“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”” – Luke 2:13-14
Christmas is such a good time of year for music. For hymns. For descants. It’s hard to choose my favourite. There’s the beautiful “Once in Royal” descant. There’s the wonderful “O Come All Ye Faithful” descant. But I think my favourite is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
The first half of the descant is fairly ordinary, to be honest. As descants often are, it is joyous. One of the reasons I love descants so much is that they are loud and joyful, a sort of musical expression of praise to God. Not that the normal tunes aren’t. (Just to clarify).
In the second half of the verse, there is a little bit of poetry, as the descant slips below the tune as we sing “Mild he lays his glory by”, before soaring up for the next line, reaching the joint highest note as we get to the word “raise”.
This is my favourite descant for a number of reasons, but it includes perhaps my favourite musical moment in all of the Christmas hymns we do. In the refrain, the is the most glorious suspension between the tune and the descant, prepared and resolved by the tune. Suspensions done well are glorious. Sung by a whole Church singing at the tops of their voices, praising God and celebrating the birth of Jesus, this has to be one of my favourite suspensions ever.
I often lose my voice after carol services. I’ve been to two in two days this year (my home Church’s service, and my old school’s). I certainly have more voice than when I did 3 at school, and the Church one, combined with cold season. Praising God in song, with a full Church, is one of the most uplifting things you can do. A proper warm-up helps though! 😉
Church music is special. Church Christmas music is especially glorious.