From Murray Walker, Director of Music
In the secular world around us, Christmas begins with Thanksgiving. Stores decked out in holiday trappings and “Christmas carols” (many of which, we discover if we pay attention, have very little to do with Christmas) flow on the airwaves around us. For Christians, however, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is Advent, a time for reflection and preparation both worldly: have we gathered together the gifts we will send? is the house ready for holiday visitors? and spiritual: is there a clean room in our lives for God’s renewed presence?
The four Sundays of Advent have their own musical identity which does not include Christmas carols. Our Hymnal has several hymns for this season (Hymns 53-76) which address the prophecies of the coming of Christ, God’s promise of redemption, John the Baptist and other Advent themes. The most well-known of these is O come, O come, Emmanuel, which we will sing several times during Advent. On our Emergent Sunday on Advent 1, December 2, some of Mary Winslow’s ballet dancers added special mystery to this ancient and haunting melody.
Evensong at 5:30 p.m. on Advent 2, December 9, will focus on Saint Lucy and the Swedish musical traditions that are associated with this festival.
Our choir anthems on Advent 2 and 3 address the Advent themes. The lections for Advent 4 on December 23 are about Mary’s acceptance of God’s invitation to bring Messiah into the world. Her response has come down to us as the Magnificat (“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my savior...“), which is an essential part of the Anglican Evensong service. On Advent 4 we will sing this text in different contexts; it is also the basis of the choir anthem for that day, Mary’s Magnificat by Andrew Carter, in which the text is juxtaposed with a gentle cradle song. Christmas at Calvary begins with our annual Lessons and Carols on December 23 at 5:30 p.m. While some churches are adamant that no Christmas music is to be sung before Christmas Eve, we present this service on the afternoon of Advent 4. The origin of Lessons and Carols can be seen in the all night vigils of medieval monks before major festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, but the present form of the service was established at King’s College, Cambridge, in the latter half of the 19th century. It has been sung there on every Christmas Eve since and people begin to line up early in the morning in order to attend.
The format for Lessons and Carols is the alternation of scripture readings, choir anthems which address the themes of the readings and congregational singing of well-known Christmas carols. The readings trace the story of God’s redeeming love for us, from Adam and Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, through the ancient Hebrew prophecies of the coming of Messiah, to the birth of Jesus and St. John’s highly poetic explanation of the mystery of the Incarnation. Lessons are read by individuals who represent various constituencies within the congregation. The musical challenge of Lessons and Carols is to find the right balance of old favorites, which allow the congregation to delight in their memories of Christmas Past, and newer works which keep the Anglican choral art alive. One of the musical traditions of Lessons and Carols is the opening of the service with Once in royal David’s city, the first verse being sung by a child. This year the child will be Savannah Smith. The last hymn is always O come, all ye faithful. Because it is not quite Christmas yet, we save the last verse, “Yea Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,” for Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve at Calvary begins with a Family Service at 5:00. This service includes the traditional Christmas Pageant in which children learn the Christmas story by reenacting the events of the first Christmas. The Family Service includes the singing of favorite Christmas carols and our successful GinSing! last May will enable the Choral Scholars to help out with the congregational singing.
Christmas Eve’s traditional Midnight Mass, another service with its roots in the monastic vigil, begins with congregational carol singing at 10:30 p.m. and the service begins at 11:00 p.m. with the introit, Hodie Christus natus est (Today Christ is born) followed by the processional hymn, O come, all ye faithful, last verse included. The musical setting for the Mass texts will be Richard Shephard’s Mass of the Nativity. This charming piece, based on traditional carols, features oboe and violin along with the choir and organ. Parishioner and fine violinist, Madeleine Precht, will perform.