Zooming in on Lessons and Carols


Courtesy of Amy Ma ’23

For over 90 years, the long-standing tradition of the Groton School Lessons and Carols service marked anticipation of the nearing Christmas season and close of winter term. Created by Reverend Milner-White of King’s College in 1918, the original Nine Lessons and Carols service in Cambridge, England sought to ignite the holiday spirit and spread peace in the midst of war-stricken Europe. Groton’s Lessons and Carols service evokes a similar message; with Groton townspeople and the Groton School community gathered on these final nights of the term, the harmony of readings and music call upon a reflection of the message of Christmas. However, social-distancing and other safety measures have forced this years’ service to shift and adapt in the face of an unprecedented pandemic landscape.

Unfortunately, the community will not congregate in the chapel this year. Instead, the service will be broadcasted as an assembly of pre-recorded prayers and music. The service will play as a webinar, allowing the audience to join from the comfort of their homes. The setup of the lessons will be similar to that of the traditional service – faculty and students’ prayers and readings will be recorded right at the pulpit of St. John’s Chapel in advance.

 The most dramatic alteration of the service is the choral carol performances. The many Covid-19 safety measures implemented at the beginning of this school year included the ban of singing on campus. These measures presented obstacles for the choir in their preparation of the repertoire. “Our rehearsals in person mainly consisted of us learning the pieces through (for lack of a better term) mental solfège and Mr. Moriarty guiding us through parts on the piano,” says choir prefect Claire Holding ’21.

 With students home for Thanksgiving break, choristers were able to safely practice off-campus. Using virtual copies of the songs and the conducting of various parts, students practiced singing and worked on recording themselves. In the creation of a final, cohesive musical product, remote recording presents several challenges: “singing is very difficult without the presence of other singers, not only in terms of notes, but also in terms of diction, consonantal placings, and phrasings,” says John Rogers ’22. “This experience has certainly given us all a new appreciation of live singing, which we miss so very much.”

The choral performances will be a combination of newer performances– digitally arranged carols sung by the current choir– and performances from older Groton choirs recorded at previous Lessons and Carols services. Due to the obstacles of this year’s preparation and the omission of congregation-participant carols, the current choir will perform a shorter program. “We hope that this service will offer a unique contrast between the nostalgia of previous choirs and the celebration of our current ensemble,” expresses John.

 Groton students and faculty are working diligently to reconstruct the Lessons and Carols tradition into a celebration that still encapsulates the original service’s spirit, but ensures the community’s health and safety. Just as Reverend Milner-White founded Nine Lessons and Carols to find Christmas joy in a time of war, Groton’s Lessons and Carols will bring a bit of holiday cheer to the Circle amidst the pandemic.