Introduction to the Local Carols
... the months have passed by and it will soon be time once more for the annual season of local carols. This wonderful occasion seems to come round much sooner than it ever did but I think that is something to do with Anno Domini, rather than global warming. The traditional starting date is based on Armistice Day. This is sometimes taken as 11 November, sometimes as Armistice Sunday, depending upon indeterminable factors. It always seems to be the case, though, that the singing in the Sheffield area starts earlier and lasts longer than in Derbyshire.
Although there is a core of carols that are sung at most venues, each particular place has its own mini-tradition. The repertoire at two nearby places can vary widely, and woe betide those who try to strike up a ‘foreign’ carol. “We donít sing that one here,” will come as a sharp reminder. Some are unaccompanied, some have a piano or organ, there is a flip chart with the words on in one place, a string quartet (quintet, sextet, septet) accompanies the singing at another, some encourage soloists, others stick to audience participation, a brass band plays at certain events, the choir takes the lead at another; but, whatever the occasion, there is always a warm welcome and a willingness to help the newcomers with words and tunes.
What variety of names there is! Start off with old favourites such as Star of Bethlehem or Hail! Smiling Morn or Peace O’er The World, then move on to Spout Cottage, followed by Tinwood or Mount Moriah, meeting, on the way, the Prodigal Son, the Reapers and Six Jolly Miners, return via Portugal and Egypt, along Back Lane, with a detour to Swaledale, back to Malin Bridge, and possibly finish up with a rousing version of the Bradda Anthem or Mount Zion. You’re bound to hear someone say, “I didn’t know heíd been poorly!” when Jacob’s Well is announced and there will often be those who want to keep singing the last two lines, even after the pianist or organist has already allowed you two or three repeats! And don’t expect to hear While Shepherds announced — it will probably be Pentonville or Cranbrook or Liverpool or Old Foster or Lloyd or Lyngham or ... the list seems to be endless.
Although most carols have four parts, it tends to be the bass line offset against the tune which is usually heard, but some singers quite happily change from one to the other — and nobody minds. The delight of having an accompanist is that the symphony — the linking part between two verses — can be heard and it isn’t unknown for some of the singers to provide part of the symphony, if there isnít an accompanist.
There are a few places with regular weekly sings: Dungworth, Worrall, Wharnciffe Side, Lodge Moor, Ecclesfield, Grenoside and Oughtibridge, for example. Other regular places, sometimes only once, include Ingbirchworth, Castleton, Hathersage, Eyam, Foolow, Bamford and Thorpe Hesley. Both Traditional Sword Teams — Handsworth and Grenoside — end up on Boxing Day in a pub, with the local carols. Also, keep an eye open for the Loxley and Stannington Bands, who tend to be very active in the week before Christmas. There are still a few places where the tradition continues of singing on a Christmas tour round the village, at various houses or at a central place. These include Eyam, Foolow and Coal Aston. Wherever you go, keep singing!