The Christmas Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols I attended in December 2012 at Christ Church cathedral on Sparks Street was the subject of a blogpost I wrote shortly afterwards. I have no idea who reads my blogposts, hardly anyone, I suspect; even so, five of the criticisms I made then no longer apply––the event has improved immensely, so either a dignitary at the church did read what I thought, or someone else forcefully voiced the same opinions as mine, and was listened to!
Today I went (on foot, in the cold wind) to this year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the same church and came away delighted (buoyed up during my long walk home in the even colder wind, past all the coloured lights on Parliament Hill).
The service began with organ preludes, more suitable as a background accompaniment to people meeting one another and finding their seats in the nave than the vocal music had been, two years ago. This time, the girls' choir was waiting to sing, already assembled in the choir loft and the men and boys were standing at the back ready to move forward to their choir stalls. This year they did process to music, choirs and congregation all on their feet, singing Once In Royal David's City. Each of the hymns turned out to be one that people knew, often by heart––and I was lucky to be standing among good singers in my pew. The main lights were turned off during the choirs' anthems (including Herbert Howells' lovely A Spotless Rose), which helps the concentration, but came on again for the communal hymns so that anyone who needed to could read the words. The barrier of an unfamiliar language had been removed too, the church now having dispensed with its token Bible reading in French.
Here is the programme. (Click to see it.)
Parts of that programme more than delighted me; I found some of that music (William Mathias' Sir Christémas and the Louis Vierne organ Finale) shivers-up-the-spine thrilling. I must admit I have rather a weakness for Stanford Magnificats, too, for personal reasons. How evocative music is! Like Proust's madeleine.