Internationally, the renowned tradition of the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” started at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England on Christmas Eve, 1918.
Locally, Portsmouth’s Second Presbyterian Church has been conducting the holiday themed service annually for about a quarter of a century starting in 1992.
“It started out small,” said Stan Workman, organist and musical director for Second Presbyterian. “It’s grown every year.” He added about 400 people attended last year.
“It really fills up the place,” Workman stated.
This year, roughly 80 singers and musicians will fill the church sanctuary with sounds of the season 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17.
Offerings will be accepted, but the event is free and open to the public.
The service alternates between readings from Scripture and carols and anthems of the Christmas season. The service will be led by Second Presbyterian Pastor Rev. Allison Bauer. Readers will be drawn from area clergy, including Jeannie Harsh, from the Scioto Valley Presbytery.
For the evening, a full orchestra will accompany the church’s Chancel Choir. Workman said many of the musicians belong to regional orchestras in Ohio and West Virginia. They will be joined by numerous local instrumentalists including Portsmouth native and organist Matthew Bickett.
The only soloist for the evening, Bickett is currently an advanced music student at Oberlin College. He has performed many times in Portsmouth, most recently during Second Presbyterian’s Halloween themed “Pipe Screams.”
Workman, who will serve as orchestra conductor for the evening, said there will be roughly 40 musicians along with 40 singers, again from choirs around the area. The musical portions of the program will include selections by noted composers such as John Rutter, Mack Wilberg, and David Wilcocks. The evening will feature two new carol arrangements by Rutter never before performed by the choir and orchestra and one by English composer Bob Chilcott.
Scripture readings for the evening stretch from the story of Adam and Eve to the story of the birth of Christ.
According to Workman, “The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” has been broadcast live from King’s College in England every Christmas since 1928, with the exception of 1930. Now carried on National Public Radio in the U.S., the annual broadcasts continued even through World War II. It is estimated those broadcasts attract millions of listeners worldwide.