Christmas Praise! (Resource Review)
A spiral-bound collection of well-known and less-known Christmas songs for your Advent programme.
Back in the 1990s, our church music bookshelf was crammed full of music volumes: Mission Praise, Christian Hymns, Songs of Fellowship Volumes 1, 2, 3 through 20 (or so it seemed), an old, tattered copy of Youth Praise, plus a myriad of loose-leaf sheet music, inevitably never in order.
We’ve happily left those days behind. We’re a lot more organised now and make extensive use of online libraries for both lead sheets and full-score music.
For a long while, we used SongSelect which has excellent transposition facilities. But it’s not cheap, so now our go-to place at church is the Praise! website - which is an absolute bargain at £10 a year - and the Music Ministry website which also has an excellent resource library.
Yet, there’s one time in the year when I long for an old-fashioned music book: Christmas.
Yes, Christmas is the one time I want to browse from a print book and set up an extended music team to play four-part music and accompany traditional singing.
Christmas music – old and new
Where to go? My first choice has always been to dip into David Willcocks and John Rutter’s Carols for Choirs, published by OUP. But though it has some trusted and well-loved arrangements, it’s hardly a repository of all that’s good about Christmas music. ‘Adam Lay y Bounden’ anyone?
That’s why I’m glad that our friends at the Praise Trust have produced a new print volume of festive music which they kindly sent me for review.
It includes over 60 well-known and lesser-known Christmas items for you to use in church together with straightforward (rather than simple) arrangements, even of loved carols. Linda Mawson, for example, has produced a simpler arrangement of Hark! The herald angels sing! which includes the descant so many people know and delight in.
Alongside these well-loved carols are lots of lesser-known or new items that might not be suitable for a carol service (where you want to belt out the top ten), but will add variety and depth to your December services which can – if you are not careful – all begin to sound the same.
So there are some more recent items from Kendrick, Getty, and Kauflin, as well as some brand new items I didn’t know but will enjoy learning. I also checked for my favourite carol. I’m glad to report it’s there, and that Phil Moore (from Cornerstone Nottingham) has written a new tune for it, not least – he tells me – because I kept nagging him about it. So hello to a rejuvenated ‘Let earth and heaven combine.’
Using the online facility also unlocks further arrangements, including SATB choir arrangements if that is your thing.
The power of Christmas carols
A few years back, arch-atheist Richard Dawkins let slip how he enjoys singing Christmas carols. It seems to be part of the national consciousness, whether you have any faith or not. It amazes me that those who are not believers might sing about such glorious and incredible truth while remaining unmoved by its gospel power.
But there is no doubt that Christmas carols still have the power to move and engage in a world which is increasingly moving away from the truths they convey.
I’m very grateful, therefore, to the folk at Praise! for their ambition and foresight to stick with a print music volume for Christmas.
Or, as we could say:
"Oh, lift up your eyes, see the King!
Worship the Saviour, come praise him,
Jesus the Lord of all."
(‘Lift up your eyes' by Judy Gresham, p106).