For our 2018 tutorial series we’re concentrating on the organ as a means of choral accompaniment. Accompanying a choir requires that the instrument supports boldly in a limited number of places, but recedes at many other times to allow the vocal parts to come through. It is also heard in solo role joining choral sections together or providing an introduction that sets the tone for what is to follow.
You can find out more about the singers, the series and the recording sessions involved in our earlier “Tutorial Videos 2018 – Behind the Scenes” post.
Sussex Carol (traditional, arr. Philip Ledger)
The Sussex Carol speaks “Christmas” from its first notes, it being well known as one of the mainstays of the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve.
Starting out with the words “On Christmas night all Christians sing, to hear the news the angels bring,” its original author is uncertain. However, most sources suggest that a version of the words was included in a collection going under the title of “Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs”, put out by an Irish Franciscan bishop, Luke Wadding, in Belgium during the year 1684. This version was much revised over the years, until a version close to what we now have was included in various early Victorian songbooks.
The carol’s text, and the tune we now know, were picked up aurally by both of the great English folk song collectors, Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams, during their travels around England early in the twentieth century. Vaughan Williams apparently heard it sung by a Mrs. Verrall near Horsham in Sussex, hence the title, and included it in his well-known Fantasia on Christmas Carols. (Other than the fact RVW picked it up in Sussex, it is not clear that the carol has anything particular to do with Sussex.)
Fascinatingly, you can find details of RVW’s handwritten transcriptions of these in the online Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at https://www.vwml.org/record/RVW2/2/102 and https://www.vwml.org/record/RVW1/2/110 (dated 1904). Mrs. Verrall was clearly a prolific performer of folksongs, as she is also shown as the performer of large number of other songs collected by RVW and George Butterworth in the same archive.
There are at least two popular choral arrangements, the best known probably being those of King’s music directors David Willcocks (d. 2015) (in Carols for Choirs 1) and Philip Ledger (d. 2012). Both of them have lilting six-eight accompaniment patterns, and both of them are in G major. The one we’re demonstrating here is Ledger’s.
In terms of organ accompaniment, as Jonathan Kingston explains in his introduction, it calls for bright and balanced organ tone spread over at least two manuals. In many cases organists will use quint mutations and/or Fifteenth stops to give sparkle to the inter-verse interludes (as Jonathan does here). Clear articulation and well-contoured phrasing helps the music flow with rhythmic ease as well as demonstrating a sense of support to the singers. Depending on the instrumental resources and boundaries of good taste the fanfare-like figures towards the end may be played on a strident solo reed for a real festive splash and the final pedal note demands the presence of a suitably thrilling pedal reed.
Watch the Video Tutorial
This is played on a custom built Envoy 23-S, which is one of our most popular church organs.
About Jonathan Kingston’s Musical Background
Jonathan was an organ student while studying with Ian Tracey and Ian Wells at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral before being appointed Sub Organist at Bradford Cathedral, aged 18. Assistant Director and Director of Music appointments followed at Stowe and Bromsgrove Schools before an appointment to The King’s School in Ely where he served Ely Cathedral as a deputy organist.
Jonathan is a recording artist for Naxos, Priory and EMI Records and is an ABRSM examiner and coordinator touring the UK and internationally. As an organist, he has appeared with many leading orchestras and choirs including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Halle, London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and English Symphony Orchestra as well as featuring in many live broadcasts on BBC radio and television.
He is the newly appointed Director of Music at Stony Stratford Parish Church where he presides over the magnificent Willis pipe organ.
Jonathan’s Work With Viscount
Jonathan’s work with Viscount Classical Organs encompasses performing and presenting promotional and tutorial material for the company and his freelance portfolio covers educational outreach, teaching, performing, examining and musical direction. He covers several areas for Viscount from sales, demonstrations, voicing of instruments and performing. His playing features on the current promotional DVD material for Viscount, and he would be very pleased to hear from any churches or individuals requiring an engaging and lively recitalist. If you would like to connect with Jonathan directly, please feel free to follow him on Twitter (@jonkingston) or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Digital Organ Being Played
Jonathan plays this piece on an instrument based on our Envoy 23-S. A ‘Physical Modelling’ based instrument with 23 stops in a real wood veneer cabinet. It has a huge internal library allowing the user to create 4 totally individual voice pallets from classic English through Baroque and Romantic. It benefits from a full complement of divisional thumb pistons and additional toe pistons. The standard 23-S organ has a 30 note pedal board while the instrument in the film has a 32 note board. For more information have a look at the specifications here.