Many Anglicans and Episcopalians world-wide say that Christmas comes with the chord on “Word of the Father” in Sir David Willcocks’ congregation/brass/timpani/organ setting of Adeste Fideles, “O come, all ye faithful.”
Our “Word” chord last week, however, happened on the piano in the parish hall.
Months ago when I learned that we would most likely be worshipping in our Cheney Parish Hall for Christmas 2019, I did not panic but began thinking creatively. I was slightly proud of myself for not panicking.
For 2018-19, our parish offices relocated to temporary space across the street. For the first time in my career I had, not an office, but a cubicle, and we still produced church music successfully. And since this past July, we have been worshipping in the parish hall, which has worked out just fine.
“But it won’t be Christmas until we hear Sir David’s ‘Word’ chord!”
Thinking timpani and a side drum on the presently unfinished cement floor in the parish hall might be a bit much, we gave the percussionist this Christmas off. However, we did engage a fine brass quintet but had them sit on sound-absorptive rugs and play into their music stands.
Then what do I do to make the most out of the big carol arrangements on the piano? The piano on its own is great for congregational singing, but it does lack the sustained tone and support that the organ so ably provides for big hymn singing.
Specifically, what do I do on the piano on the “Word” chord? Arpeggiate like Liberace? Trill in the honky-tonk or boogie-woogie style?
In the end last Tuesday evening, the brass had my back. We ever-so-slightly slowed down the final verse, “Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning.” And as the “Word” chord approached, the brass crescendoed and we slightly broadened again, raising the roof on “Word of the Father.”
Christmas arrived, without the organ. And I didn’t have to be all that novel or creative.
For our annual Christmas Lessons and Carols this past Sunday morning, we sang the immortal, popular words of the Reverend Phillips Brooks (1834-1893), “O little town of Bethlehem.” He was rector of Holy Trinity and Advent parishes in Philadelphia before becoming the longtime rector of Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston.
Brooks was a graduate of the Boston Latin School, Harvard University, and Virginia Theological Seminary. He was a prolific preacher, authoring numerous volumes of collected sermons, but is perhaps best known as the author of these beloved words:
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
where misery cries out to thee, Son of the mother mild;
where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
the dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
Christmas came. Even with the piano playing the “Word” chord.
Hear the "Word" chord from Westminster Abbey, London, on Christmas Eve 2013 by clicking here (scroll over in video clip to 7:45).