Carol Arrangements

Christmas Music

Do you jingle all the way?

It’s the most, wonderful time of the year! We are in full on Christmas mode now at EBC as December is almost upon us, our services and activities are all mapped out and most of them are planned, publicity has been distributed and the tree will be going up in the next couple of weeks!

Now a lot of our Christmas planning is quite straightforward, as the story stays the same every year and there are obvious themes and traditions that we will stick to. But one of the things we do sometimes struggle with is carols and carol arrangements.

Where to start?

There are thousands and thousands of worship songs, hymns and choruses, and many more are released every year. I’ve written before how we whittle down our song list to something that is manageable both as a worship team and as a congregation. While the new songs and hymns that are available to use seem to  grow exponentially every year, traditional carols and popular Christmas songs remain pretty constant, and as they are only really used for one month of every year, they don’t get an airing very often. A lot of traditional carols work brilliantly in a traditional setting…we had the privilege of attending some carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall some years back, and it was truly special to sing along with an orchestra, massed choir, royal trumpeters and the massive organ that is installed there.

But we as a church don’t have an organ, or a choir, and our band is based on who we have available to play, but also on the style of music that we deliver on a Sunday…which is primarily guitar and drums based modern worship*. Hence why we have a bit of a struggle come Christmas with our music. We have had many discussions in and around this topic in years gone by, weighing up whether we go full traditional just for the month of December, if it’s acceptable to do carols in a contemporary fashion with added choruses and drums, are we alienating visitors if we make recognisable carols too modern (even if the tune stays the same!) and so on. And to be honest, there hasn’t been an easy answer yet…if you canvas the opinion of five or 10 different people, you’re going to get 5 to 10 different answers!

I did it my way…

So what I’ve been trying to do the past few years, as we will do this year, is to strike a balance between the two. We have a relatively short list of carols that we will introduce over the month of December, and even then we won’t have a complete Carol Service as such until the week before Christmas. The carols that we do use are familiar, set in a contemporary style appropriate to our band lineup, but still retaining the original words and tunes. We make sure the tunes stay relatively straight as well….I have done arrangements where we put Silent Night into 4 in the bar and the like, but it seems to be a step too far for some! And the same with added choruses and new words…Chris Tomlin’s Joy, Unspeakable Joy is great, but incredibly high and too much for some! That said, we have used a version of Angels From the Realms of Glory by Steven Curtis Chapman that has the wonderful chorus “Come and Worship…”

At the end of the day, you have to do what works for your church, as you probably are doing with all of your worship.

How are you choosing and arranging carols this year?

*This also applies to choosing and arranging songs for every other Sunday of the year…if you don’t have five guitarists and a small choir, it doesn’t mean you can’t do Hillsong songs. And if your range isn’t that of a counter tenor and you’re more comfortable in a Barry White range, it doesn’t exclude all of Chris Tomlin’s repertoire. But it does mean you need to choose, transpose, and arrange more carefully…

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