The book that this article came from St. Nicholas, Vol. 55, Part 1 – Nov 1927 – April 1928. St. Nicholas was a popular monthly children’s magazine. Mine is a hard-bound volume with 6 months worth of the magazine. St. Nicholas Magazine began in 1873, and ceased publication in 1940.
Carol Singing At Mount Holyoke
By Helen Davis
In the little New England village of South Hadley, where Mount Holyoke College is located, the clear strains of familiar carols ring out over the snow in the dark winter afternoons, as groups of girls return to the dormitories after practice—long before the Christmas season has well begun elsewhere. They carol their favorite songs in clear, young voices, with a spontaneity and joy that is the spirit of Christmastime. It is peculiarly charming to hear them thus informally, thinking of the other bands of carol-singers who have walked to and fro singing these same songs.
In the late afternoons, the windows of the small New England inns are lighted, and the doorways are decorated with wreaths. There are Christmas trees in the village and they sell tinsel, red tissue-paper, and gilt string in the shops. Every one is preparing for Christmas—even the careless carol-singers who must worry about the concerts they give in Holyoke, Springfield, Hartford, Boston, New York, and Washington.
The fame of the selected group of carol-singers is wide, and has grown through the years that Professor William C. Hammond, the head of the department of music, has directed them.
Forty years ago, Dr.. Hammond took his first position as organist in the Second Congregational Church in Holyoke. At that time there was little interest in carol-singing. Professor Hammond took a group of children and taught them to sing carols. He felt, however, that children’s voices were too naïve and that they couldn’t interpret the real spirit of the songs, and at the same time, there were no appropriate carols available. Then began his lifelong search for the perfect carol and the perfect voice to sing it, which has culminated in the Mount Holyoke carol choir.
Professor Hammond came to Mount Holyoke and started to work with a group of girls. There were the perfect voices, but there were no songs to be sung! Professor Edward Bliss Reed, of Yale University, brother-in-law of Mr. Hammond, began a study likewise of old Christmas carols. While traveling in Europe one summer, he came upon an unpublished collection of 10,000 carols which had been taken down from the lips of peasants singing in churches, in inns, from bands of strolling student-singers, in all the out-of-the-way places of Europe. He secured this collection of carols that is now in the hands of the New Haven Carol Society which publishes eight of them every year at Christmas time. Before this, however, the Mount Holyoke choir in its annual concert, makes public three of the carols, introducing them as carols should be introduced, — in burst of fresh song.
Last year the four new carols sung were: “Wake, Nightingale,” a Franconian carol; “Come Rock the Christ Child,” from the German of 1604; a Poetvin carol of the fifteenth century; and an old Czech carol, “Hearken to me.” The year before that, the carols that had not been sung in this country, but which now have become favorites with the college students, were: “O Nightingale,” a dainty little Fench carol, which applied all the artificial graces of French love poetry to the Christmas story; “The Nuns of St. Mary’s,” a pathetic Latin hymn of the fifteenth century, which, sung unnaccompanied, sounded like the echoing and re-echoing of delicate bells; and, “Down in Yon Forest,” from Derbyshire, England, which had a suggestion of the atmosphere of Arthurian romance in its somber beauty.
The students like to sing the new songs but they love the old ones which have come to be so associated with Christmas and the atmosphere of snow: “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabell,” they sing over and over by themselves, and, “The Carol of the Russian Children,” that beings mournfully, “Snow-bound mountains, snow-bound valleys,” and ends with a spirited, “Fur-robed moujiks,” long ago were introduced into carol-singing by Professor Hammond.
The students do not let the select group of the choir do all the singing, however. The mass must have its share, and in some ways the student celebration is loveliest. On Vesper Sunday, before the holiday begins, and at six in the morning when it is still dark, the sophomores file slowly and quietly out of those little houses on the edge of the campus. Like shadows they enter the large sleeping-dormitories where the freshmen, juniors, and seniors live. There they commence their singing, two by two, dressed in white, with tinsel bands and stars around their heads, hair flowing, if it is long. Carrying lighted candles, they march through the narrow corridors singing the oldest and best-known songs of all.
“Hark, the herald angels sing—” they admonish the sleeping dormitory, and they do indeed look like angels, especially to the wondering, amazed, sleepy-eyed freshmen, from whom it has all been kept secret. One freshman said, “I thought I had died and waked up in heaven!” They go through all the corridors, coming on occasionally lighted cratches that upper-classmen have prepared, candles and wreaths. Afterward some of the sophomores go back to hang holly on the seniors’ doors, keeping traditionally here, the rites of the sister-class. The juniors wake up and hang holly on their class-sisters’ doors, the freshmen. Then finally the sophomores slip into their galoshes and coats and scamper back over the campus—oh! anything but angels then—to find the Christmas breakfast of griddle-cakes and maple syrup that the matrons of the sophomore houses have prepared for them.
This is only the beginning of Christmas Sunday. There are ceremonies and tradtions to be kept up all day, ending with the concert in the chapel, which Mr. Hammond will close for the students with their organ pieces. “The March of the Magi” sweeps up the chapel vaults and exults in adoration of the season. The students think of their preparations for the coming recess. Finally Mr. Hammond plays his “Lullaby” which was composed by his grandfather, and has never been written down. Always, he must end the concert with this, before the students will go out.
The choir of ninety voices, which has been carefully trained during the four years,—perhaps two or three years,—makes serious preparations for its long tour. This year it will probably visit the same cities that it did last year, with new carols for the music-lovers. It may even, again, as happened last year, be received at the White House and shake hands with the President.