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Lessons & Carols: General information

Date: Wed, 15 Oct 1997 16:43:31 -0500
From: "Ryan D. Neaveill"
Subject: Lessons & Carols Responses

Here is the compilation of responses regarding Lessons & Carols. Thank
you to everyone who responded.

Ryan D. Neaveill, Chancel Choir Director
First United Methodist Church
Urbana, Illinois
e-mail: ryan(a)


From: ryan(a)

>Hello all,
>I'd like to hear from any of you who have a "Lessons and Carols"
>during the Christmas season. Tell me what things you program on such a
>service, both the music and the "lessons" part. Be as general or
>specific as you like as I am looking for both general and specific
>ideas. Reply to me and I'll edit, compile and post the responses back
>the list.


From: jbaldwin(a)

I'm not sure of the difficulty you're looking for, but Hal Hopson has
prepared a new Lessons and Carols with updated language and very nice,
easy music. It's scored for choir, congregation, handbells, percussion,

strings and organ, plus readers. It is very nice, but I say again, very

easy. It follows the traditional format.


From: jematt(a)

I hope this can help. I have used this information for my L&C in years
past. Good Luck!

Lesson I - Genesis III - Adam and Eve
Adam lay ybounden - lots of them, Britten "Ceremony of Carols" is always

fun. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree works also - by Poston, Concordia has
an arrangement with Handbells.

Lesson II - Genesis XXII "God promises to faithful Abraham that in his
seed the nations of the earth shall be blessed"

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion - Handel
How lovely are the messengers - Mendelssohn
Hymn "Hark the glad sound!"
There shall a star from Jacob" - Mendelssohn

Lesson III - Isaiah IX "Christ's birth and kingdom are foretold by

Comfort, comfort ye my people - Messiah
E'en so Lord Jesus Quickly come - Manz

Lesson IV - Isaiah XI "The peace that Christ will bring is foreshown"

Hymn, Come, thou long expected Jesus
Carol - Lo, how a rose e'er blooming

Lesson V - Luke I - "The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary"

Any song of Mary
Soprano solo - Magnificat - Randall Thompson from his Nativity of St.
Carol, The angel gabriel from heaven came - Basque Carol, everyone has
arranged it.
any Ave Maria's

Lesson VI - Luke II St Luke tells of the birth of Jesus

Hymn - O little town of Bethlehem
Any Christmas piece

Lesson VII - Luke II -The shepherds go to the manger

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
Angels we have heard on high
any choir carol

Lesson VIII - Matthew II - WIse men are led by the star to Jesus

There shall a star - Mendelssohn
Three Kings - Cornelius or Willan
We three kings of orient are -
The first Nowell

Lesson IX - John I - St. John unfolds the great mystery of the

O come all ye faithful

Closing hymn - Hark! the herald angels sing


From: JEFF1567(a)

There is a complete list of the readings and suggestions for appropriate

music in the last pages of the Oxford Carol Book, as well as the books
by John Rutter and David Willcocks.


From: ddbmus(a)

If you can get a hold of Book of Occasional Services (Episcopal Church),

it will give you a format for both Advent Lessons & Carol and Christmas
Lessons and Carols.

Another place to look is in the Oxford Carols for Choirs books, which
give a format for such services.

Normally, at least in the Episcopal Church, the service begins with a
bidding prayer and is followed by a series of lessons and carols (or
anthems). The first lesson is from Genesis, and describes the fall of
humankind (original sin), and then lessons follow various paths of
biblical prophecy foretelling the coming of Christ.


From: sivory(a)

Campus Choir at Calvin College does one every year. Last year our
repertoire included:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - arr. Wilcox
Hodie Christus natus est - Gabrieli
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree - Poston (after Lesson 1)
there is no rose - Paul Hillier (published by Fazer - beautiful work)
What Sweeter Music - Rutter
Boston. For Christmas - Billings
Here is the little door - Howells
Senex puerum - William Byrd (I found this in a Chester collection of
motets - little known but incredibly beautiful music AND text)
Jessye's Carol (This Christmastide) - Donald Fraser


From: Kathleen.Mcguire(a)Colorado.EDU

There are some examples listed in several Episcopalian service guides.
pretty sure the Episcopalian Musician's Handbook includes 9 Lessons and


From: wmwood(a)

There is an order for the readings service in the back of "Carols for
Choirs" Oxford University Press. The second volume (orange, I think)
an Advent L&C order. I struggled with this for a long time before
realizing that the carols do not necessarily directly correlate with the

scripture readings. It seems to be partly the juxtaposition of the O.T.

readings and then a manger carol or lullaby, for example, that makes
service so meaningful and appealing. The formality of the service and
the ancient texts alternating with the lighter, delightful, warm
(sentimental?) carols can be very affecting. Of course, there are the
more profound hymns, such as "O come all ye faithful" or "Hark the
Also, when else but around CHristmas would we sing a lullaby in church?

