Musical Christmas Cheer Returns to the Circle


Courtesy of Groton School

While the blow-up snowmen appeared in the dining hall and the Schoolhouse hallways were filled with holiday wreaths, Christmas cheer swept up the Circle in full force with the official return of the beloved Lessons and Carols and Groton Pops. This year, students, faculty, parents and alumni were able to experience the full extent of Groton’s much-anticipated holiday traditions for the first time since the onset of the Covid pandemic.


Both Lessons and Carols and Groton Pops have a special place on the Circle. Beginning 1929, the annual Lessons and Carols service in St. John’s chapel has always been a holiday favorite. Inspired by the Nine Lessons and Carols service that started at King’s College, Cambridge, the service at Groton opens with a solo soprano voice singing “Once in Royal David’s City,” which choir prefect John Rogers ’22 fondly likened to a “light piercing the darkness.” 


 “Groton thrives on tradition,” said Mr. Daniel Moriarty, the choirmaster. Although singers remained masked throughout the performance and the audience wasn’t able to join in on congregational carols, the service demonstrated a remarkable return to normalcy. Just as the original service sought to bring the community in Cambridge together after WWI and amidst the influenza pandemic of 1918, this year’s gathering in St. John’s chapel held a special resonance to members of the Groton community who have all been affected by the Covid pandemic.


Groton Pops was founded in 2011 by Mr. Kenji Kikuchi, director of the Jazz Combo, and Mr. Timothy Terranella, conductor of the Groton Chamber Orchestra. What began as an opportunity for the Jazz Combo to perform with the Orchestra is now a core contributor to the holiday cheer on campus. Modeled after the Boston Pops concert held annually by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Groton Pops prioritizes “playing music to have fun,” according to Mr. Kikuchi. 


There was plenty of fun to be had this year—on Dec. 4th, students gathered on the steps in the forum dressed in festive outfits to watch Jazz Combo and Orchestra’s performance of “Sleigh Ride,” among other cheery tunes, including a thrilling heavy metal rendition of “Angels We Have Heard On High” arranged by Mr. Kikuchi himself.


Preparation for both performances were not without their share of Covid-19 disruptions. Time was limited since the Parents Weekend Concert was pushed to a later date than usual, and musicians in the Jazz Combo and Orchestra had to make the quick turnaround to practicing Christmas tunes. The choir also began preparations at a later date due to Covid-19 protocol uncertainties. 


Nevertheless, student musicians regarded the frenzied preparations as a great time for team bonding. Julia Lin ’22, who has sung in choir since second form, said that the choir “really felt like a family after all the intense rehearsals.” Jazz Combo prefects Ben Reyes ’23 and Bensen Han ’23 planned an ensemble Secret Santa gift exchange that coincided with the Groton Pops performance, making the event extra festive. 


Although the Groton community includes students from different cultures and religious backgrounds, the spirit of the holidays that Lessons and Carols and Groton Pops embodies was embraced universally. According to Mr. Moriarty, celebrating Christmas together was a “courageous act on everybody’s part, from the administration to the singers.” The revival of musical Christmas traditions at Groton was able to connect the community once again, and provided everyone with a warm sendoff to the winter holidays.