PLATTSBURGH — The Garden of Eden to the promise of the Messiah is the subject of the “Festival of Lessons and Carols” presented by the Northern Adirondack Vocal Ensemble this weekend.
Nine readings from the Old and New Testament as well as anthems, carols and hymns conducted by Andrew Benware comprise the program. It originated with 19th-century Bishop Edward White Benson of Truro, Cornwall, who conceived a Christmas Eve service to keep men from drinking in pubs.
In Cambridge, Kings College Dean Eric Milner-White adapted Benson’s order of service for Christmas Eve 1918, the first Festival of Lessons and Carols.
“He (Bishop Benson) created this program of music and lessons to enrich Christmas in a more spiritual way,” said Angela Brown, an ensemble member and cofounder with J. Kellum Smith of Hill and Hollow Music.
“The program requires not only the choir to sing the music; it requires 10 community readers and an organist. The lessons part of the program tells the story through nine short Bible readings. The story begins with Adam and Eve. It traces the story of the fall of humanity to the promise of the Messiah. It’s about his birth. Otherwise, why would we need a messiah?”
The program’s musical selections include audience-participatory carols and hymns.
“The readings are the same; the music is different,” Brown said. “It’s a totally new musical program. We’re an a cappella choir. We sing without the organ until the audience joins.”
Lake Placid organist Karen Robards performs with the ensemble at Notre Dame Church in Malone on Friday, St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh on Saturday and St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid on Sunday.
“Organs are different from church to church. Karen is so diligent and intellectual she’s going to each church to make friends with each organ. It shows her commitment. It’s so touching she is doing this,” Brown said.
A cappella selections — sung in Latin — are “Personent Hodie” (“On This Day Earth Shall Ring”), a 12th century medieval carol, and Jan Pieters Sweelinck’s “Hodie Christus Natus Est” (“Today Christ is Born”), a 16th-century Renaissance antiphonal motet.
Traditional carols include “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “Sans Day Carol” and “Herefordshire Carol.” The program includes colonial-American composer William Billings’s “A Virgin Unspotted,” Sergi Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditsje Djveo” and 20th century English composers Boris Ord’s setting of the 15th century text “Adam Lay Ybounden” and Harold Darke’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
“We do have other ones we do in Latin,” Brown said. “We have one in Russian, but most are in English. One of them is in early 15th century Middle English. It’s kind of a neat program.”
The ensemble’s mini tour hits North Country hot spots in Malone, Plattsburgh and Lake Placid.
“These big Catholic churches have the big resonant acoustics that a cappella choirs adore. In this kind of acoustical environment, the sound carries ... it just kind of wafts upward. Our conductor knows how to manipulate that and milk it for all its worth. He’s a wonderful conductor,” Brown said.
The mixed-chamber choir of professional and amateur singers hails from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.
“Members represent a cross section of the Adirondacks,” Brown said. “We think we are really representing the region.”
Email Robin Caudell:
email@example.comIF YOU GO WHAT: "Festival of Lessons and Carols" by the Northern Adirondack Vocal Ensemble. WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Notre Dame Church in Malone; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, St. Peter's Church in Plattsburgh; and 3 p.m. Sunday, St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid. ADMISSION: Suggested donation $10. CONTACT: For questions, call 293-7613 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.