Lessons and Carols, December 23 and 24
by Dr. Paul S. Jones, Organist & Music Director

As is our regular and joyful practice, the Tenth Church Choir and soloists along with the Westminster Brass and Tenth Chamber Players will offer diverse anthems to the glory of God and for the enjoyment of all who attend. These anthems span 500 years of music history from the early Baroque to the present day and are closely linked to Scripture passages that will be read by Pastors Clark and Tripp. The congregation will sing seven carols, including O Little Town of Bethlehem, written at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in 1868 by the rector, Phillips Brooks, and his organist, Lewis Redner.

A varied prelude at 7:15 pm will set the tone for the service to follow. Westminster Brass will play an antiphonal work based on the medieval hymn, Hodie Christus natus est (Christ is Born Today). Sondra Payne will offer J. J. Nile’s setting of the Appalachian folk carol, I Wonder as I Wander. Hye-Jin Kim, violin, Margaret Claudin, flute, and Alisa Coffey, harp, will contribute lighter sounds to balance the power of the brass and organ in a setting of the Polish carol, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.

The Word Became Flesh by Paul Roberts sets the first verses of John’s gospel for a cappella chorus and flute. Margaret Claudin will lend her artistry to this recent anthem, which begins with the flute and chant-like unison singing and gradually warms and brightens like the light of the sun dawning on the day the Logos became incarnate. Next, following a reading of Psalm 24 on which it is based, Handel’s antiphonal chorus, Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates (from Messiah), will be accompanied by strings from the Tenth Chamber Players under the direction of Samuel Park.

Tenth has premiered five new carols in the last few years on texts by James Boice, Philip Ryken, and Derek Thomas. The choir will offer Rev. Thomas’s 2008 carol Stars of Heaven Glowing Softly on these two evenings, followed by an unaccompanied short motet by Hans Leo Hassler, Good News is in the Air. In the Bleak Midwinter is the beloved carol of poet Christina Rossetti (1830–1894), offered this year in the setting by Harold Darke. This poem, from her Prayers and Meditations, is titled simply, “A Christmas Carol.”

Hail the Blest Morn! is an arrangement of the hymn for Epiphany by Reginald Heber (1783–1826) entitled Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning. Heber was an Englishman, a graduate of Oxford University, a pastor, and later Bishop of Calcutta, India. I set his text to an early American melody and added colonial instruments (field drum, flageolets) as well as antique cymbals and muted brass for a strong, rustic American sound. Next sung will be the beautiful carol of John Rutter, which sets the text of the sixteenth-century poet Robert Herrick—What Sweeter Music Can We Bring? The answer to this question is: “a carol, for to sing the birth of this, our heav’nly King.”

The final choral offering will be Daniel Pinkham’s Gloria in excelsis Deo from his Christmas Cantata. In 2004, the last time the Tenth choir sang this piece, the composer was still alive. He died in December 2006. Our traditional medley of carols will round out the service, closing with Silent Night, sung in a hushed, candlelit sanctuary.

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