As a respected colleague and mentor I consulted about carol selection
said, "You can do whatever you want to."


From: RobertamR(a)

One of the most intersting L & C services I ever saw used standard
alongside excerpts from W.H. Auden's *For The Time Being*. That
one used all Rutter pieces, concluding with the *Gloria*.


From: bmoon(a)

At Emory University every year for the past seventy or so years,
the standard, Oxford, Nine Lessons and Carols service occurs.
Last year, however, Dr. Tom Merril programmed an entirely Advent
As the service was in Advent, it was very appropriate. I know people
singing Christmas Carols during their Lessons and Carols, but consider
Advent focus. It made a quite wonderful service.


From: RegUn(a)

We do our Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve, a tradition that
now 7 years old--that's how long I have been there.

We use the Oxford 100 Carols for Choirs collection for over 90% of the
carols, and we also use the traditional service in the back of that
Several times I used all the traditional prayers and the King James
for all the readings, but we have come to prefer an "Americanized"
of the prayers and the NRSV for the readings. I have been tempted to
the readings as well, but haven't. This is intentionally our most
traditional service of the year (in a liberal church), so we have
decided not
to mess with it too much. As soon as one of my children's choir members

begins the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City," we really know
it's Christmas!


From: conmoto(a)

I have done several L & Carols services over the past fifteen
years. The most valuable info. I have ever found is an article from
Choral Journal 1990 called "The Service of Lessons and Carols" by Ray
Robinson. It is a great article - fascinating reading - historical
background on the service, breaks down each reading and the development

of the service as a musical event - by that I mean he lists all the
pieces and/or hymns that have been used for each reading for the last
fifty years or so!


From: JHulting(a)

Hello. I know of a Lessons and Carols, where the text used were
from W.H. Auden (I think it's called ) "For the Time Being." (exact
I've heard it was lovely use of text. I'd love to hear of your


From: rmc(a)

My College choir does a major Christmas concert each December, but
in the same week we do a convocation for the student body, at which time

I *often* do a "lessons and carols." I simply take the usual texts and
intersperse whatever from our concert repertoire best fits each
reading. If I have done my programming right, I usually have no trouble

matching music with texts; as part of it, I plan to work in two or three

carols that the student body will know and can sing. I choose my
readers for "political" reasons: a student, a choir member, the
president of the student body, a custodian or secretary, the Chaplain,
the President of the College, etc. (But of course I choose people who I

know can read accurately and well!) If I find I don't have a good
number to go with one of the "Oxford" readings, and no familiar carol
for it, I sometimes omit that section; or sometimes I have a soloist
whip up something.
In other words, since the "Festival of Lessons and Carols" is
20th-century and nonliturgical, I believe we have the freedom to create
it anew each time.

-----THE END-----

Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 18:20:26 -0600
From: "Ryan D. Neaveill"
Subject: Lessons & Carols History Compilation

Following this is the compilation of responses to my request for the
history of Lessons and Carols. Here is a summary of some of the main
sources mentioned:

1. Ray Robinson's article "The Service of Lessons and Carols" in the
December 1990 issue of the Choral Journal

2. Hal Hopson's recently published "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

3. "Carols for Choirs 1," ed. Reginald Jacques and David Willcocks
(London-New York, Oxford University Press, 1961 + many reprints).

4. Routley's The English Carol

5. United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 284.

I have a question regarding the info that said this service was first
performed on Christmas Eve, 1880, in Truro Cathedral. When I researched
Truro Cathedral, I found that its construction was begun in 1880 and
took 30 years to complete (see My question: Was
enough of the cathedral completed to hold services in 1880? Or was the
first Lessons and Carols service held somewhere else in Truro?


