Commemorative CD: St Albans School Carol Service, December 1958

st_albans_school_carols_1958_cd_coverA recording of the School Carol Service from December 1958 is on sale to OAs, thanks to a tireless project to transfer the recording onto CD from its original magnetic reel-to-reel tape, by John Ellerton (OA 1964).

The CD can be purchased for £10.00 (+ £1.50 postage and packing) by clicking here, or via the Development Office.


This recording is certainly the sole extant record of the choral content of the 1958 Carol Service. It is from the series of recordings formerly in the personal collection of Mr E W Tanner (Art). With characteristic kindness he gave it in 1974 to John Ellerton, who as a second-former had been the treble soloist in the Bach Introit.

The original recording is on a 5-inch Scotch Type 111 magnetic acetate reel-to-reel tape. This is a 4-track mono tape, the service being recorded at 3.75 inches per second on tracks 1 and 4. The remaining two tracks are empty. Residual sounds from earlier use confirm that the tape was not new when applied to the present purpose. Age and damp have further compromised sound quality.

The recording project was undertaken in something of an extemporaneous spirit. The tape-recorder (a standard Grundig from the Modern Languages department) was positioned in the Abbey organ loft, with the microphone hung from an improvised boom over the Chancel. Mr J C Stevenson (French) is thought to have been in charge of operations.

The present CD reproduces the entire content of the original reel-to-reel recording, with the exception of an occasional unintelligible phrase and the odd bar of musical introduction obliterated by background noise. The editorial dilemma - how much to excise, how much to keep - was thus resolved in favour of inclusiveness. Undeniably this policy has served to inflict upon the hearer some tracks sadly deficient in recording quality and hence musical impact. They have been retained in the interest of completeness.

Fortunately there are others that surprise with their power and precision. Above all, there is no mistaking the veritable, authentic sound and atmosphere of the School and Abbey in the late 1950s.

st_albans_school_carols_1958_cd_01Some anomalies exist. For instance, though the objective of the recording was to provide a record of the musical content of the service, the chorus "For Unto Us a Child is Born" from The Messiah mentioned in The Albanian's report is unaccountably missing. The lessons too are treated inconsistently. There were four (in addition to the Gospel and School Prayer), of which invidiously only one finds a place on the recording. Another flaw is the absence of the opening bars of the Introit, no doubt explained by an underestimate of the length of the tape leader. As for the occasionally obtrusive congregational background noise, perhaps no apology is called for. This was after all a live performance before a packed house.

After the service the choir retired to School House to enjoy a celebratory tea in recognition of their endeavours. This was an agreeable occasion, to which Mr Buck as choirmaster contributed some typically kind congratulatory remarks in that habitual tone of gentle amusement for which many will remember him with gratitude and affection.


Note on readers and soloists: Doubt remains as to which of the four readers mentioned in The Albanian's report read the sole lesson present on the recording. All are believed to have been upper sixth form, as were P M Meacher and J A Hallam (School Prayer and Gospel). Of the soloists, K N Bernard and M J Lucock are thought to have been lower sixth, while R E Grimes and J Ellerton were third and second year respectively. 


Click here to purchase a copy of the CD.


Track List:

  • 1. INTROIT: (incomplete) "Be Not Afraid" (Christmas Oratorio - JS Bach) (Soloist: J. Ellerton)
  • 2. CHORUS: "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" (Christmas Oratorio - JS Bach)
  • 3. HYMN: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
  • 4. THE SCHOOL PRAYER (P.M. Meacher)
  • 5. CAROL: "Hail Blessed Virgin Mary"
  • 6. CAROL: "I Saw a Maiden" ("Lullay, My Liking")
  • 7. HYMN: "Once in Royal David's City"
  • 8. LESSON: "The People that Walked in Darkness" (Isaiah, Chapter IX, verse 2)
  • 9. RECITATIVE: "For Behold, Darkness Shall Cover the Earth" (The Messiah - Handel) (Soloist K.N. Bernard)
  • 10. INSTRUMENTAL: "The Pastoral Symphony" (The Messiah - Handel) (M.J. Lucock - flute, Mr J.M. Finley - oboe and Mr Peter Hurford - organ)
  • 11. RECITATIVE: "There were Shepherds Abiding in the Field" (The Messiah - Handel) (Soloist: R.E. Grimes)
  • 12. CHORUS: "Glory to God" (The Messiah - Handel)
  • 13. CAROL: "In Dulci Jubilo"
  • 14. HYMN: "The First Nowell"
  • 15. CAROL: "The Holly and the Ivy"
  • 16. CAROL: "Ding Dong Merrily on High"
  • 17. HYMN: "Unto Us is Born a Son"
  • 18. CAROL: "o Sleep, Thou Heav'n Born Treasure, Thou"
  • 19. THE HOLY GOSPEL (J.A. Hallam)
  • 20. HYMN "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night"
  • 21. THE BLESSING - The Dean of St Albans. Concluding organ voluntary: Chorale Prelude: In Dulci Jubilo - J.S. Bach.

2008 St Albans School