Carols at King's
I have lived in Cambridge for more or less 40 years now, and had never been to a Christmas carol service at King's -- until last weekend, when we went (thanks to a generous and lucky invitation) to the recording of the tv version of the service. I had always been puzzled in fact about the relationship of that tv version, recorded mid December and broadcast sometime over Christmas, to the live "9 lessons" version broadcast live on Christmas Eve afternoon -- and now I know the answer.
They both start off with "Once in Royal David's City", and there is a bit of overlap in other bits of music and lessons. But in fact after the opening, they do each go their different ways. The tv one we went to has only 7 lessons, and some of those are "secular", like a bit of Laurie Lee this year. (See how quickly the erstwhile ignorant become expert!)
Anyway, the truth is that it was overwhelming. We had seats at the back of the choir (that's where I've taken the picture from). So it was a kind of ringside seat. But that wasnt the best thing.
The fact is that some of these big occasions are really better on the tv or radio (I've never especially wanted to go to Wimbledon -- except for the curiosity of "what's it like" -- when you can see every bit of it perfectly with a Pimm's in your own living room). But others are even better when you're there than you could ever have imagined.
These carols came into the latter category. And, I can tell you, I really was shedding a little tear at that gorgeous boy's solo in Once in Royal David's City. In an odd way, the real live acoustics of the place make it all the more plangent. I remember that ten years or so ago I gave a reading at a memorial service in the chapel, and echo made it hellish difficult to do. You had to speak really slow else your next words got caught up in the echo of the last ones, if you see what I mean.
But that echo with the boy's voice worked wondrously. Gob smacking, even for this old cynic.
On a more usual and hard-headed note, it was great to have a real meaty order of service, with all the carols printed out in full. It did make you reflect on what made a good carol, what was the right blend of sentimentality and jolliness, and why some people seem to have had a knack (Christina Rosetti, for example -- with In the Bleak Midwinter AND Love came down at Christmas). It also made you reflect on how weird some of the words were (what actually does "no crib for a bed" mean?).
But, all in all, a brilliant afternoon.