Mercer Singers and Women’s Choir to perform annual “Lessons and Carols” concert

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Image: Marianna Bacallao

The Mercer McDuffie Center for Strings accompanies Mercer Singers.

Cody Moran, Staff Writer

Every year, the Mercer Singers and Women’s Choir prepare a traditional “Lesson and Carols” performance to hail the coming of the Christmas season. This year, the event will be held downtown on Friday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 3 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church at 7:30 p.m. This is the 22nd year that Mercer’s choirs have performed this concert.

The performance of “Lessons and Carols” originates from an older, widespread tradition beginning in early 20th century England.

“This ‘Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ has been adapted from the traditional ‘Service of Lessons and Carols’ held each year at King’s College, Cambridge University,” said Stanley Roberts, the conductor of the choir. “This service, itself an adaptation of a service instituted by Archbishop Benson at Truro Cathedral, was first presented on Christmas Eve, 1919, in King’s College Chapel, and continues as a much celebrated annual tradition.” 

The presentation is primarily a Christian event, focusing on the Biblical narrative that leads up to the birth of Jesus. The evening is broken up into segments of scripture reading and singing.

“The service consists of nine Biblical lessons from both the Old and New Testament that are used to tell the story of the Creation, the fall of humanity, Prophesy for a coming Messiah, Advent, and the Birth of Christ,” Roberts said.  

The program has grown in popularity so much that it had to be moved to a larger venue in recent years.

“The service was held on Mercer’s campus for years in Newton Chapel, with two performances each year,” Roberts said. “After recording the Grand Mercer Christmas program for PBS in 2012, the decision was made to move the presentation to a larger venue, and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was selected.”

Roberts says that St. Joseph’s is a fitting location for “Lessons and Carols” thanks to both its increased size and its beautiful interior.

“The larger space provided four times the seating, the opportunity to use more ensembles, and is a space that contains tremendous aesthetic appeal for those who attend,” Roberts said. “Even at St. Joseph’s, the place is packed each evening.”

The event promises to be memorable and enjoyable for everyone involved. According to Roberts, “Lessons and Carols” holds a special place even with the singers themselves.

“I find that when I talk to former Mercer Singers about their musical memories, they most often say that singing those Lesson and Carols Services are their most memorable,” Roberts said.