Best Christmas Chord Progression EVER!
Text and music: Attributed to John Francis Wade (ca. 1711-1786)
Tune name: ADESTE FIDELES or PORTUGUESE HYMN
Do you want to hear actual “choirs of angels” singing?
I have a prediction…
Someday we’re all going to be sitting in the after life attending a Lessons & Carols Christmas service.
When it comes time for the angels to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” God will invite Sir David Willcocks to the organ and we will all sing together Willcocks’s ABSOLUTELY EARTH SHATTERING arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
This is the primo example of what great congregational hymn singing is and can be. Oh how I wish we would have more of the THIS kind of hymn singing in our Church.
Now, I have some REQUIRED listening for ALL of you. Just nod your head and say… “Yes, Dr. Pew.”
Now, you MUST listen to this. This is King’s College Choir at Cambridge University. These guys do religious Church music better than anyone in the world.
Sir David Willcocks was their choir master and organist a long time ago and he wrote a ton of stunning arrangements of favorite Christmas carols for choir and congregation.
Here is the Willcocks “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Now, pay close attention. At the 2:15 mark there’s an amazing descant sung by the boy choristers (these are real choristers, a chorister is NOT someone who directs music in an LDS church service… just a little FYI).
After the verse with the descant, the final verse occurs. It begins at the 3:15 mark.
At the 3:40 mark, the heavens actually open and harmonious sounds of THE MOST incredible harmony, harmony that encases the entirety of the Atoning power, redemptive emotion, and universe creating powers from beyond all come together and rock the very foundation of Christmas.
Pay close attention. It only lasts for 12 seconds. Listen a few times. Then go back and listen to the whole thing again. I can’t think of any single chord that packs the emotional punch, the real meaning of Christmas, the full weight of the power of God on earth through His Son who descended below all in the entire repertoire of classical music as this chord and the progression that follow.
And really, I’m not overstating this. Ask any organist.
Ok, here’s the clip. Now, LISTEN, please… I beg you! You MUST hear this!
Here’s the actual music of this passage.
That’s all I have to say today. Please use this version. Please. And please, let’s sing like this more often in Church. Please, please, please!!!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This is perhaps my favorite of all the hymns sung at Christmas time, and I owe that all to Sir David Willcocks. The text for this hymn is considered to be the work of John F. Wade, a copyist who’s copy work is the only source for the original Latin text. This text appears in seven manuscripts from the eighteenth century and not before. All of the manuscripts were copied by Wade, therefore it is presumed he is the author. His text has been translated many times, but the most known and used is by Frederick Oakeley, with some alteration. He penned the first line as “Ye faithful, approach ye” rather than its current first line and title. Not all of the verses of the translated text appear in our hymnal, as the hymn in some translations has at least nine verses.
The tune is also attributed to John Wade, as it appears in the same manuscripts copied by Wade as the text. There is some debate as to whether is is unique to Wade, as other composers have tunes attributed to them with similar characteristics. Known today by the name ADESTE FIDELES (the first line of the Latin text), it was formerly known as PORTUGUESE HYMN, as some hive proposed that the tune is of Portuguese origin (including perhaps by a former King of Portugal), and it was first heard in England in the chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London.
David Willcock’s magnificent arrangement of this hymn is the primary reason for my affinity. He wrote a masterful harmonization and descant on the penultimate verse, and then another harmonization for the final verse. Church organists worldwide know “the chord” that is so remarkable in the last verse on the word “Word” (in our hymnal, the word is “Son” at “Son of the Father”) and the triumphant build-up to that chord. We sing this every year in Lessons & Carols and anytime I play in Sacrament Meeting, I use this harmonization. Many opine that it is not Christmas until “the chord” is reached! I encourage all to find and use this arrangement!
A strong, stately tempo is recommended here. The church I play in isn’t overly resonant, as is the case for all of our chapels, so at about 108 beats per minute is where I find the tempo lands. This is a good stately tempo, but not too slow as to drag. If you found yourself in the marvelous circumstance to be in a very resonant room accompanying hundreds and hundreds of voices, you might take it a few clicks slower, but such will not be the case for almost all of us. Using a strong registration that builds to the final verse is good practice.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Swell: Mixture, Contra Trumpet 16’, Tierce 1 ⅗
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’