Ryan D. Neaveill, Chancel Choir Director
First United Methodist Church
Urbana, Illinois




From: William Renwick

Interesting question. I thought that I would point out the old roman
liturgy for the Saturday in Ember Week of Advent, that is the saturday
before the fourth sunday of advent. In the Liber Usualis the mass
contains the following elements (graduals are songs, collects are
1 introit
2 collect
3 Lesson I Isaiah 19
4 Gradual
5 collect
6 Lesson 2 Isaiah 35
7 Gradual
8 collect
9 Lesson 3 Isaiah 40
10 gradual
11 collect
12 Lesson 4 Isaian 45
13 gradual
14 collect
15 Lesson 5 Daniel 3
16 Hymn
17 collect
18 Epistle 2 Thessolonians 2
19 Tract
20 Gospel: Luke 3 (the voice in the wilderness)
after this follows the regular mass, beginning with the offertory.

So in this liturgy we see the basic structure of a series of lessons (7
this case) interspersed with songs and prayers as a way of preparing for

the coming of Christ.

Now, the main differences are: 1) the lessons focus only on the coming
christ, not on the creation, not on the birth. 2) only 7 lessons, not

9; 3) this is in the context of a mass.

Now if we turn to Matins for Christmas, we see a similar structure, but
not communion, and using, after pslams and canticles, an alternation of
9 Lessons and Responsories (songs), and with no prayers included. The

lessons include Isaiah 9, 40, 52; a sermon by Pope Leo as lesson 4, 5
6, Luke 2 for the 7th and 8th lessons, and John 1 for the ninth. These
lessons are presented in three groups of three, intersperwed with
"Nocturnes" Each nocturn comprises three psalms with antiphons.
(Remember, traditional matins is about 3 in the morning). But in this
case the order of the Liber Usualis puts Matins before the Midnight
hence on Christmas eve, which would be the ideal time for a lessons and
carols service, even though most of us do it on one of the Sunday
s of Advent.

So here we see a closer model for the nine lessons and carols
service. A similar structure occurs at Matins of Holy Saturday.

So, in sum, I think that the Kings College style lessons and carols was
adaptation of existing rites.


From: "Nancy L. Stokes"

One excellent source is Ray Robinson's article "The Service of Lessons
and Carols" which is in Choral Journal 1990. It has a very detailed
explanation of the hsitory as well as the repertoire used for each of
the services since they began.


From: lbradle(a) (Lynne Bradley)

Here is what is said in the forward to Hal Hopson's recently published
"Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols":
Lessons and Carols had its origin at Truno Cathedral in England on
Christmas Eve, 1880, when a service of scripture and supporting carols
developed by the Bishop of Truno. A few years later, this format was
adapted for Christmas Eve at King's College Chapel, Cambridge, England.
The annual BBC broadcast from King's College helped popularize the
of Nine Lessons and Carols, and it was quickly duplicated by cathedrals
small churches throughout the world. Today in Cambridge people bring
sleeping bags on Dec. 23 to "queue" for a spot in the King's College
for the annual 3:00 afternoon service.


From: "Jonathan Baldwin"

Here's a brief synopsis from Hal Hopson's new setting of the Festival

Lessons and Carols had its origin at Truro Cathedral (England)
on Christmas Eve 1880, when a service of scripture and supporting carols
developed by the Bishop of Truro, F.W. Benson. Some 38 years later in
this format was adapted for Christmas Eve at King's College Chapel,
Cambridge, England. The BBC broadcast from King's College helped
the Service of Lessons and Carols, and it was quickly duplicated by
cathedrals and small churches throughout the world. The heart of the
service continues to this day - that is, the retelling of the
story of faith from the fall of Adam to the coming of the Word


From: JEFF1567

It actually began in the 1920s and was a way of singing Xmas carols
Xmas. It began in one of the great anglican cathedrals in England, i
recall exactlywhich one, and it was there that the tradition of opening
with a
bidding prayer and a boy singing "once in Royal David's City" began,
with having the ranking clergyman read the final lesson from John I.






From: David Schildkret

The first volume of Carols for Choirs, edited by Willcocks and Reginald
Jacques, contains a brief discussion of the origins of the Lessons and
Carols service.


From: David McCormick

I'm not where I can find them right now, but I think there's a short
historical note in the back of Oxford's green Carols I book.


