Monday, December 24, 2012


The Stondon Singers in the Priory Church

History and tradition were respected at St Laurence this year: ending with Stille Nacht to send us off into the night, and beginning with Gaudete, Ben Parry's arrangement of an ancient tune which may well have echoed round these walls when the great Priory still dominated the village.

But there was a healthy injection of new music, too. Conductor Christopher Tinker led us through Matthew Owens' very different setting of The Holly and the Ivy, Thomas Hewitt Jones' What Child Is This, with its haunting motif [Michael Frith at the organ], Will Todd's My Lord Has Come, and Bob Chilcott's lively Sussex Carol arrangement, rhythmic and harmonically interesting, the tune often in the lower voices. All performed with care and commitment, the voices of this chamber choir blending effectively in these lovely surroundings.

The reading this year, by Mavis Holmes, was Kipling's Eddi's Service [where the congregation – "such as cared to attend" – were the Ox and the Ass] looking back to an early Christmas at St Wilfrid's in remotest Sussex, a church even older than Blackmore's ancient Priory.

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid
   In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
   For such as cared to attend.

But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
   And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
   Though Eddi rang the bell.

"'Wicked weather for walking,"
   Said Eddi of Manhood End.
"But I must go on with the service
   For such as care to attend."

The altar-lamps were lighted, --
   An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
   And stared at the guttering flame.

The storm beat on at the windows,
   The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
   Pushed in through the open door.

"How do I know what is greatest,
   How do I know what is least?
That is My Father's business,"
   Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest.

"But -- three are gathered together --
   Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!"
   Said Eddi of Manhood End.

And he told the Ox of a Manger
   And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider,
   That rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
   They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
   Eddi preached them The World,

Till the gale blew off on the marshes
   And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together
   Wheeled and clattered away.

And when the Saxons mocked him,
   Said Eddi of Manhood End,
"I dare not shut His chapel
   On such as care to attend."

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