This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of our parish magazine.
I don’t remember how long ago this was introduced at St Margaret’s, possibly Advent 2010, possibly earlier, but I do remember being stunned that all the solo verses were written – quite unusually – for the alto voice. This meant that amongst a quintet of skilled singers, mine would be the voice heard most often. Each of the three verses is sung by a solo alto voice with organ accompaniment. The choruses are scored for soprano 1, soprano 2, alto, tenor and bass, and the five repeat the verse words in blended harmony without accompaniment. It sounds utterly beautiful.
This was a serious undertaking, so I sought the help of a friend of Debby and Jeremy’s, who happened to be a singing teacher. She was amazing, and at the 9.45 service on the second Sunday in Advent, and again at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, I think I did Ok.
The ‘record’ being told is that of John the Baptist, found in John 1:19-23. It tells of John being hounded by religious officials from Jerusalem, all demanding to know who he really was. Christ? No. Elias? No. The prophet? Again, no. Well who then? Finally, an answer, though probably not what the questioners were expecting: I am the one who calls to those who choose to listen to get ready; The Lord is coming.
1 This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ.
2 And they asked him, What art thou then? (Art thou Elias? repeated x1) And he said, I am not. (Art thou the prophet? repeated x1) And he answered, No.
3 Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, (Make straight the way of the Lord repeated x2)
Gibbons was commissioned to write this verse anthem by St John’s College, Oxford, four centuries ago, and for the past four years it has become an integral part of my annual Advent and Christmas preparations.
You can listen to it here.