In choosing 'In the Deep Midwinter' as the best Christmas carol, choirmasters give the game away. They don't like the rest of us, the congregation - and can you blame them? We are truly awful but awfully game. We sing too low, we sing around rather than in tune, we slow down and speed up unwarrantedly, we wobble off - the brave or conceited among us - into descants that fall to earth defeated, we divide words wrongly and hang on to notes that we happen to hit squarely for far too long; if divided into male and female choirs, we compete, the women singing of the Virgin and her feelings for the Christ child out-shrieking the men being angels telling the good news like a roar of battle against the skirted congregation.
'In the Deep Midwinter' trembles in its icy perfection, its keatsian imagery, its trebles soaring where we cannot go, and dare not try, lest all should collapse beneath our everyday weight.
Beautiful? Oh yes. But give me that moment when the organ speaks to summon the rest of us, when the choir has laid the ground and the pitch upon which we all will play:
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel,
That into exile drear is gone
Far from the face of God's dear Son.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, thou Branch of Jesse! draw
The quarry from the lion's claw;
From the dread caverns of the grave,
From nether hell thy people save.
O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
Pour on our souls thy healing light;
Dispel the long night's lingering gloom,
And pierce the shadows of the tomb.
O come, thou Lord of David's Key!
The royal door fling wide and free;
Safeguard for us the heavenward road,
And bar the way to death's abode.
O come, O come, Adonaï,
Who in thy glorious majesty
From that high mountain clothed with awe
Gavest thy folk the elder law.
And then the choristers show us how to fly a descant. Rejoice, rejoice.
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