It’s a century since the service of Nine Lessons & Carols began as an attempt to inspire and comfort people after the Great War. It’s ninety years since it was first broadcast live by the BBC. Since then millions have watched or listened to the pure voices of 16 boy choristers and 14 male undergraduate choral scholars ringing in the start of Christmas.
As usual it looked and sounded perfect, but it had been an extraordinarily challenging event for Stephen Cleobury, King’s music director, who is now leaving the post after nearly forty years.
As he was working on the great centenary concert, opera singer Lesley Garrett, who hadn’t been in the news for a while, called the beloved candle-lit service, a ‘throwback to a bygone age,’ demanding that girls be allowed into the choir. The producers of the programme were obviously worried that the choir boys were predominantly white as most of the people invited to read the Lessons were not.
Cambridge has now appointed a new musical director who has previously criticised the ‘nicely packaged’ sound of ‘the very polite English cathedral choir,’ and dismissed some young boy’s voices as, ‘hooty.’
In an interview with the New York Times, organist Daniel Hyde, currently musical director of St Thomas Church in Manhattan, said he is hoping to challenge aspects of the English choral style, particularly, ‘the traditional very polite English cathedral choir sound, where one is never louder than lovely, and it’s all very nicely packaged, the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.’
Hyde, who will start his new job in October 2019, says he wants a greater variety of tone in the boy’s treble voices. He also says that the choir’s current sound had been developed and established as a result of the best-selling albums, while earlier recordings suggest it had once been ‘freer,’ than today.
What’s the betting on many more changes in the service next year?
5/1 A girl to sing the world famous, Once In Royal David’s City solo. Or, 10/1 a boy self- identifying as a girl.
2/1 Changes to the readings to include other versions of the Bible apart from the King James
20/1 Readings to include non-Biblical texts such as T S Eliot’s Journey of the Magi and fun texts that everyone can enjoy, such as Gervase Phinn’s, Wayne In A Manger.
Changes to the musical content for people who enjoy that nice warm Christmassy feeling without too much religious content:
15/1 The Twelve Days of Christmas, Jingle Bells
10/1 Mistletoe and Wine (shorter odds as it does actually mention Christianity)
25/1 Mary’s Boy Child, with steel drums.
100/1 A newly commissioned carol with words by Carol Ann Duffy and music by Lily Allen.
100/1 A fair-ground ride in the chapel. Norwich Cathedral is going to install a forty-foot helter-skelter in the West End of its Nave from August 7 to 18 next year, ‘To experience the centuries-old space in a new way and open up conversations about faith.’
Their fair-ground attraction will be followed by the arrival of Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s famous Diplodocus, which will be installed from July – October 2020 as part of its national tour. According to the cathedral Dean, Jane Hedges, Dippy will, ‘Prompt people to think about climate change and food production.’
25/1 An ice rink in the quad. In 2015, St Wulfram’s 12th century Church, Grantham, in Lincolnshire, a Grade I listed building, had an ice-rink installed in the nave to, ‘Bring festive cheer to the town and bring new people in to the church and to show them what we really do.’ Not long after saying that, the vicar, Fr Stuart Cradduck, fell flat on his back.