Christmas Carol Services

Monday 12th December 2022

Christmastime at Marlborough College is arguably the highlight of each academic year: the Chapel adorned with candles and holly and ivy, minced pies, mulled wine, the wonderful Carol Services and not to mention the big Christmas lunch. The glorious Chapel has been transformed with Christmas trees, candles, flowers and a multitude of beautiful decorations to help us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. With sacred and secular readings, the Carol Services are accompanied by rousing congregational carols and festive anthems sung by the College Chapel Choir to hail such an occasion. But of course, the Carol Services could not be possible without the amazing help of Choirmaster and Director of Chapel Music, Mr Meehan-Staines, College Organist, Mr Butterfield, and Chaplin, Reverend Novis.

The Chapel Choir awaits each Carol Service with great anticipation and the preparation that goes into each of these services is unmatched. Last year, as the choir awaited their cue to enter the Chapel, snow began to fall, as if the weather approved of such a service! The festive spirit is felt all around school, with scarves wrapped warmly around necks and gloves placed on cold hands. The gentle twinkling of the Christmas lights fills the choirstalls, along with the dense smell of pine and incense. The Carol Services are a true choral highlight, with soaring descants and carols to sing the roof off a packed Chapel. The festive sound of trumpets echoing down the Chapel makes every head turn to see Mr Arkwright playing such glorious melodies.

The joy the Chapel Choir feels when we are told that rehearsals for the Carol Services are beginning is immense, as excited shushing extinguishes the animated chatter of the sopranos. During rehearsals, there are lively jousts for pencils and panic at possibly losing ‘choir points’ if caught without one: the result being extra rehearsals, after which groans are heard from the basses, normally followed by a diminution of sound as Mr Hamilton hushes the choir, again…

Camping out in the Goodison Hall before a big service is always a mix of chaos, excitement, and nerves, but the Christmas Carol Services are different: emotions are heightened with exhilaration, and there is an indescribable, palpable feeling in the air – for some, this will be their last Carol Service at Marlborough College. Approaching the service, there is a battle to find a ‘good’ cassock and to locate lost folders before Mr Meehan-Staines finds out who has lost theirs… But as the vocal warm-ups begin, the chatter and laughter die away. Mr Meehan-Staines jumps onto a piano stall to address the Chapel Choir, waving silence amongst the choir, and typically recites a terrible dad joke which calms our nerves (he really has embraced his role as a new father). At the end of a long weekend of four services, and after the closing rehearsal, we leave the Goodison Hall for the fourth and final time, making our way like a long, red snake winding up to the Chapel. We can see our breath in the cold air, and smell the pine of the two Christmas trees stood twinkling by the entrance. We all move into position in the antechapel, hushed anticipation floods the building. The soloist for the opening carol, ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ is called to the great west doors, they step forward into the Chapel, and sing…

Head Choristers, Freddie P (U6) and Bella B (U6).

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