From: tovey.2(a) (David G. Tovey)

Kings College Cambridge borrowed the Lessons & Carols format from
Cathedral, which began that type of service on Christmas Eve in 1880, I

believe. THey didn't start using it at Kings till 1918 or so. Check
THE ENGLISH CAROL for info. The Choral Journal also had an article on
around 1990.


From: Lee Cooke

Check the United Methodist Book of Worship, p. 284.


From: Eric Nelson

The best concise summary is "The Service of Lessons and Carols" by Ray
Robinson in the December 1990 Choral Journal.

From: ddbmus

I'm not at the office (so my resources aren't at hand) but I believe
there's an explanation regarding its inception and use at King's
Cambridge in the Oxford Carols for Choirs Book.


From: BeeWeir

According to Martha Murray, you should read your Choral Journal, (ACDA),

December 1990, pages 13-20, titled "The Service of Lessons and Carols"
by Ray


From: RRMusArt

Was the source you mentioned the United Methodist Book of Worship?
There is a
complete yet brief recitation of the history and development of the
Sorry, but I do not know of other resources.


From: Christine Liu

I know a little bit. I think it was from the tradition of King's
College in England.


From: King organ

There is a same amount of information in the Carols for Choirs Book 1
and some
in the Episcopal planning guide. You might also look in The Oxford
Encyclopedia of Religion.


From: "John M. Wright"

An outstanding article may be found in Choral Journal - December 1990.
refer to it each year in preparation for our L & C service. In addition
to two pages on the history of the service, there is information on the
Development of the service as a Musical Event, and author Ray Robinson
breaks down each lesson! Invaluable source.


From: romain(a) (Romain Kang)

The insert from the 1992 Lessons and Carols video (from King's,
It was 1918 that the then Dean of King's, Eric Milner-White,
with the Vicar-Choral G.H.S. Walpole, drew up a service of readings

and music to `tell us the whole story of our Redemption'. This
ceremony was a modified version of a service devised by the first
Bishop of Truro, Edward Benson (later Archbishop of Canterbury) in
1880, itself based on `sources ancient and modern' which have been
traced back to Matins of the medieval Sarum rite, as well as to the
Nine Odes of the sixth-century Byzantine office of Lauds.
-Mark Audus




For those who were interested, following is a compilation of suggestions I
was sent of resources to plan a Lessons and Carols service.

Alexa Doebele
DMA Student in Choral Music, University of Colorado at Boulder
Conductor, CU Women's Chorus
Director of Music, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wheat Ridge, CO
"Alas for those who never sing, but die with all their music in them."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes


One resource is the United Methodist Hymnal/Book of Worship. Either has
suggested formats and readings for Lessons and Carol Services.

The pre-packaged services of Lessons & Carols have appropriate readings and
some suggest alternate readings.

I'm sure there are many resources within the Anglican/Episcopalian Church
and on the web as well.


One "already put together" work, "Sing Noel" by Hal
Hopson has wonderful poetry in it. The music is not bad for a
non-reading volunteer choir either:)


I still have my notebook and service leaflet from St. John's Cathedral in
1998 (when I was directing the children's choir there, and we sang in
Lessons and Carols). Don Pearson, who was there at the time, edited the
collection of music. I can photocopy the service leaflet and send it to you
(or fax it even faster). The music is:

Procession: Once in Royal David's City, arr. David Willcocks
Personet Hodie (On this day earth shall ring) (sung in English), arr.
Adam Lay Ybounden, music by Frank Boles (can't tell if this is an octavo
or what???)
Hymn: Il Est Ne (He is born, the Divine Christ Child), arr. Jackson
Berkey (sung in English)
Of the Father's Heart Begotten, Divinum mysterium, arr. Willcocks
Hymn: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Ding Dong Merrily on High, arr. John Leavitt
I Wonder As I Wander (soprano solo), arr. Rutter
I Saw Three Ships, arr. Lucille Reilly, (Do you know her? She is a
hammered dulcimer player in Denver.)
Betelehemu, arr. Wendell Whalum
Hymn: O Little Town of Bethlehem
How Far Is it to Bethlehem, arr. Scott Hagler (children's choir)
Alegria (baritone solo--this happened to be Jeffrey Byers, son of
Chuck), Puerto Rican carol, adapted by Conrad Susa
Midwinter, Bob Chilcott
Donkey Carol, John Rutter (children's choir)
Hymn: Angels We Have Heard on High
O Holy Night, arr. Rutter
A Modern Medieval Carol, Colin Mawbry
Hymn: Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Mendelssohn
Hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful
Organ Flourish on "Joy to the World" Michael Dell

