So far our songs have all been fairly mainstream and well-known favorites. This week I decided to go with Coventry Carol, not as well known but still a wonderful seasonal carol. The origins for this one go back to the 1500s and are found in Coventry in England. The song was part of a series of mystery plays tracing the time from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. The particular pageant with this song was that of the Shearman and Tailors. It focused on the plot by Herod to kill all the male children under two in an effort to stop the future new king (Jesus). This Massacre of the Innocents was told in Matthew 2:16. In the play the mothers of Bethlehem sing this song to their children to comfort them as the troops from Herod are closing in on the city. Over time the written versions of the play and the songs were lost. The last known copy was lost in a fire in the 1800s. Today we rely on sketchy transcriptions and will never know for sure the true original version.
The song really isn’t a song for Christmas. It was more connected to the Feast of the Holy Innocents, held on December 28th. The close time of the feast day to Christmas connected the song to the holidays. Traditionally it is performed a cappella and many popular singers have recorded it over the years. My earliest hearing of the song came on the album A Very Special Christmas. The album was a compilation of recordings by all types of artists to benefit Special Olympics. The Coventry Carol was the piece contributed by singer Alison Moyet. It was different from any other song on the album and I was immediately drawn to it’s haunting sound. I have since then found so many wonderful versions of the song. Please check them out…Live version from Sting. He has a number of recordings and performances of the song, all wonderful! Annie Lennox. This version is off her 2010 album, A Christmas Cornucopia. The album has tons of great songs including this version featuring the African Children’s Choir. Westminster Children’s Choir. This is a recording of the world-renowned boys choir at Westminster Abbey. The resonance and the fullness of the sound is remarkable. I hope to someday hear a live performance of this group. Mannheim Steamroller. This instrumental recording is a different take on the tune. It is simple and elegant, and not all hyper orchestrated as Steamroller sometimes is. Dinah Shore. Yup, the icon from the 20th century even has a version. Worth a listen!