By: Jessica Drake –
With the holiday season coming, we start to plan and carry out our own holiday traditions. Common traditions often include buying the turkey, Christmas shopping, decorating, sledding, or any number of other things to bring the holiday spirit closer. Here at Rocky, there is a tradition that has been done for over 30 years – it is called, “A Festival of Lessons and Carols.”
RMC’s “Festival of Lessons and Carols” is based on the same tradition that started in Cambridge, England, in 1918 at King’s College. The first “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” service was held at King’s College on Christmas Eve in 1918. The event was and remains a retelling of the Christmas story through lessons. RMC Rev. Kim Woeste describes these lessons as “set scripture readings that recount the fall of humanity, the prophecies about a promised Messiah, and the birth of Jesus.” There are nine readings in England’s tradition and eight in Rocky’s. The carols (songs and hymns) are sung after every lesson. Over the years, the lessons have remained virtually the same, while the hymns and carols usually change every year.
In the Billings community, “Lessons and Carols” has been said to start the holiday season for some people. Others say it also brightens and enhances the holiday season for all who come and are involved. “It’s really cool to be able to go to an event every year that can get you into the spirit of Christmas,” says Madison Drake, a young community member who has enjoyed the performances for the past five years. Drake’s favorite part of the service is “the processional and fanfare, because it’s cool to be surrounded by the music and the musicians.”
The processional fanfare, known as “Personent Hodie,” is a 13th century festival processional. This song was set by Lara Hoggard and features a mixed choir, four trumpets, organ, percussion, and optional brass instruments. The choir members enter from the back of the church and surround the audience while singing, giving the audience the full musical experience.
In “Lessons and Carols,” the RMC Choir and Chamber Choir perform songs and hymns, with other musicians joining throughout the performance. In years past, guest musicians have included the RMC Trombone Choir, music faculty Carolyn Coefield and Jen Bratz, and harpist Josiah Hamilton. The guest performers usually perform before the processional and during the offering. Members of the Rocky Mountain College community – faculty, staff, and a few select students – read each of the eight lessons. Due to the popularity with the community, the performance is done twice in one day – once in the afternoon and again later in the evening.
When asked why she thought Lessons and Carols is an important and meaningful tradition to continue doing, Rev. Kim Woeste said, “I don’t know for certain, but I would guess that while Lessons and Carols began as a part of our religious expression, it continues because it is meaningful and beautiful. It showcases the outstanding talents of Rocky Mountain College students, faculty, and staff.
It honors the excellence of our music department, students, history, and tradition – in a way that anyone in the community can access and appreciate.”