“When will you pay me?”
say the bells of Old Bailey.
“When I grow rich”
say the bells of Shoreditch.
The carols were all very familiar ones (to me), carols that I have known and sung every Christmas since boyhood. I was struck, though, by how many of my fellow choristers did not really know them. We were given a service sheet with the words but no music. Although we were encouraged to sing the tenor or bass part if we knew it, only a very few of us knew the four-part harmonies by heart. It is easy to forget that much of what people of my age think of as our common musical/religious heritage is no longer shared by everyone.
We also did two special numbers of our own (in my day they would have been called “anthems”), which we had all learnt by heart and knew thoroughly.
The church was packed out — apparently the regular Sunday congregation numbers only forty or so, but for this carol service there must have been three or four hundred present. Let’s hope everyone contributed generously to the church’s work with the homeless and rough sleepers.
I say the words of the carols were familiar. Well yes, but as well as modernization of the language (you instead of thou etc) the CofE’s recent drive for inclusiveness and gender-neutrality has left some odd results. It’s fine to change Good Christian men rejoice to Good Christians, all rejoice; but what about this?
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise one, I would do my part,
Yet what I can, I give him: give my heart.
The older “if I were a wise man” alludes to the three wise men, the magi. “If I were a wise one” merely makes a weak line even weaker. And I don’t see why girls as well as boys shouldn’t be encouraged to imagine themselves as one of the three wise men.
As an English version of Puer nobis nascitur, in place of the usual Unto us is born a son we had a new text which I find is by Michael Perry (1942–1996), Jesus Christ the Lord is born. You’d think that someone so contemporary would have shied away from one awful eye-rhyme:
Soon shall come the wise men three,
rousing Herod’s anger;
mothers’ hearts shall broken be
and Mary’s son in danger,
and Mary’s son in danger.
Er… ˈdeɪndʒə really doesn’t rhyme with ˈæŋɡə, surely.