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Here at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, we have adopted the practice of commissioning a new carol each year since 2010. This year’s carol was written by Winnipeg-based composer and conductor Andrew Balfour. Of Cree descent and Anglican upbringing, Andrew is passionate about education and outreach, particularly on northern reserves and in inner-city Winnipeg schools. Andrew is the founder and artistic director of Camerata Nova, now in its 22nd season. For his text, he excerpts the following lines from a 15th century carol:

Nowell sing we, both all and some

Now Rex pacificus is come.

Exortum est in love and lysse.

Now Christ his grace he gan us gysse,

And with his body us bought to bliss,

Both all and some.

Gloria tibi ay and bliss,

Nowell sing we, both all and some

Now Rex pacificus is come.  

In 1982, when Stephen Cleobury (1948-2019) arrived at Kings College, Cambridge as Director of Music, he decided to put a stake in the ground demonstrating his commitment to contemporary music. That stake was to commission a new Christmas carol every year to be broadcast worldwide at the college’s highest profile event; the service of lessons and carols.

Singing a new song at a time of year when many people have expectations of “hearing again the message of the angels” sung to the tunes they know and love is a bold move – a move which shows a willingness to receive a time-honoured tradition into your hands, and to lovingly steward it forward. It is the embodiment (a form of incarnation) of the reality that each of us bring to these Christmas celebrations year after year: that we are slightly different than we were last time.

Christmas carols have their root not in the sanctuary but in the pub. In fact, the now famous service of Nine Lessons and Carols was conceived by Bishop Benson of Truro in the late 19th century as a means of keeping everyone entertained (and sober) until Midnight Mass.

As you hear the reading which immediately precedes this carol, note the congruence between lines such as “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” and the selected verses’ references to sacrificial atonement through Christ’s body. Heavy fare for a drinking song to be sure. But Balfour’s setting, just like the medieval tune to which it was originally set, manages to balance both the reflective and the joyous elements of the poem as we herald the newly arrived King of Peace.

Previous Christ Church Cathedral Carol Commissions 2010-2021  

2010:    Paul Halley, O magnum mysterium

2011:    Patrick Wedd, A Poor Place

2012:    Stephanie Martin, Legend of the Bird

2013:    Stephen Chatman, I Sing the Birth

2014:    Zachary Windus, Rejoice Ye Peoples of the Earth

2015:    Matthew Larkin, Sailor’s Carol

2016:    Rupert Lang, There is no Rose

2017:    Christopher Goddard, The Time Draws Near

2018:    Bramwell Tovey, Not very long ago

2019:    Kathleen Allan, I Syng of a Mayden

2020:    Sarah MacDonald, The Manger is Empty

2021:    Nowell Sing We, Andrew Balfour  

These commissions, alongside our choral scholarships for young artists, our young chorister program with the Cathedral School, concerts and workshops by visiting artists, and maintenance of our musical instruments, are all paid for by the Music Fund. This fund is regularly supported by cathedral members and music lovers in the broader community. To make a gift, or to discuss underwriting a commission, please contact our Director of Music, Donald Hunt.