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Traditional Service of Lessons & Carols in Belmont Chapel
Traditional Service of Lessons & Carols in Belmont Chapel

This past week, St. Mark's held its annual Service of Lessons and Carols on Thursday evening, December 12, and again on Sunday afternoon, December 15. The service is considered a traditional Christmas event at many (if not all) Episcopal boarding schools, as well as numerous colleges and churches around the world.

The first service of Nine Lessons and Carols was introduced in Cornwall, England, on Christmas Eve, 1880. It was popularized in 1918 at King's College, Cambridge, and in the 1930s was adopted by schools and colleges throughout the U.K. It tells the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus utilizing nine short Bible readings from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choir music.

The service was introduced at St. Mark's during the tenure of music teacher J. Stanley Sheppard (at SM from 1942-1976), but came into its own under Tom Berryman, director of music from 1983 to 2013.

The format of the "Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" (as it is formally known) is fairly standardized. The Nine Lessons, which are the same every year, are read by representatives of various constituencies at the School. The singing is divided into "carols" which are sung by the choir and "hymns" sung by the choir and congregation. The carols vary from year to year, although some music is repeated.

Traditionally St. Mark's has presented the Service of Lessons & Carols in its own Belmont Chapel, usually twice, in order to accommodate audience demand. In 2015 there was a single service, at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, to celebrate the School's 150th year. Since then, the service has returned to Belmont Chapel, again on two different dates each year. The first for the School community (students and faculty) and the second open to the public.

Once again this year, the St. Mark's School Choir, under the leadership of Mr. James Wallace, director of music and Art Department chair at the School, presented a beautiful series of festive carols. These included the "Sussex Carol" (18th century), "I Wonder as I Wander" (20th century), "Torches" (traditional, from ancient Galicia), "Joys Seven" (from Medieval England), and "It was the Winter Wild"—an original piece by Mr. Wallace, with lyrics adapted from John Milton (17th century).

Hymns sung together by both choir and congregation were "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Personent Hodie," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Silent Night," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

Readers for the two services included faculty members Dejai Barnes, Liz Cavanaugh '04, Carl Corazzini, Heather Harwood, and Laura Warren; students Princess Alexander '22, Bethany Battista '21, Joseph Felix '20, Luke Li '20, Vianey Morris '21, Charlie Poulin '23, Thomas Yuang Li '22; faculty children Peyton Lohwater and Ellie Brennan; and Head of School John C. Warren '74.

Student soloists were Maeve-McKenzie Ahern '20, William Bundy '20, Paula Hornbostel '20, William Osborne '20, and Thomas Flathers '21.

Assisting Mr. Wallace were Jeremy Bruns (organist), Charlotte Russell (vocal music assistant), and St. Mark's Orchestra Director Nathaniel Meyer on trumpet. The Rev. Barbara Talcott (School chaplain) and the Rev. Katie Solter (associate chaplain) presided over the service.

Members of the 2019-2020 St. Mark's Choir:

Soprano

Maeve-McKenzie Ahern '20

Yolanda Fan '23

Libby Flathers '21

Louise (Leyi) He '23

Felicity Keyzer-Pollard '21

Megan Miantsoko '21

Padma Mynampaty '22

Daniela Ortiz '21

Reina Wang '22

Kelly Tang '23

Alto

Tess Barrett '22

Sarah Bechard '22

Elise Gobron '21

Frances Hornbostel '21

Paula Hornbostel '20 (Choir co-president)

Ji Woo Kang '20

Charlene Murima '23

Laurie Wang '22

Jiayi Yu '23

Tenor

William Bundy '20

Joel Lawore '23

William (Yiwei) Lu '20

Eduaniel Reinoso '21

Reily Scott '21

Bass

Benjamin Bundy '23

Kartik Donepudi '21

John Esler '22

Michael Ferlisi '22

Tommy Flathers '21

Arthur Gao '22

Conrad Krapf '20

William Osborne '20* (Choir co-president)

Ryan Paik '20

Kevin (Hiromi) Takayama '21

Jordan Uzochukwu '20

Nolan Willoughby '21

The entire School community filled the Chapel for the Thursday evening service, while more than 150 guests—alumni, faculty, families, and friends— attended on Sunday. That service was followed by a reception in the Hinkle Room. What a wonderful tradition celebrating the spirit of the season at St. Mark's!