Once again it was the time for one of the most anticipated events in the Trinity calendar – held this year on the 2nd of December 2018.
The service comprised nine readings from the Bible, each followed by carols which has relevance with the reading. The choir is known for singing in several languages, with Sinhala and Tamil having been made a standard part of the tradition since 1964.
This year’s service was special as it marks the 60th year since the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was held at Trinity for the first time in 1958, and was undoubtedly a memorable evening of worship and praise to all those present.
The evening commenced with choristers coming in procession, descending from the Principal’s bungalow to the Chapel holding lamps. The Chapel was lit only with candlelight imbuing it with a tranquil and beautiful atmosphere. The traditional solo of “Once in Royal David’s City” was sung by a Chorister from Grade 6, the Choir joined in harmony at the second verse, accompanied by the organ, as they gracefully proceeded towards the Choir stalls.
As the opening carol “Adam Lay Abounden” by Boris Ord was sung a sense of wonderment filled the air as the congregation pondered upon Adams first ever sin leading up to the birth of Christ. This was also the context of the first lesson which was read by a chorister from Grade 7.
Next was a Sinhala carol “Sandun Vimanen” which was accompanied by the organ along with the traditional thabla and thalampota.
Upon the conclusion of the second lesson, a moving rendition of “O Little One Sweet” composed by J.S. Bach, reminded the congregation of Christ’s birth and how the son of man was yet once a meek and sweet little child.
After the third lesson a Tamil carol “Andhi Neram Vaadai Kaalam” was sung. This was a clear depiction of the versatility in the choir’s choice of carols, which was accompanied by the same instruments used in the Sinhala carol.
The fourth lesson was accompanied by “Virga Jesse” composed by Anton Bruckner. The complexity of this composition was quite notable as it brought about a sense of serenity with its impressive harmonies and also a feeling of rejoicing towards the end of the carol.
The carol “Bogoroditse Dyevo” by Arvo Part told of the message the archangel Gabriel gave unto the mother of God in conjunction with the fifth lesson. The choir’s capabilities were clearly brought out by this performance and it was commendable performance sung in the Russian language.
The next carol “See Amid the Winter Snow” had three soloists: an alto, a bass, and, keeping in line with recent years, an Old Chorister soloist. The chapel filled with grandeur as the chorus to this carol was sung; rejoicing in the glorious birth of Christ.
The carol in relation to the sixth reading was “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” composed by Harold Darke. It comprised two soloists: a treble and a tenor, who were gradually accompanied in angelic harmony by the choir. This truly brought about a depiction of a cold and desolate winter time in which Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Once again adding to the variation in the language and style of the carols performed, a French carol “Quittez Pastuers” arranged by Stephen Cleobury, was sung adding to the grandeur of the worship which resonated with the faithful and praising hearts of the congregation.
The next carol had three soloists who sang throughout, accompanied by the choir: Peter Cornelius’s “The Three Kings” was sung by soloists who each represented the kings while the Choir sang the chorale. This particular performance was the perfect illustration of Christ’s godly nature and royalty as well as his humanity.
After the carol “Hark the Herald”, and the congregation lit their candles and the lights of the chapel were switched off. The choir then began to sing the “Candlelight” carol. The simple but beautiful harmonies combined with the chapel lit only by candles to a truly spectacular and moving atmosphere that warmed and tugged on the heart of all who were present.
As per tradition, the carol “O Come all ye Faithful” was sung as the Choir recessed to the west door, to end the last verse with a triumphant descant, marking the end of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It was interesting to note that the Chapel continued to be lit only with candles until the end of the service.
A. C. Benson recalled: ‘My father arranged from ancients sources a little service for Christmas Eve – nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop’.
The history of the carol services at Trinity is an interesting one. With records commencing from 1935, all carol services have been somewhat similar to the ‘nine lessons’ tradition with several lessons, except for the one in 1954 where there had been only two lessons with 16 Carols. In 1950 the carol service was broadcast over the BBC world service.
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