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“Lessons and Carols”: Medieval vigil on Sunday at St. Mary of the Hills

SPECIAL REPORT TO BLOWING ROCK NEWS FROM ST. MARY OF THE HILLS EPISCOPAL CHURCH. December 2, 2019. BLOWING ROCK, NC — While the secular world prepares for the ‘Retail High Holidays’ with massive consumerism, the choir of St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church presents a calm center for your holiday preparations with a service of Advent Lessons and Carols on Sunday afternoon, December 8th at 2 pm.

Based on the medieval vigil service in preparation for the holiest night of the Christian year, Lessons and Carols follows the story of the fall of Adam, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus, as told in short Bible readings interspersed with carols and hymns.  Sung in Anglican churches all over the world since the 1880’s, the service is a lovely part of the Advent season (the four Sundays before Christmas), the traditional season of repentance and preparation for the birth of Jesus.  Unlike the secular world – in which we are surrounded by holiday music and exhortations to spend ever more money in an endless cycle of consumption beginning in mid-October – in the early church, the month before Christmas was a season of deep introspection, reflection, and patience in preparation to receive the miracle of God’s love as expressed by the birth of the Christ child.

While the terms “carol” and “hymn” are often used interchangeably, the two are, in fact, different.  Hymns tend to exhort us, or teach us some point of theology, while the purpose of the carol – just like the stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals – is to tell a Bible story in a way both joyous and reverential.   Music for this Lessons and Carols includes  – Audivi media nocte by Tallis, Adam Lay Ybounden by Ord, This is the record of John by Gibbons, an African-American spiritual – I wanna be ready, Walmisley’s Magnificat, and the hymns Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

The St. Mary’s choir has performed many times with various chamber orchestras, but its focus remains regular Sunday morning worship and monthly choral evensong.  Dr. James Bumgardner has been organist and Choir Director at St. Mary’s for 30 years, and has led the choir on several trips to study with the foremost directors of Anglican choral music in Cambridge, England, including George Guest at St. John’s, Stephen Cleobury at King’s, and Tim Brown at Clare College. The group has been choir-in-residence at Durham Cathedral in England three times, and has sung services for St. Mary the Virgin in New York City, as well as representing North Carolina at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The church is located on Main Street in Blowing Rock. For more information, please call the church office at (828) 295-7323, or follow us on Facebook @ StMaryoftheHillsEpiscopalChurch or @ MusicfromStMaryoftheHills.

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