It was wonderful to see such a large congregation come together in the School Chapel for the traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by candlelight. The service has a timeless structure and flow to it. As the Chaplain read the Bidding Prayer it was perfectly clear why we were there: ‘to hear again the message of the angels’, to ‘pray for the needs of the whole world, for peace on earth and goodwill’, to ‘remember the poor and helpless, the hungry and oppressed, the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children’. It reminds us that while Christmas is a time for rejoicing it is also a time of stark contrasts and hardships for many.
The ‘tale’ unfolds in nine passages of scripture. Readers were drawn from across the Dean Close community including Heads, past and present pupils, and parents who all read with clarity and conviction. There were seven congregational carols, to which the strong top line of the choir added the soaring descants, and nine choir carols, some well-known like the Sussex Carol and Harold Darke’s setting of In the bleak midwinter, others perhaps less so, like Where Riches (Bob Chilcott) and Christmas Blessing (Stopford), but all equally striking.
The 2019 carol commissioned for Dean Close Chapel Choir and Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum was Isaiah’s Prophecy, music by Alexander L’Estrange set to words written by his wife, the singer Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. This jaunty carol, a notable addition to the considerable list of Dean Close commissions over the past fifteen or so years, reflected the fact that the composer is both a former chorister (New College, Oxford) and a jazz musician.
The choir and numerous soloists sang impressively. By far the best place in Chapel from which to hear (though not to see!) the readings and carols is the Gallery. Also, one can perhaps best admire the skill of the organists and the sound of the magnificent organ from there. Eleanor Carter’s accompanying was quite outstanding and there were thrilling moments when both she and Simon Bell, who played the voluntary (Widor, Finale (Symphonie Vl. Even the zimbelstern got to do a couple of twirls – Happy Christmas, indeed!