Sad to note today the passing of Sir David Willcocks, former Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, conductor of the Bach Choir, organist, conductor, composer and best-known as editor, along with John Rutter, of the popular anthology, Carols for Choirs.
It’s no understatement to say that Carols for Choirs has become as much a part of tradition at Christmas as the decorated tree and tinsel; for many, Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without that opening solo verse of Once in Royal David’s City lifting clear into the vaulted roof, the wonderful intimacy of his arrangements of Away in a Manger and Silent Night, or robust settings of The Twelve Days of Christmas or I Saw Three Ships. The first volume in the series was published in the 1960s, and the 100 Carols for Choirs published in 1987 is the go-to carol collection for most choirs. A chorister’s Christmas begins around mid-autumn with that first cracking open of the anthology; the collection ranges from arrangements of popular carols together with lesser-known pieces, and has become the staple of choirs the world over, both amateur and professional. And if you’ve learned a carol descant, chances are it’s one from the book. Arguments about whether, between them, Willcocks and Rutter combined to save the tradition of choral Christmas carol-singing will no doubt continue, but it’s certainly fair to say that they provided an accessible, richly-rewarding and enduringly popular collection that has contributed much to keeping carol-singing alive and in rude health well into the twenty-first century.
Hail and farewell, Sir David, who leaves behind an enduring legacy at the heart of music-making at Christmas.
The Colyer-Fergusson building rang to some festive music-making throughout yesterday afternoon, as various musical ensembles took it in turns to bid a festive farewell to the term.
The foyer-stage hosted a seasonal ‘Watch This Space,’ in which the Flute Group made its debut in carols and the ‘Dance of the Swans’ from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (well, you can’t have Christmas without Tchaikovsky, can you ?!); members of the Cecilian and Chamber Choirs sang a collection of carols; and the Trumpet Trio brought the lunchtime event to a jolly conclusion with popular tunes including All I Want For Christmas (Is You).
Later in the afternoon, it was the turn of the Big Band, directed by the irrepressible Ian Swatman, to treat a packed concert-hall to its now-customary seasonal Swing-along, featuring a guest appearance from our very own Sophie in a sassy rendition of Santa Baby and White Christmas, whilst the Brass Group led some communal carol-singing in robust fashion. The Big Band’s selection-box included a deft rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a solo spot for baritone sax-player Adam Rose to open a bold arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and a lively Jingle Bells.
After the gig, audience and performers spilled out into the foyer for mulled wine and mince pies. A terrific day, concluding a very busy musical term; thanks to everyone who took part yesterday – it’s a wonderful testament to the ethos of music on the Canterbury campus, so many students, staff and members of the local community coming together in various groups to enjoy collective music-making.
We’ll be back in the New Year with details of events throughout the spring and summer; it promises to be an exciting six months ahead, judging by the draft of the forthcoming brochure; see you in January, and from all the music team – a very Merry Christmas!
Because it does. Doesn't it ? Blogging about extra-curricular musical life at the University of Kent.