Lessons & Carols to be held Dec. 11

COLLEGE AND COMMUNITY members come to the Middlebury College Chapel on the second Sunday in December to prepare for the holidays with a traditional Lessons and Carols service. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

MIDDLEBURY — When the opening strains of organ and choral music swell to fill Middlebury Chapel each December for the annual Lessons and Carols service, many area residents sense they have truly entered the Christmas season. Nearly a half century going, the program of Bible readings and carols for choir, organ and congregation is an invitation for community members to be transformed.

Middlebury Chapel will host the 51st year of Lessons and Carols for Advent and Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 11, in two services: at 4 and 7 p.m. It is sponsored by the Music Department and the Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. 

The event is on again this year after being held online in 2020 and it was canceled at the last minute in 2021 because of a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus.

George Matthew Jr. will ring in the service with selections on the chapel carillon. And the Middlebury College Choir will perform under the direction of Ronnie Romano. Students, faculty and staff will do the readings. There will be large-print programs available, and the 4 o’clock service will have ASL interpretation.

Those who organize the annual ritual say it is designed to provide a respite, as well as enrichment, to those swept up in the holiday season.

Lessons and Carols is nothing but beautiful music and the timeless story of Christ’s coming, arranged in a traditional format borrowed from King’s College in Cambridge, England. Organist Emory Fanning, who organized the first Middlebury Lessons and Carols in 1971, calls the English format “primarily music with short readings from the Scriptures.

“There have been some slight modifications in the Scriptures, depending on who the chaplain was at the time, but you can’t change the story,” Fanning told the Independent a few years back. “All of the readings are works of art, really.”

Middlebury’s Lessons and Carol’s service draws visitors from around the county and state, congregating to sing during the Christmas season together. There have on occasion been as many as 800 attendees across both services. It is difficult to know how many people will come this year in light of the pandemic.

Between the scriptural readings — or lessons — the Middlebury College Chapel Choir performs.

While the opening of the service puts people in the mood of the season, the hour-long ceremony always ends on a high point.

Donations are collected for local charities. Vaccinations are required, and masking is encouraged.

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