Advent Carol for December 12: We Three Kings

The most exciting thing to happen at my annual school carol service at St Paul’s church in Locksbottom came when I finally got to the fifth year, because we always used to have the first and second-years sing Gaspar (Gold), the third and fourth-years sing Balthazar (Frankincense) and the fifth-years and sixth-formers sing Melchior (Myrrh), which meant that in 1992, 1993 and 1994 I got to sing what must be the hair-standing-on-end-est lyric in any carol anywhere:

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb*

People reading in a hurry would often confuse the word order in the last line and sing “sealed in a cold stone tomb”, which illustrates nicely how perfect and poetic the correct line is. And the words start good and stay good – I still shiver in a good way at Heaven sings ‘Alleluia’ – ‘Alleluia’ the Earth replies.

Anyway, it turns out that John Henry Hopkins, Jr, the Pennsylvanian rector who wrote We Three Kings (shout out once again to the nineteenth-century clergy, source of so much carolling goodness), intended that the three middle verses should be sing by three soloists, and that is how King’s College choir perform it here, and what’s more they clearly also know that the third verse is the money shot. Watch and you’ll see what I mean. And keep watching until the final note, which is a proper fist-pump moment. And watch in full-screen with the sound turned up high, because everything about this video is brilliant.

*”Congratulations, it’s a boy!”

2 thoughts on “Advent Carol for December 12: We Three Kings

  1. Haha. They should have handed out a plethora of glittering microphones for them all to drop at the end.

    Was always sorry they dropped the creepy verse from this, as going by the rest of her bit, Sarah McClachlan would have made Christmas stop dead. Which was presumably why they did it.

    1. I mean, fine, but the fact that they stay in the minor key at the end of the second line of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is making my teeth hurt. Compare and contrast with the chord change on “born upon this day” in this version:

      OOF. Meanwhile over on Facebook Dan Sumption has posted this version, which I also enjoyed:

      And talking of what the difference between a major and a minor key can do, I’ve also just had my attention drawn to this:

      I could do this for hours.

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