Sad news emerged from King’s College, Cambridge yesterday that the much-loved Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols would not be broadcast live this year.
The service has been broadcast live from a packed chapel on Christmas Eve for over 90 years, but for safety reasons it had previously been decided that no congregation could be present this year. In the face of Covid-19, King’s also decided to make a recording of the service a few weeks before Christmas as an additional precaution. In the light of current conditions, it is this recording of 2020’s A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that will be broadcast at the usual time on 24 December.
“Sad though we are not to be together in the Chapel for the service on Christmas Eve, we are delighted that we will be able to share our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols this year. The amount of travel involved in gathering the choir and crew from around the country for the service, and the possible risks of infection at a time when the statistics are getting worse, made this the responsible, safer and more prudent option.” – Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College
Minnesota Public Radio adds that holding the service, or at least recording it, was a major priority of the choir’s director, Daniel Hyde.
While the people at King’s had planned as recently as the week before Christmas to broadcast live as usual, albeit without a congregation, they also prerecorded elements of the service throughout the fall just in case of a required shutdown due to COVID-19.
In a recent interview for the podcast Classically Speaking, King’s director of music, Daniel Hyde, said that reaching the broadcast has been the result of prioritizing. At the start of the school year bringing the choir back together “out of the freezer” with proper precautions was key. But the main stated goal was creating the annual Christmas radio and TV broadcasts.
“The shared first priority is really what’s driving our activity,” Hyde said, pointing out that the planning began over the summer, but couldn’t actually move forward until the fall when the students’ return was a sure thing. But once they had the early recordings in their “back pocket,” as he said, it was at least certain that the broadcast would indeed be the 2020 choir with this year’s planned music.
This news follow a report several days ago that two of the choral scholars (undergraduates who sing the lower parts in the choir) had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The choral scholars affected, who are from the same household, are adult members of the choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
They were among 14 who had been due to join 16 boy choristers for the festive spectacle, which is broadcast on BBC Two on Christmas Eve.
It meant some of these adult members of the lower voice choir had to go into self-isolation.
With filming due to take place, there was a late call-up for six of The King’s Singers, an internationally renowned vocal group founded by former choral scholars from the University of Cambridge college.
The broadcast schedule on Christmas Eve for Lessons and Carols remains the same (10 am Eastern/7 am Pacific). American Public Media is the distributor of the program in the U.S., and it is often available on local public radio stations.