss if I didn't put "In the bleak midwinter" (either setting) on the table.
  • L and C was a liturgy created by Protestants. I am always reluctant to imitate their innovations based on the fact that the Catholic identity can offer our own brand of Christmas music and do it in our own way. What are we doing by playing the "me too" game? It's a fair question to ask.

    I'm thinking of a Geoff Moore and the Distance song here from the old school.:) Points to the CCM scholar that knows which song.
    Thanked by 1AndrewSteinerPiano
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    Since the world's first Lessons and Carols service was in Cornwall in 1880 (if you believe Wikipedia), it's obvious that the good clergyman in question was just making up his own version of choral vespers, possibly crossbred with the Salvation History readings from the Easter Vigil. (Except not calling it that, probably because of some high church/low church thing, or because the real intent was to have Vespers kill more time without allowing any slack time when the men could slip out of church and go have a drink.)

    Christmas Eve's got Hours, and there are lots of options on how to do it, in the OF or even in the EF. You can have lawfully have it being led by a cantor or cantors from the choir, so you don't have to drag Father or the deacons into it. Why not take a look at that first, and see if it wouldn't fit your needs?

    And while we're at it, why is 9 Lessons and Carols loved and 12 Lessons and Easter Vigil hated? Me no get it.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    Oh, I'm so ignorant. "Nine Lessons and Carols" has a different choice of readings, but otherwise the format is that of the readings from the OF office of readings for Christmas Eve/Day -- what would have been Matins in the EF back in 1880. Presumably the guy who invented it used the Anglican equivalent, and hence the differences in readings.

    Click "Read Online" and look up Christmas in Volume I of the Marquess of Bute's The Roman Breviary, if you don't believe me. Matins starts on page 272 of the book. Matins used to be said late at night, I believe, so that must be why those readings were used. You're allowed to say the EF breviary whenever or however you like, as a layperson, so there's nothing stopping you from still using Bute as a template. (There's a foreword called "The Pie" that explains all the stuff not explicitly put in there, and there's a few format changes for having a non-priest say it, because we can't give blessings but can only ask God for them.)

    Anyway, it's probably the OF Office of Readings that the USCCB is putting forward as their Lessons and Carols. And why the heck the USCCB doesn't just say so, I don't know. But I think people normally say the Office of Readings at breakfast time or something, so maybe that's why they don't say.

    If you want something more evening-ish, here's the OF Evening Prayer for that night, straight out of the book, with suggestions for stuff you could do to make it also a choral concert right before Midnight Mass. There would be plenty of variety, it seems to me, especially if you did the psalms in one style and the interstitial carols in another. If I've forgotten something or made some hideous abusive mistake, I'm sure somebody will say so. If you want to do EF, I'm also sure that somebody can help you.

    Isn't there some kind of Mahrt article about how to run a choral vespers? That would probably be a lot better than anything I could make up, because he does that all the time.

    Whatever stuff you do first that they don't put in the book, which there seems to be a lot of. (Sorry, editorial comment.)

    O God, come to my assistance.... back and forthing.

    You get to pick this. The traditional hymn is "Christe redemptor omnium", so presumably you want that or something along that line.

    Antiphon w Psalm 113:
    He comes in splendor,
    the King who is our peace,
    the whole world longs to see him.

    This is a Solomon thing turned toward Christ.... Anyway, you could easily accompany this with some kind of carol or hymn about angels and glory, or about "isn't it great that God came down" (See the psalm text), or about the blessings Jesus brings us, or king stuff.

    Antiphon w Psalm 147, 12-20:
    He sends forth his word to the earth,
    and his command spreads swiftly through the


    Angels We Have Heard on High, or another message/angel carol; or one about nature and snow and blessings; or one about coming to Israel.

    Antiphon w Canticle (Philippians 2:6-11):
    The eternal Word, born of the Father before
    time began, today emptied Himself for our sake
    and became man.

    I'm sure you can find a carol about God coming down to us. :)

    Reading: Galatians 4:3-7.

    Today you will know the Lord is coming.
    - Repeat.

    And in the morning you will see His glory.
    - The Lord is coming.

    Glory be...
    - Today you will know the Lord is coming.

    Antiphon with the Magnificat:
    When the sun rises in the morning sky,
    you will see the King of Kings
    coming forth from the Father
    like a radiant bridegroom from the bridal


    The Magnificat is already all kinds of choral hymns, so you'd just be adding on the antiphon in front and in back.

    You could stick on some kind of Marian carol afterwards, especially a Visitation one.

    A set of set intercessions.

    The Our Father.

    Again, you've already got choral settings for this, I'm sure.

    You could stick another carol here.

    A set prayer.

    Ending: May the Lord bless us...

    More carols, if you've still got time. Maybe something quiet to lead into Mass.