The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Can religious music make you a believer? If so, one example would surely would be the moving Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols that airs on Wisconsin Public Radio today at 9 a.m. CST and on Christmas Day at noon. | December 24, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

I suppose you can argue that it is not really classical music.

But no one can say that it isn’t classic music.

I am talking about the yearly broadcast of The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College in the United Kingdom.

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College

Music is so central to the service. And there are old standards as well as new commissions.

The Ear finds the whole production so moving that it would give make non-believers the desire to believe. After all, what is evoked and summoned are the ideals of compassion and redemption. And who can’t benefit from those values?

I also feel that same way about many of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s cantatas and passions and abut the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gabriel Faure. (Tell us what pieces make you feel that way in a COMMENT.)

Anyway, the festival service will be broadcast LIVE this morning at 9 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area) with an encore production on Christmas Day at noon CST. (You could stream it also by going to

But in case you miss it or can’t listen to it, here in a YouTube video is the always inspirational opening hymn — “Once in Royal David’s City” that features a solo boy d soprano singing out to the entire world — and procession from another year’s production, from 2010. The opening is just so poignant, so beautifully developed and expanded, and the service continue to live up to the high standards that have been established over many decades of the ceremony.

So for 2013, from The Ear to you, Merry Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas!


  1. Does anyone know if this performance is on DVD? Amazon has CDs available but I couldn’t find anything on DVD.

    Comment by Elizabeth Conklin — December 25, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

  2. Music is sacred because people make it so by their investing in it with their emotions and time. Compassion and redemption both take time and emotional investment as well. Mere attendance at a moving concert cannot bring either to anyone, but it CAN inspire everyone to bring these qualities to their daily lives. THAT is the real work of any sacred or Right Community. Music can certainly help with keeping the focus sharp and the positive impetus moving forward.
    …whose Music does occasionally aspire directly to these lofty goals…!

    Comment by Michael BB — December 24, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  3. I won’t suggest that sacred music will make a ‘believer’ of one, although it depends on how you define ‘believer.’ I will say that having been raised in a religiously-indifferent home, and having become an atheist as a young adult and remaining so until my mid-40s, the great works of music (and not only sacred music) I sang and I heard kept active in me a connection with something I’ll call the Source of us all. For the past twenty-five years I’ve been part of a very liberal branch of Christianity. The masterpieces of sacred music connect us with the numinous, however we describe it.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — December 24, 2013 @ 8:50 am

  4. It is very lovely. But no matter how lovely it is, it would not make me believe it in any way. Music is a universal language; the text isn’t. The same with Bach (and I love Bach). And the boy at the beginning has a wonderful voice.

    Comment by Jeanne Swack — December 24, 2013 @ 12:36 am

    • Hi Jeanne,
      Thank you for reading and writing a reply.
      I completely agree with you.
      Text is only text, but music is music.
      To believe in beautiful music is saving enough for me. As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Without music life would be a mistake.”
      Cheers to 2014!

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 24, 2013 @ 5:59 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,262 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,329,700 hits
%d bloggers like this: