When you are preoccupied with such issues as getting in place by the end of Once in Royal David’s City, processing without tripping up, juggling a folder of music and a lit candle without setting light to anything, and not letting your candle burn down to your fingers, then you know it can only be the annual University Carol Service.
Minerva Voices waiting to process
Last night’s service, always a high-point of Kent’s cultural calendar, saw over a thousand people packing out Canterbury Cathedral, including the members of Minerva Voices, who performed several solo pieces as well as leading some ringing descants in the congregational hymns (which involved some serious planning over dinner betwtixt rehearsal and concert). The choir arrived in the Nave yesterday afternoon, to rehearse its repertoire, as well as to practice processing from the West Door down to the steps before the rood screen, and to get accustomed to singing in such a magnificent venue. Standing at the end of the Nave, you suddenly realise the volume of vaulted space that the Choir needs to fill with sound.
At 7.55pm, the Choir walked down the side aisle to take up position in front of the West Door; the Dean bid everyone welcome, the lights were extinguished, the first reading delivered, and then a sprightly rendition of Past Three A Clock blossomed into life to fill the expectant hush. Assistant conductor, third-year Joe Prescott, led a vivacious performance that set a joyous tone for the service. The congregation then stood, and that magical moment that really unwraps Christmas occurred; the solo opening verse of Once in Royal David’s City, in a ringing performance from second-year Music Scholar, Charlotte Webb, that soared to the Cathedral’s vaulted roof and rang clear around the Nave. The ensemble rose to match it in the second verse, before the third verse drew Choir, congregation and audience together, and we were off.
The mix of carols and readings also saw the Choir performing the Coventry Carol in a rendition that explored the piece’s melancholy and woe in significant detail; the final solo carol was a vigorous reading of the medieval Nowell Sing We Both All And Some, delivered with gusto in rousingly celebratory fashion.
The service closes with a candlelit communal performance of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and as the congregation departed, bearing their lit candles out into the night and into the mist-strewn city streets, you felt the reach of Christmas go with them. It’s a wonderful occasion, with so many of the University community coming together to hear anew the message of the season in words and music, to reflect on the tidings of the moment and to reach out to others. Now that really is the meaning of Christmas.
Minerva Voices is back in action next term when rehearsals begin anew on Vivaldi’s Gloria and an eclectic mix of repertoire for the Crypt concert in February. Meanwhile, season’s greetings to everyone!