Yesterday I took my mom to a service of Lessons and Carols at our Cathedral. Mom really loves choral music - she sang alto in her church choir for fifty years, and before that sang as a girl and young woman with her sisters in churches all around their community. She has always enjoyed attending all sorts of musical events (in addition to watching Lawrence Welk).
She can no longer see well enough to read music and sing with a choir, but she still loves to hear choral church music. I figured she would enjoy hearing the Cathedral Schola there at the Cathedral, which is better than going to Symphony Hall. Really great music, easier parking, and beautiful atmosphere. Plus, they don't have incense at Symphony Hall.
It was a lovely service, with readers of all ages, and both congregational singing and anthems by the choir. There were anthems new and old, mostly on the new side, including a gorgeous piece by Eric Whitacre, he of the virtual choir - people of all ages all over the world singing Lux Arumque via their computers on YouTube (see that here). There were candles at the end of each pew, and a thurible full of incense came down the aisle at both the procession in and the procession out. Just enough to bring a whiff of fragrance into the sensory feast. The altar was decorated with greens and branches with red cardinals (the birds, not the guys) placed here and there among them. Unfortunately, Mom couldn't see them, but she loves being in the Cathedral anyway. It feels like a fairy-tale church to her and even without seeing the details, she gets the sense of the space as we all do.
Most of the music was sung a capella, which impressed Mom to no end. (Me, too, but I'm more used to hearing it at church events.) It truly was beautiful. John Rutter's Sans Day Carol and There is a flower sprung of a tree; Herbert Howells' Sing lullaby; Stephen Jackson's etherial arrangement of Noel nouvelet; Pearsall's In dulci jubilo, among others. The congregation sang The Angel Gabriel, Of the Father's Love Begotten, Prepare the Way O Zion, On this Day Earth Shall Ring (definitely all on my list of favorites to sing) as well as more familiar carols such as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and Angels We Have Heard on High (which Mom could sing from memory). It was very satisfying and the congregation sang well.
But the Schola - well, they were just perfectly beautiful. I sometimes just listened with my eyes closed, and my mom was so still, I knew she was taking it in as completely as she could, to remember it as well as she could. We didn't say much to each other at the end - it didn't seem necessary, really.
As the choir processed out, we were amazed. They looked like regular people. We had thought, there for a while as their voices soared into the vaulted ceiling, that they must have been angels.