FROM OUR RECORDS: The Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols at The UWI

The staging of “The Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols” at The UWI has a rich interesting narrative.  From our earliest files on this subject, the Festival was an important event in the life of the University, the first Service being held in the open air on the Mona playing field in 1948. Initially the Festival was organised between the Office of the Senior Assistant Registrar and the Director of Music, from the Department of Music. With the opening of the University Chapel on the Mona Campus in 1959, the Festival has been held in the Chapel ever since. In 2008, a similar Festival was organised for the UWI Mona-Western Jamaica Campus at the St James’ Parish Church in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Festival is  one of the four official University Services, namely the Welcome Service in September, the Commemoration Service in February, and the Valedictory Service in April/May.

Patterned after the well-known Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge University, the Festival was ordered as such:

Processional Hymn –“Once in Royal David’s City…”
Prayers
Nine Lessons and Carols: The first three Lessons being read by members of the Student Body, the others by members of University Staff with carol selections by the Chapel Choir
A Carol sung by the Chapel Choir and the congregation
Sermon
A Carol- Choir and Congregation
Recessional Hymn

The lists of participants, through the years, would read like a List of Prominent West Indians, as many present-day luminaries of Caribbean society participated in this annual event either as students or members of university staff.

In the 1960s, The Festival of Nine Lessons with Carols was broadcast live on radio in Jamaica and recordings were distributed around the Caribbean for airplay during the Yuletide Season.  In a  February 1964 letter to the UWI’s Public Relations Officer, Cedric Lindo, the Programme Director at Radio Jamaica and Rediffusion,  John Colley, relayed reports of how popular the Festival was around the Caribbean.  The Trinidad Broadcasting Company stated “the programmes… sent [to] us were very well received…” The Barbados Rediffusion Service “considered the “Festival of Lessons and Carols” to be excellent and broadcast it on the 28th December [1963] at 10pm”.  The British Guiana United Broadcasting Service “were very pleased with the quality of the Festival of Lessons and Carols” and broadcasted it on Christmas Eve…” Radio Caribbean—St Lucia also shared similar sentiments.

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In November 1964, the Radio Education Unit, in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, expressed an interest in being part of the recording of the Festival and was responsible for widening the distribution of the recorded Festival to the various radio stations that the Unit serviced.  Interestingly however, in 1969, the Chapel Management Committee did not approve of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation’s request to televise the Festival as the committee “did not approve of the Chapel being used for purposes of television”.

Today we feature excerpts of the 1964  Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the premiere recording of the event by the Radio Education Unit, with Miss Maureen Warner, an undergraduate (now Professor Emerita Maureen Warner-Lewis, Professor of African-Caribbean Language and Orature of the Mona Campus),  Sir Philip Sherlock (Vice Chancellor of The UWI) and the University Chapel Choir.

 

On behalf of the University Archivist, John Aarons, and the staff of the University Archives, we wish you and yours all the best for the Season and may the gift of love, peace and hope be yours today and in the new year…

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