Seven days of Christmas
Advent is a particularly busy time for Pembroke’s chapel and choir.
As Michaelmas term draws to a close and students set about celebrating Bridgemas, there seems to be no end of carols to be sung and mince pies to be eaten. For this blog post we spoke to people from across the Pembroke community about some of the highlights.
Each year students, staff, fellows and guests fill the chapel for a traditional carol service, in which the Christmas story is told through a series of readings, prayers and songs. The chapel is bathed in candlelight while the choir perform and the congregation sings a range of well-known Christmas songs. The service is followed by mulled wine and mince pies in the Old Library.
Speaking before the service, choir member Ollie Stephenson (2011) said: ‘This is the major event for the choir this term. We have been preparing for it since we arrived in October. After practicing for so long, you become very fond of some songs. I’m particularly looking forward to singing Britten’s Rosa Mystica and Dove’s Seek Him. There both quite complicated pieces so we’ve been practicing them a lot. We’ll just have to hope that it all goes well on the night!’
This year, the Pembroke’s Christian Union managed to pull off a makeshift nativity play before heading to Great St Mary’s Church for a late night Carol Service hosted by CICCU. The basic script, adapted from a children’s version of the story of Jesus’ birth, hoped put audience members in mind of childhood days spent in Sunday school. About ten students performed, alongside the Dean, who played the role of narrator. The cast included a student playing the donkey, who managed to carry Mary on her back for an impressive amount of time, and a creative approach to costumes also meant that angel Gabriel was dressed as Spiderman.
Christian Union member Giorgio Sterlini (2013) says: ‘We’re so keen to share the true story of Christmas with everyone in College and we thought this would be a fun way of getting people to think about it more and come along to the carol service.’
In a recent tradition, the choir record a short piece of music to accompany the College’s digital Christmas card. For this year’s message they gathered in the chapel in order to perfect the piece.
Director of Music, Gregory Drott (2005), says: ‘We chose Ding! Dong! Merrily on High because it’s short and simple. That simplicity is deceptive, of course! Recording any music properly requires extreme concentration, patience and attention to detail. There are lots of new members in the choir this year, so the great thing about this opportunity – with the Carol Service behind us – was that we were able to bring to bear all the choral discipline and techniques we’ve developed this term to produce something that we hope will make people smile; although, the Christmas jumpers and Santa hats should produce that effect too!’
A well-deserved rest day.
Many students will enjoy the last night of Michaelmas term by attending the Dean’s Christmas Party. Starting at 9pm, it is a cosy affair with pizza, mince pies, Madeira and music. The chapel team traditionally perform The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with actions, the Dean himself sings The Hippopotamus Song and everyone joins in for sing-along carols.
The Dean, Dr James Gardom, says: ‘The party is a great team effort with choir members singing and the chapel team decorating the Old Library and serving drinks. The result is a really cheerful evening, with comic songs, favourite carols and a visit from Father Christmas. A traditional but winning formula.’
Saturday is another action-packed day; while the students pack up their belongings and head home for Christmas, the College hosts a party for staff, fellows and their children. Before the eating, dancing and mayhem begin in the College hall, the chapel hosts a short crib service. Children are invited to dress up as shepherds, angels and wise men in order to form a human crib scene.
Chapel clerk Ben Harrison (2012) says: ‘It’s always a surreal moment when the children descend upon the chapel at this time of the year! Throughout term we all get rather used to the normal pattern of the classic weekly evensong, when all of a sudden the crib service transforms the whole atmosphere of the place into something that is far more relaxed and meaningful in a very different way – indeed, it’s great to see the chapel performing this sort of function as well.’
To conclude a busy week, the choir head to London to visit St Christopher’s, Walworth, where they take part in the church’s annual advent carol service. This is followed by a shared meal at Pembroke House.
Speaking about this year’s event, The Revd David Evans, Vicar of St Christopher’s and Warden of Pembroke House, says: ‘Our candlelit advent carol service was stunning. The College chapel choir sung magnificently to a congregation that included members of St Christopher’s Church, our Older People’s Lunch Club, the Choir with No Name (for people who are or have been homeless) and an assortment of odd bods. After the service we all shared a supper of traditional Nigerian food and a game of bingo.’
Choir member Joseph Ashmore (2009) adds: ‘The chapel choir’s annual excursion to Pembroke House is one of the liturgical highlights in the year. Of course it’s always a privilege to contribute to their advent carol service, but for me the real delight is in the party with the locals afterwards – pensioners shouting dirty bingo calls and the hundredweight or so of jollof rice.’
A hectic week concludes with a quiet said evening prayer in the chapel as the peace of the Christmas vacation descends on College.
Merry Christmas one and all from Pembroke, its chapel and its choir!