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Lessons and Carols

Rehearsal Wednesday, December 8 - The Shepherd's Carol

211208_Shepherds Carol rehearsal
2023 Program forthcoming!
Lessons and Carols of Years Past

All music below will be sung by the College Choir, or played on the organ.


Once In Royal David's City 

The Bidding Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer

When Angels Sing

Mark Miller

     This contemplative, beautiful piece sets an introspective and mindful tone for the opening of the service, and the chorus text, "peace, be still and listen heart" beckons singers and audience to seek a place of stillness and calm. I find it  interesting and compelling juxtaposed with both the Bidding Prayer and the first lesson, depicting human fall from grace.

FIRST LESSON    Genesis 3:8–13, 22–24

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

John Gardner

       A vivacious and exuberant approach to the Christmas story, with first-person narrative and refrain, "this have I done for my true love."

SECOND LESSON    Isaiah 9:2, 6–7

Christus Natus Est

Rosephanye Powell

     A powerful piece that is musically grounded in the African American Spiritual, Gospel, and Rhythm and Blues, and a message that is unwavering in its look at those who suffer and have suffered today from oppression, racism, and disrespect; it is also a reminder that the Christian story of Jesus' birth is a response to this very need.

THIRD LESSON    Isaiah 40:1–8

Comfort, Comfort Now My People

Louis Bourgeois

      16th-century French composer Louis Bourgeois brought secular music into Psalm singing and is credited with adapting the tune of this hymn, now fitted with its familiar Advent text. This video features the fantastic organist and composer Tom Trenney, and his church in Nebraska. (Our organ can compete...)

FOURTH LESSON    Isaiah 11:1–9

A Spotless Rose

Herbert Howells

     Howells' setting is captivating in the rise and fall of melodic contour, stunning dramatic contrasts mix of modal and chromatic harmonic colors. This video is a recording by the professional choir The Sixteen, with Harry Christophers. (The Middlebury College Choir, with Jeff Buettner will sing it slightly more briskly.)

FIFTH LESSON    Luke 1: 26-33, 38

Bogoroditse Devo

Sergei Rachmaninoff

     This renowned piece from Rachmaninoff's setting of the Orthodox "All-Night Vigil" is another small monument of Advent choral repertoire. Composed to resemble chant melody, the piece suddenly explodes in the phrase, "for you have borne the savior,"  a truly iconic moment in Lessons and Carols repertory history!

SIXTH LESSON    Luke 2:1–7

In the Bleake Midwinter

Gustav Holst

     The humility of Rossetti's text and the simple beauty of Holst's melody and harmony combine to yield one of the most poignant traditional Christmas hymns in the tradition.

This video features Quire Cleveland and Ross Duffin; we will sing it similarly, but without the third verse and with a different setting of the penultimate verse.

SEVENTH LESSON    Luke 2:8–20


David Conte

     San Francisco composer David Conte's arrangement of this Burgundian carol is exciting in its rhythmic energy and clever in harmonic inflections contribute yet a different color to the program in charming combinations of boldness and whimsy, strength and light-heartedness. This recording is a wonderful performance by the professional choir Cappella SF, with Ragnar Bohlin.

EIGHTH LESSON    Matthew 2:1–12

Brightest and Best

Shawn Kirchner

     A vigorous setting of an American tune from the 19th-century Southern Harmony collection, and a very different sound from the rest of this program in many ways. This recording is shared from the publisher, and features a fine fiddler who contributes marvelous style to the fiddle part. This piece works equally well accompanied on organ - and that is how we will play it.


The Shepherd's Carol

Bob Chilcott

     "Silence more lovely than music..." Clive Sansom's poetry focuses on human elements of the Christmas story including Mary ("Lady"), and people inspired to give of themselves freely. The music is, like Howells' and Rachmaninoff's settings, evocative of a mood or scene and also brims with a unique expressive energy. This is a programmatic partner, in a sense, with the "When Angels Sing" form the beginning of this program: these pieces depict acts of listening and giving, and they convey images of peace, calm, and community.


NINTH LESSON    John 1:1–5, 9–14

Silent Night! Holy Night!


O Come, All Ye Faithful

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