Scottish carols connect biblical story with modern challenges

By Ecumenical News International
December 24, 2007

The Season of Goodwill, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, is upon us and people who might never have stepped into a church in their lives are singing a new sort of carol in Scotland - writes Tevor Grundy.

"Carols written by pop stars offer a refreshing twist to this Christmas' traditional festive offerings," Robert Dawson Scott wrote in London's Times newspaper last week under a heading: "Hark! The herald angels are singing to a new tune."

Over the coming days drinkers in some Scottish bars will be treated to "services" of nine lessons and nine carols composed by the well-known local musician and playwright, Paddy Cunneen.

"For many," writes Scott in The Times, "the traditional nine lessons and carols that are broadcast from King's College, Cambridge every Christmas Eve are the encapsulation of the Christmas story."

But this year Cunneen and his singers - The Sirens of Titan - will be popularising the story of Jesus' birth with catchy lyrics and tunes, sung in the bars of public houses in the West End of Glasgow.

The newspaper report says that the highly acclaimed Cappella Nova ensemble in Castle Douglas, Western Scotland, will add a home grown carol to its usual repertoire, called "Scotland at Night". Its music is by Tom Cunningham, with words by Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of best-selling novels, set in Botswana.

While regular church-goers know the words of the best-loved carols off by heart, most Britons hum along to them because they are popular "jingles" which accompany consumer adverts on television.

Earlier in December, an opinion survey revealed that only 12 percent of adults and seven percent of those aged between 19 and 24 years know the story of Jesus' birth.

Yet, suddenly in Scotland, writing carols is seen as a "cool" thing to do. Mike Gonzalez, an academic from the University of Glasgow, has been applauded by mentioning Bethlehem as it is today in a carol written by Scott Twynholm of the Sounds of Progress Orchestra.

It tells how a huge barrier constructed by Israel in Palestinian territory divides races and religions, stopping ordinary people getting to the place where the founder of Christianity was born around 2000 years ago.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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