Music for Advent

I’m doing a course in my new church about music for Advent, so I thought I’d pop a couple of interesting bits of music on here as I find them.

The first thing I was thinking about was the origin of the word “Carol”. We think of carols as almost exclusively associated with Christmas, and sometimes Easter, but hardly any of the hymns we sing around Christmas are actually carols.

The word carol is derived probably from the french Carole, or perhaps the latin Choraula, but it means the same thing – a certain type of dance. We know something about the dance, and the sources only tend to date from about 12th. It may be older than that but we can’t really know. The dance itself was a variety of “circle dances”, ie where everyone held hands and danced together – think of a slightly more sedate version of the Hokey Cokey.

History is a bit sketcy, but it seems the basic unit of a carol(e) is a dotted rhythm – “dum de dum de dum” etc. The surviving medieval lyrics bear that out. Of course there’s an interesting crossover with church music, and the crossover starts pretty early on.

If we think of the very early, and very gorgeous plainsong embellishments by Perotin for example, we see dotted rhythms all over the place:

Amazing, beautiful, crazy music from about 1200AD.

The development of carols from there flourished: the music of the West Gallery Musicians, and of the populus, moved from the court and the church to the threshing floor and the home.

For example:


or the Coventry Carol, or the Boar’s Head, or

As is evident from those examples of the recordings, these carols, unlike those who are preserved in aspic in the victorian choir tradition, these songs continue to be played with, developed and changed as the years pass.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Music for Advent

  1. Mike Mc says:

    Thanks for this, Pip; fascinating. It doesn’t really seem right to sit still to that Sussex Carol, does it?

Comments are closed.