Of course, these musical numbers are interspersed with readings from the New

There were 7 instrumentalists (in addition to the organist) and 4 African

If you want to call St. John's, you can also buy recordings from most of the
old Lessons and Carols. These are EXCELLENT. The phone number is:


As far as possible readings, I suggest you acquire the Sourcebooks from
Liturgy Training Publications for Advent and Christmas....they are a
wonderful compilation.

It's then up to you to match the music, but there is a wonderful array of
passages from not only scripture, but non-scirptural writings ancient to


One of the requirements for my masters degree in sacred music from Concordia
University-Mequon, was to put together a service, conduct that service and
write the accompanying paper for that service. I decided a service of
lessons and carols would be my service.

I compared every service of lessons and carols that I could find and
compiled the lists of music used with each service.

Concordia, being a school with many published composers on staff and meeting
other published composers in the classes I took, I first attempted to
include their compositions in the lists, if they had something that would
fit. I see you are from a Lutheran church, so you probably are familiar
with Dr. John Behnke and Dr. Kenneth Kosche.


> One year I used no lessons but poetry that seemed appropriate to the
> repertoire.
> The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot,
> Wilt Thou Love God? Sonnet by John Donne - not specifically Christmas but
> does provoke some thought
> The Burning Babe by Robert Southwell
> I would have to think this through more carefully to remember the sorts of
> things we did that particular year. It is many years since... One of the
> clergy told me he thought we had lost a golden opprotunity in not using
> scriptural texts so that I always reverted to the traditional lessons from
> Scripture after that.
> The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems has the Journey of the Magi and some other
> fairly good ones, too.
> The expectation is that the 'story ' of Christmas is carried through and the
> music must reflect that. Often, hearing the same lessons year after yer
> brings a glaze over people and they don't really hear the lessons. Using a
> combination of good , thoughtful poetry
> and lessons mught be a good compromise for you.
> Do you need any suggestions for repertoire? I direct a women's choir and last
> year we performed a "Songs of Mary" concert with connecting links of plainsong
> sung by a baritone. We were fortunate to be able to sing in a stunning
> Basilica with outstanding acoustics; we continued throughout the presentation
> in procession without applause until the end. It worked so well that at the
> intermission one or two people said they wished we had continued throughout
> since it broke their meditation! I could send you the programme listing if
> you wish.
> I think spending quality time on the programme bears high interest in the
> actual service . If your programme has 'intentionality' and a focus point,
> the results are more apparent and people will be moved to consider your
> message.


Check out my website. I have several carols (about 20) that I have made
over the years, and one or two are available as MP3 files there. Of the
rest, I can send you any you may be interested in as Finale 2006 or 2003
files. They aren't bad...



The main resource would be the series of Carols for Choirs books from
Oxford. The actual service is at the end of one of those volumes--I
think there are at least 4 volumes that I know about. The first one
(the 'green' one) is a classic--in my humble opinion.


You might have a look at Paraclete Press, for a piece just now published by
them, A Solis Ortus Cardine (From East to West, from Shore to Shore) which
is the Christmas office hymn, which I set for SSATBB. It's a nice setting,
if I do say so myself, because I made the setting of the plainsong hymn.


Look at the setting from the traditional Anglican tradition. This is the
order of lessons used by King's College, the one that is shown on TV every
holiday season. It is very clear and atright foward. I even begin the same
way, child voice singing vs 1 of Once in Royal David's City. Check out this


Two of my carols have been sung at Lessons and Carols
services at Stanford University: I Saw a Fair Maiden and
The Shepherd and the King. Both are published by William Thorpe:

I Saw a Fair Maiden won the Amadeus Choir carol
writing contest. A capella.

The Shepherd and the King won the
Welcome Christmas carol contest, sponsored by
VocalEssence. It was broadcast several times; you
can find it here:
The carol starts 34:52 into the December 2003 program.
The accompaniment may be performed on harp or on piano.