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THE FESTIVAL OF VILLAGE CAROLS - Grenoside Community Centre - 1 December 2018

The Festival of Village Carols is held in Grenoside every two years, and 2018 saw the 13th consecutive “sold out” notices of an event that first began in 1994.

The spread of what have become known as the ‘Sheffield Carols’ shows the affection with which these and other traditional carols have been taken into the heart of all who sing them. The base of this spread is around the villages of the South Pennines and the north-west of the city and ‘Sheffield Carols’ is a bit of a misnomer, for traditional carols similar to these are sung not only across England and Wales, but in many other places.

Previous guests to the festival have included carollers from Glen Rock in Pennsylvania, USA, with their carols having a continuous record since 1848; the Kilmore Carollers from Ireland, a tradition going back to the middle of the fifteenth century; the Welsh singers of Parti Fronheulog with plygain carols dating back to medieval times; and from England the carollers of Odcombe (Somerset), Padstow (Cornwall) and Beeston in Nottinghamshire.

This year the main guest carollers were the members of Cuntzertu Di Aidomaggiorre, who travelled from Sardinia to share their fine tradition of chanting in harmony, with their traditional carols sung on various occasions through the liturgical year.

The format of the festival follows an established pattern. The boisterous arrival of instrumentalists and singers greeting each other and anxious for coffee; and then a morning and afternoon spent practising the carols to be sung in the evening concert. The singing is done all together in the soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts with the accompanying orchestra. The orchestra also practise the symphonies – a distinguishing feature of these village carols, soaring tunes that are played as introductions to the carols and between verses.

The late afternoon generally has a talk about some particular aspect of the carols of the distinguished visitors, and from 6.45 pm onwards the doors re-open and a further audience floods into a newly arranged hall for what is affectionately known as the Grand Sing.

As well as those carols sung by everyone and those by the distinguished visitors – there are two further groups invited who are part of the Grand Sing. This year these were from the Derbyshire village of Eyam and the Blue Ball at Worrall in Sheffield, near to the festival venue. Eyam has an unbroken tradition of over 200 years, well before the more formal singing in churches and cathedrals of nowadays. In Eyam the tradition was more chapel-based with house-visiting throughout the night. Over the past 20 years or so the singing there has been strengthened by the general revival of interest in village carols.

The Blue Ball Carollers are an essential part of the ‘Sheffield Carols’, a place where the well-established singing has featured widely on radio, television and on records and CDs. Here the repertoire is spread over a six-week period beginning on the first Sunday after Armistice Sunday and they also sing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

There has been a massive revival of interest in this aspect of traditional singing. One of Ian Russell's books of Village Carols has just been reprinted. Some community choirs include them in their repertoire and you can find workshops out of season at Sidmouth and Whitby festivals. These are organised by Ian – the director of this festival - a man whose enthusiasm, talent and knowledge seem endless. For this event he is also ably supported by his wife Norma and, as you can imagine, a whole host of equally enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers.

Dave Eyre