The spirit of sharing at Christmas
The Carol Service of Trinity College, Kandy is an event much looked forward to by many every year. The story of the Carol Service, to see how it has come to be what it is today, is fascinating.
The most striking aspect is that the basic tradition of the Carol Service has remained the same and holds its place as one of the longest preserved traditional events of the school.
The earliest records of the Carol Service go back to 1935 – the year that the Trinity College Chapel was consecrated. The service was held on the second Sunday of Advent. With six readings and eight carols held during school hours in the morning, it had probably been very much an event confined to the school boys and staff. Presumably, having the service during school hours signified the end of another year at College. This was also the retirement year of Canon John McLeod Campbell.
Trinity’s spirit of sharing is seen from the early years itself where from 1936 to 1939 contribution for ‘The Evelyn Nurseries’ was requested, although a collection was not taken. From the early 1940s, the Service had started taking a more regular and standard format with efforts made to make it more meaningful, and has been held in the evenings. The Choir had been under the care of Ms Valesca Reimann during those years.
The Christmas Gospel
It was in 1946 the present format of the order was introduced and had the inclusion of seven lessons for the Carol service with John’s Gospel read as the “Christmas Gospel” for the final reading, with a collection taken in aid of Evelyn Nurseries.
And, the symbolic procession of moving from the West door to the Chancel – “Darkness to Light” – was introduced in this year. The lessons from that order also showed similarity with the lessons of the tradition of the “Nine lessons”. 1946 was the first year of Major Gordon Burrows as Choirmaster.
This tradition continued to progress through the years with ‘House of Joy Thalawa’ included in the sharing of the collection taken at the Service.
In 1949 the Carol Service consisted of nine lessons. With the reader of each lesson mentioned, the order started with a Chorister as the First Reader and ended with the Priest. Interestingly, in this year the service order impressed upon the congregation that it was not a concert but a service.
1950 is marked as the year when the Bishop of the diocese started reading the Christmas Gospel at the Carol Service.
The Trinity College Choir under the leadership of Gordon Burrows had been heard on Radio Ceylon numerous times. However, the Carol Service of December 10th, 1950, the Choir had the honour of being broadcast over the World Service of the BBC.
Great songs of Christendom
The following year, in 1951, the Carol Service was unique. It was held at the College Main Hall, probably as the records suggest of repairs to the Chapel during that time. This service also had only two Readings and twelve Carols for the congregation – the highest ever. This obviously highlights the persevering attempts of Gordon Burrows to get the congregation to actively sing.
While the 1952 Carol Service also took place in the Main Hall, the Chapel renovations were finally completed, and the 1953 Carol Service was conducted at the Chapel.
With a reading by an Old Boy introduced to the service order in 1954, the service commenced with the solo for the processional hymn ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ with the Choir entering from the West door, which continues today. This year the sharing list of the collection was extended to ‘The Paynter Children’s Home’ Nuwara Eliya.
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
The first traditional “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” was in 1958 for which reportedly a very large congregation of about a thousand people joined wholeheartedly in the singing. It is recoded that it was truly an act of corporate worship in a beautiful setting, with thanks to the many persons who helped in preparation and conduct of the service, not least to Mr Burrows and the Choir.
As the tradition of “Nine Lessons” got rooted and popular, more officials from the school began to get involved, so much so the readings for the service had to be shared by two persons. And the service was later repeated in the Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Kurunegala by invitation of the Bishop on the 11th of December. The collection from both these services amounted to about Rs. 750 (a significant amount in 1961) and was divided equally between the Children’s Home, Nuwara Eliya and the Evelyn Nurseries.
With the departure of Mr Burrows in 1963 the year ended with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, with many lamenting his absence at the Chapel. And, in 1964 a few additions were made to the repertoire of carols sung by the Choir with the introduction of a Sinhala and Tamil Carol to the service. The service also included a lesson read by a visitor. This reading alternates with the lesson read by an Old Boy.
No Carols without Bach
There is a popular adage among the Choristers “No Carols without Bach”, meaning that a piece by J S Bach always in the service. This seems to have got firmly established in the 1960’s and continued over the years. During the mid ’60s the service consisted of compositions by contemporary/modern composers with nine lessons. The 1969 Carol service began with the dedication of the John McLeod Campbell Bell tower which was under construction for some years.
Through the following decade the Carol Service continued to be an attractive event at the end of the year. For most people it became the “season starter”. Compositions by Choristers and arrangements by the Choirmasters were featured.
The 1978 Carol service consisted of the most number of carols sung, with 22 carols in total and also consisted of the most number of ‘Choir only’ carols, with a total of 15 carols. This would probably have been the longest ever Carol Service. During this time the Choir was under the care of Mr Walter Perera, an old Trinitian. This year Trinity’s sensitivity to social responsibility was highlighted yet again as the offertory was collected for the victims of the cyclone.
A tradition unbroken
The mid 1980’s is seen to have given birth to a new era with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols firmly rooted in Trinity’s life. The old tradition still continued, much anticipated and appreciated by many as a yearly ‘start of the season’ event.
The years to follow saw a change of the selection of carols, with newer carols being introduced with the works of more modern composers. The Carol Service had taken a place in the school calendar as a methodically planned and held event during these years of consolidation, with the Choir being under care of Mr Ronald Thangiah, who records the highest number of years as Trinity’s Choirmaster.
As the story has unfolded some interesting observations can be made. It can be seen that from the mid 1940’s to the mid ’60s there were more congregational carols – these were the years of Gordon Burrows who may have wanted to further encourage singing as a community.
During the mid ’60s to the mid ’80s there have been more ‘Choir only’ carols. During the recent decade, the number of year-to-year repetitions of the ‘Choir only’ carols have decreased significantly, with some not repeated at all. This is due to the frequent introduction of new carols, as a result of easy availability of digital resources.
Over the years more than 260 carols added to the ‘Choir only’ repertoire (including carols other than English) with a choice of more than 30 well loved congregational carols sung traditionally. During the recent years carols in more languages, other than English, Latin, Sinhala and Tamil has been sung.
The Carol Service of Trinity College, with its traditional nature and form, has perhaps become synonymous with the the captivating beauty of the place where it is held, the Trinity College Chapel.
We believe this story will continue as a joyous testimony to God’s gracious love.