Sunday, December 13, 2020

People Look East—Murfin ’s Carols for Corona and Winter Holiday Music Festival

                            People Look East, an Advent carol sung by the Houston Chamber Choir.

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent and past time to share a true Advent Carol.  As you might recall churches that honor the liturgical calendar traditionally did not sing Christmas hymns and carols until Christmas Eve and continued singing them until the Feast of the Epiphany.  The Advent season had its own songs, the best known of which is O Come O Come Emanuel.  In practice many American churches blur the distinction these days.

Each Christian denomination has its own selection of Advent carols in their hymnals, some widely shared with others, some unique and tailored to the sect’s particular Christology or theology.

British poet and writer Eleanor Farjeon wrote the words for People Look East.

Among the loveliest is People Look East. The lyrics were written by London poet/writer Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) best known for her text to the Irish tune Bunessan, and Morning Has Broken which became a pop hit for Cat Stevens as well as children’s poems.   Originally titled Carol of Advent, it appeared in the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928 as a “Modern text written or adapted to a traditional tune.  The tune was Besançon, a spritely French carol or dance melody from the Franche-Comté region.  Its popularity grew when it was included in the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge which was broadcast nationally by the BBC.

It took a while to catch on in the U.S.  Neither the 1948 or 1981 editions of the Episcopal Hymnal included it.  It has since become a favorite of choir directors especially among High Church Anglicans and Lutherans but has also made it into the Unitarian Universalist Singing the Living Tradition. 

The Houston Chamber Choir with musical director Robert Simpson.

Today’s version was featured by the impressive Houston Chamber Choir under the direction of Robert Simpson in their 2013 Christmas concert.

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