A FESTIVAL OF NINE LESSONS AND CAROLS

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols tells the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah and the birth of Jesus. It is told through nine short Bible readings interspersed with the singing of Christmas hymns and carols. The format was based on an order of service drawn up in 1880 which has since been adapted by churches all over the world. The best-known version is broadcast annually on Christmas Eve by the BBC from King’s College, Cambridge.

Each December, VOX Cape Town presents its own locally-flavoured adaptation of the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service takes place at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Somerset Road, Cape Town, continuing the tradition led for many years by the St George’s Singers, and at St Andrew’s Church in Kildare Road, Newlands. Entrance for both services is free but it is advisable to arrive early to secure a seat. In addition, VOX Cape Town has recently released a recording of the service that also broadcasts on Fine Music Radio 101.3 FM at 20h00 on Christmas Eve, bringing this unique musical celebration to the larger community.

Carols for 2018
  • “Adam lay ybounden” – Howard Skempton (b. 1947, England)
  • “Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging” (“Mary Walks Amid The Thorns”) – Traditional German (1850) arranged by Stefan Claas
  • “In dulci jubilo” (“In sweet rejoicing”) – Traditional German arranged by R. L. Pearsall and adapted by Reginald Jacques
  • “There Is No Rose” (2015) – Philip Stopford (b. 1977, England)
  • “Ukuthula” (“Peace”) – Traditional Zulu
  • “Follow That Star” – Peter Gritton (b. 1963, England)
  • “Christmas in Africa” – Music by Maike Watson (South Africa, b. 1989) / Words by Margaret Kollmer (South Africa, b. 1936)

This year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols sees the return of some familiar tunes as well as a host of new carols and hymns. The famous German carol, “In dulci jubilo” (“In sweet rejoicing”), was last sung by VOX in 2015 is presented again this year alongside two numbers from 2017 – the barbershop-style depiction of the Wise Men who “Follow That Star” to Bethlehem and VOX’s specially-commissioned South African carol, “Christmas in Africa”.

2018 marks 100 years since the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first sung at King’s College, Cambridge. To recognise this, two contemporary English composers are featured in this year’s line-up: Howard Skempton (“Adam lay ybounden”) and Philip Stopford (“There Is No Rose”), both of whom have chosen beautiful poems from the 15th century as their texts.

There are also some changes to this year’s congregational hymns. We have decided to give two perennial favourites, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”, a rest this year and have introduced two other popular tunes – “Unto Us Is Born a Son”, which originates from medieval Germany and France, and “The First Nowell”. 2018 is also the 200th anniversary of the carol “Silent Night”. The music was written by Franz Xavier Gruber in 1818, to words by Joseph Mohr, in the small town of Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria.

To acknowledge our local setting, a traditional Zulu lullaby, “Ukuthula” (“Peace”), will be sung following the Sixth Lesson (The Birth of Jesus). Subsequent verses of this serene prayer describe victory (“Ukunqoba”) and redemption (“Usindiso”). Once again, our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ends with “Christmas in Africa” to bring to a close this year’s celebration “under a Southern sky”.

If you enjoy the music and would like to take a souvenir home with you, a professional recording of last year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which will broadcast again this year on Fine Music Radio at 6 pm on Christmas Eve, will be available from us afterwards at a cost of R70.

Carols for 2017
  • “Veni, Creator Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”) – Plainchant from the ninth century
  • “Pula, Pula!” (“Rain, Rain!”) – Franco Prinsloo (South Africa, b. 1987)
  • “Ríu Ríu Chíu”– 16th-century Spanish carol
  • “Bethlehem Down” – Peter Warlock (1894-1930, England) to a poem by Bruce Blunt
  • “Bogoróditse Djévo” (“Rejoice, O Virgin”) – Arvo Pärt (b. 1935, Estonia)
  • “Infant holy, Infant lowly” – Traditional Polish carol, arr. David Willcocks (1919-2015, England)
  • “Quem vidistis pastores dicite” (“Tell us, shepherds, whom you saw”) – Francis Poulenc (1899-1963, France)
  • “Follow That Star” – Peter Gritton (b. 1963, England)
  • “Christmas in Africa” (2017) – Music by Maike Watson (South Africa, b. 1989) / Words by Margaret Kollmer (South Africa, b. 1936)

VOX Cape Town’s presentation of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for 2017 begins with plainchant from the ninth century – an invocation of the Holy Spirit entitled “Veni, Creator Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”). After the First Lesson, which describes the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the composer of “Pula! Pula!” (“Rain! Rain!”) reminds us that: “Water is more than an essential resource for survival; it is a symbol of cleansing and purification that moves beyond the physical.”

As the coming of the Saviour is revealed in the subsequent readings, a lively Spanish “villancico” (“carol”) describes how “God protected the precious ewe-lamb [the Virgin Mary] from the wolf [the Devil]”. This is followed by a gentle hymn composed by Peter Warlock (who, incidentally, won the Daily Telegraph’s annual carol competition 90 years ago in 1927 for this work) and a sprightly setting of “Bogoróditse Djévo” by Arvo Pärt (1990) which contrasts the well-known version by Rachmaninoff presented at last year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

The popular hymn “Away in a Manger” and the traditional Polish carol “Infant holy, Infant lowly” provide a few moments of quiet reflection after the Sixth Lesson. The news of the birth of Jesus spreads rapidly, as portrayed in a sweepingly dramatic piece by Francis Poulenc from his “Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël” (“Four Christmas Motets”) – “Tell us, shepherds, whom you saw” – and the close-harmony depiction of the Wise Men who “Follow that Star” to Bethlehem.

This year’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols concludes with the première of a new South African carol especially commissioned by VOX Cape Town to expand the local choral repertoire. Entitled “Christmas in Africa”, the text is written by South African poet Margaret Kollmer and has been set to music by Cape Town-based composer Maike Watson. Watson’s score evokes “twinkling stars, story-time and prayers in the veld”, thereby setting the scene for a unique and locally-relevant celebration of Christmas “under a Southern sky” .

Carols for 2016
  • “Come, thou Redeemer of the earth” – Traditional, arr. David Willcocks
  • “Senzenina?” (“What have we done?”) – South African freedom song, arr. Pete Seeger
  • “I wonder as I wander” – Appalachian carol, arr. John Rutter
  • “Bogoróditse Djévo” (“Rejoice, O Virgin”) – Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-­1943, Russia)
  • “O magnum mysterium” (“O great mystery”) – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611, Spain)
  • “Torches!” – John Joubert (b. 1927, South Africa) with words translated by J. B. Trend
  • “Come, Colours Rise” – Grant McLachlan (b. 1956, South Africa) with words by Frank Barry
Carols for 2015
  • “Adam lay ybounden” – John Ireland (1879-1962, England)
  • “The Lamb” – Sir John Tavener (1944-2013, England)
  • “In dulci jubilo” (“In sweet rejoicing”) – Traditional, arr. JS Bach (1685-1750, Germany)
  • “Gabriel’s Message” – Basque carol, arr. Edgar Pettman
  • “O magnum mysterium” (“O great mystery”) – Tomás Luis de Victoria (c. 1548-1611, Spain)
  • “Lux Aurumque” (“Light and Gold”) – Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, United States)
  • “Gaudete” (“Rejoice”) – 16th-century Latin carol, arr. Michael McGlynn