OVER A century ago, the Festival of Lessons and Carols was introduced by the King’s College Chapel In Cambridge, England. According to the college’s website, the event was introduced in 1918 to bring a “more imaginative approach to worship.” It was first broadcast in 1928 and is now broadcast to millions of people around the world. The service was also adopted by churches all over the world and takes place each Christmas season.
Adopted by All Saints Chapel at the University of the South in Sewanee, the church will hold its 63rd Annual Festival Service of Lessons and Carols on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4, at the chapel. According to The University Choir director, Geoffery Ward, the event is a festive gathering of university students, staff, and faculty, along with the community.
“It’s one of the signature events for the university,” he said. “Essentially, it is nine lessons that are read by members of the university community and the community of Sewanee. The lessons that are read are telling of the birth of Christ, the incarnation of the Messiah. The anthems and hymns are led by The University Choir. It’s really a gorgeous service. It starts with candlelight, and the choir sings some acapella anthems from the back of the chapel, then they precede with just candles. As they move toward the front, a little bit of light comes on from above the chapel. Then there is the opening where the prayers are read, and we all say the Lord’s Prayer. It launches into a hymn, and then all the lights come up. It’s quite a dramatic effect and helps set the tone for the service and for the season.”
According to Ward, The University Choir that leads the service is made up of 50 members from a variety of different majors.
“The University Choir is the choir that leads all of the liturgical services and all things chapel,” he said. “The choir is made up of 50 students from the college that are studying pretty much everything, not just students who have a music major. It’s a wonderful cross section into the variety of majors and minors.”
Preparation for the event began right after the students returned from fall break in October. For this season, there are 20 freshman members that are new to the choir. Ward said that they are excited to perform for such an honored and long-held tradition at the university.
“The thing that’s really cool is that they don’t really know what’s going to happen because it’s so special. The students always say that once you go through it, it just really hits you, and it’s very inspiring,” he said.
Ward has been a part of the event for the past seven years as the university choirmaster and organist. He also helps with recruitment, organizing tours, and fundraising for the choir, along with teaching at the college in the music department.
Ward said what is so special for him about the event is the magic that is unleashed in the form of atmosphere and bringing people together.
“It’s just the coming together of so many different people, and the magic of singing hymns,” he said. “Hymns that we have all known our whole lives, in that setting, led by brass and organ. It’s just kind of indescribable. It’s very mysterious in a way because it elicits a lot of emotion and a lot of memories of one’s past with not only the season of Christmas, but also just being able to be part of something special that is bigger than oneself. It’s something that you’re involved with. It’s that you’re part of a community that is really creating a work of art that is inspiring to thousands of people.”
Ward said he hopes those that attend are able to experience the magic of the season and of coming together.
“I hope that they have that same inspiration,” he said. “They hear the word and then they hear the music in response to the word and also accentuating the word. And just being able to be there for that is really not only important to the choir and all the work that we do there, but also to the chapel and the greater university community.” GN