Advent activity #14

Now that you’ve decorated your tree, it’s time to PUT PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE. There are currently two presents under our tree, which since they came in the post I think we have to wait and open on the day. What with one thing and another quite a lot of our presents this year either aren’t physical things at all or are being posted directly to their recipients (as an extended family we are skipping the three-households-mixing relaxation because we have decided we’d rather not kill each other), but I intend to make sure we have at least a few more there before bedtime.

Most Christmas traditions can be traced back to pre-Christian rituals but I think that present-giving starts with the Magi, giving us the perfect excuse to revisit the King’s College rendition of We Three Kings, which sticks with the original arrangement whereby each king is sung by a different soloist. I like the whole carol, but the unexpectedly sad and sinister lyrics of Melchior’s “Myrrh” verse are the best bit of all, especially in this version, although they do have to compete with a dazzling final note.

Advent song for December 21: We Three Kings

I’ve got a double-bill for you today, because I’ve run out space and I haven’t run out of Phenomenal Women. And there is something genuinely glorious about the fact that Deborah Harry (with Blondie) and Patti Smith have both recorded versions of We Three Kings, and that they are so completely different. Patti’s is much, much weirder, but showcases more of what is unique and thrilling about her, whereas the Blondie version is just a big rock’n’roll singalong, although I do like what they’ve done with the way the verses end, which is different but not in a jarring way.

All together, now!

Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/Sealed in a stone-cold tomb ♬

…Merry Christmas!

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!”