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December 02, 2005

Music for Advent

Advent marks the Church's New Year and the Tewkesbury Abbey Advent is a busy one, as befits the Catholic tradition. Last Saturday evening saw the annual Advent Carol service in the Abbey performed by three choirs as a moving feast as they move about the Abbey to sing singly, jointly or in counterpoint. The service began in 1947 as a joint thanksgiving for the pupils of the Blue Coat School in Birmingham and the Prebendal Singers from Worcester for the hospitality received when many of their members, as children, were evacuated to Tewkesbury for the duration of the war. The three choirs now involved are the Blue Coat School Choir, the Prebendal Singers and the Abbey School Choir and they combine to produce a stunning musical entree to the season of Advent.

The service begins with the Church lit by candles and some subdued lighting in the nave and aisles. The Blue Coats and the Prebendals assemble in the South Transept Lady Chapel with the Abbey School Choir in the North Transept at the Grove Organ. The Crucifer, two acolytes, a Cantor and the Vicar assemble before the High Altar and process slowly down the Quire and into the Nave while the Cantor sings the verses of the "Royal Acclamations of Christ" and the choirs respond with the chorus of

Christus vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus imperat

which is alternated between South and North as the procession moves down the church, Cross, Acolytres and Ministers in the centre nave, the choirs in the North and South Aisles led by four Acolytes and a Priest or Deacon on each side and keeping pace with the Cross in the nave.

Exaudi Christe, Ecclesia sancta Dei, supra regnorum fines nectenti animas: salus perpetua!

One can feel the presence of the old monks as the latin is intoned!

At the West End, between the font and the Entrance doors, the choirs assemble facing each other and the Abbey School Choir sings the Matin Responsory, "I look from afar", which is adapted from a version of the "Magnificat" used only in Advent. This is followed by a reading from Isaiah 2 v 5 - 11 read by a member of the Blue Coat School and this is followed by the Prebendal Singers singing a Motet, "O Lord, I lift up my heart to thee" by Orlando Gibbons. A second reading from Isaiah 40 v 1 - 11 follows read by the Headmaster of the Blue Coat School and then a congregational carol is sung as the Cross and Acolytes lead the choirs up the central aisle to the Choir screen.

In the area in front of the screen, the choirs turn to face the congregation and the Abbey School Choir sings "Adam lay y' bounden" to the Warlock setting (Not the version used by the Medieval Babes!) and that is followed by the Blue Coats and the Prebendals singing the Motet "Rorate coeli desuper!" a Scottish Traditional hymn set to music by Stephen Wilkinson. The third lesson is read by a member of the Abbey School Choir from Zechariah 2 v 10 - 13 and this is followed by the Carol "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day", and English Traditional Carol set to music by Karl Rutti, and another congregational carol, "Hark what a sound, to divine for hearing".

The fourth lesson is read by a member of the Prebendal Singers from Isaiah 11 v 1 - 10 and the choirs then move into the Lady Chapel (Blue Coats and Prebendals) and into the North Aisle at the Beauchamp Chantry (dedicated to St Mary Magdalene) while the organist plays the introduction to "Wachet auf!" Once they are in position, the choirs sing the two verses to this lovely hymn one verse from the Lady Chapel and the other from the North Aisle, the effect is stunning! This is followed by the fifth lesson read by one of the Abbey Church Wardens, and is the Annunciation passage from Luke 1 v 26 - 38. Only one hymn or carol could possibly follow that - "Velut maris stella.", the words from the latin canticle written in 1300 and set to music by Benjamin Britten in a mixture of English and Latin. That is in turn followed by the Motet "Ave maris stella" and the Carol "Gabriel's message does away".

During the singing of the next congregational carol, "Once only for this troubled world", the choirs move into the Quire proper for the final lesson, taken from Mark 1 v 1 - 11 read by the Headmaster of the Abbey School. The combined choirs then sing the Anthem from Handel's Messiah "And the glory of the Lord." The congregation then join in singing the carol "Long ago, prophets knew" while the choirs move to the steps of the High Altar for the saying of the Advent Vesper Responsory and the prayers which are followed by the final Anthem sung by the combined choirs, that great Advent anthem from the 3rd Century, "Hail gladdening light, of His pure glory poured".

The Blessing is followed by the Recessional Hymn and the Cross, Acolytes and clergy precede the choirs to the West End where the final "vestry" prayers are said.

The only thing left to say is that the whole was topped off by our organist delivering a flawless rendition of Widor's "Allegro" from Symphonie VI! Advent well and truly announced!

Posted by The Gray Monk at December 2, 2005 08:24 PM

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