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Early Music Michigan Presents Medieval Carols

Ghent Altarpiece, Chapel Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Ghent, Belgium, by Hubert and Jan Von Eyck
courtesy of Early Music Michigan

You probably think you know exactly what I mean when I say the word “carol”—a simple Christmas song that anyone can sing if they know the words. But while early carols were all about sing-alongs, they weren’t necessarily about Christmas or even religion. 

On Saturday, December 2nd, Early Music Michiganwill present a variety of carols that might change the way you see this old tradition. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo. You can buy tickets online or at the door. Adults tickets are $20, student tickets are $5. 

Ann Marie Boyle is co-director of Early Music Michigan. She says back in the Middle Ages, carols were songs sung at festive events—and not just at Christmas time. People might sing a carol on New Year’s Day, Easter, or maybe at a harvest festival.

Carols were also a rare opportunity for regular people to sing in a religious context. For a long time, the clergy were the only ones allowed to sing hymns and they were usually in Latin—a language not everyone could speak. Boyle says because many people could learn the words, carols were pretty catchy.

“That kind of pop music sort of appeal to it," Boyle explains. "In that it’s very tuneful so it sort of gets stuck in your head.”

Boyle says the concert will have songs sung in Latin, English, Spanish, and Gaelic. Co-director Eric Strand says some of the lyrics in carols were Pagan—not Christian—and some weren’t religious at all: 

“Carols often tell a story. Many times there are a multitude…many, many versions of a carol. One section that might be about Christmas, but another section that might be about Lent or even lesser sort of festivals or feasts in both the church as well as in folk or secular life.”

The carols in Early Music Michigan’s concert will feature music from the ancient to the contemporary. Songs like “Green Groweth the Holly” written by King Henry the VIII of England to the early American tune “Star in the East” by William Walker.

There will also be a piece composed by co-director Eric Strand himself as well as a twist on familiar favorites. Strand says the audience will be invited to sing along to versions of "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away in a Manger."

“The final section of the concert sort of celebrates peace and the importance of singing together for harmony on a metaphorical sort of level—harmony in the world,” Strand said. 

Early Music Michigan will present A Medieval Ceremony of Carols Saturday, December 2nd at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo.

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