Atmosphere and Tradition at Ceremony of Carols
Monday, 15 December 2014
The annual Ceremony of Carols opened in traditional style with the Chamber Choir singing ‘Hodie’ in darkness, bringing light to the Girls’ Division Great Hall as they proceeded in carrying lanterns. This opening was one of many moving moments throughout the evening as choral singing was interspersed with thoughtful readings.
The Chamber Choir sang ‘Creator of the Stars of Night’, before another traditional element of the Ceremony of Carols: ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. On this occasion, Year 13 pupil Zoe Pillar opened the carol with a beautiful solo, before being joined by the rest of the choir for the second verse, and then the massed voices of the congregation for the rest of the verses.
The theme of the evening was ‘animals’ and so the music and readings, while focused on the Christmas story, were filtered through the imagined experiences of animals. Reading such as ‘The Oxen’ by Thomas Hardy, a translated version of the traditional Czech verse ‘The Birds’ Carol’, and ‘What the Donkey Saw’ by U. A. Fanthorpe showed a different side to the nativity story. Along the same vein, the Senior Choir sang ‘The Seal Lullaby’ with beautiful harmony, while the Middle School Choir offered the audience ‘The Dormouse’s Carol’.
These unusual pieces were complemented by traditional carols: the Middle School Choir sang ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’; and the Senior Choir performed ‘Candlelight Carol’ and ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ with a haunting second verse solo from Megan Smethurst in Year 13. All of the pupils joined together to perform as the Combined Choirs, giving the audience an upbeat version of ‘The Holly and the Ivy’.
The congregation was also invited to join in some of the more well-known carols, including ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’, and ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. Year 13 pupils Megan Smethurst took over for a beautiful solo in the third verse, reminding everyone with a clear voice “How silently, how silently, The wondrous gift is given!”
There were also contemporary offerings, including a reading of ‘Dorothy’s Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday’ by Carol Anne Duffy and a rendition of ‘Bethlehem Spiritual’ from the Chamber Choir.
As the evening drew towards a close, the Combined Choirs gave a moving rendition of ‘Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar’, which brought back many memories for the numerous Old Girls in the audience. This was followed by the Senior Choir singing the soothing ‘Stille Nacht’ and by prayers led by the Headmistress, Miss Sue Hincks. The prayers were particularly moving; ‘When the song of the angels is stilled’, ‘Let the love that shaped heaven and earth’, ‘Be generous in prosperity’, and ‘As we wait for peace in the midst of war’ had been devised by the girls, adapted by Assistant Head Mrs Bradford-Keegan, and set to music by the Girls’ Division Director of Music Mrs Price. The Sixth Form performers did an excellent job of expressing the sentiments of each prayer.
The Combined Choirs then sang ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’, and this was followed by two readings: ‘Voices in the Mist’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, read by Deputy Headmistress Mrs Kyle, and the Biblical passage St John Chapter 1, read by Mrs Head, the Head of Middle School.
Finally, the congregation were asked to lend their voices for one last time for a rousing rendition of ‘Adeste Fideles’, before the Chamber Choir led out singing the ‘Hodie’ as the Great Hall was returned to darkness.
There was a retiring collection in aid of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and guests were invited to join the performers and members of staff for festive refreshments on the B Corridor, including mulled wine or fruit juice, mince pies and Christmas cake. Entertainment was provided by the Middle School String Quartet, Wind Quintet and Clarinet Choir, performing a number of well-known seasonal tunes. The room set aside for Old Girls to meet and reminisce was particularly busy, with Old Girls of all ages returning to enjoy the Ceremony of Carols once again.
To watch a selection of performances from the Ceremony of Carols on the School's YouTube Channel, click here.