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Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols

Last December I taught a really neat live class for the Music in Our Homeschool Plus membership. I was all about Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, which I wasn’t very familiar with before I prepared for teach the class. Today, I have a short version for you. Enjoy this free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

Free 15-Minute Music Lesson from Music in Our Homeschool: Benjamin Britten A Ceremony of Carols Music Lesson Printable Pack

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15-Minute Music Lesson on Britten’s Ceremony of Carols

Biography of Britten:

Benjamin Britten, a composer born in England in 1913, penned a range of musical pieces, from operas to orchestral and vocal compositions. His notable works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962), and a captivating orchestral piece for kids called The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945).

From an early age, Britten showed a passion for music. His mother initiated his piano and notation lessons, and he began composing music at just five years old. He delved deeper into music by starting piano lessons at seven and learning the viola at ten. Interestingly, he grew up without recorded music as his father avoided having a gramophone or radio at home.

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was designed to teach children about orchestral instruments. It features a theme by Henry Purcell, an English composer from centuries earlier. The piece showcases each instrument family, guiding listeners through woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion. After this exploration, a lively original section reunites the entire orchestra.

A Ceremony of Carols

Another remarkable composition is Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols which he composed in 1942 during his sea voyage back to England during World War II. It’s a 25-minute choral work for Christmas. Originally scored for a women’s chorus, it can also be sung by a children’s choir. The text, sourced from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems, is in Middle English, Latin, and Early Modern English.

The composition features diverse movements, each with a unique tone and story. From the celebratory “Wolcum Yole!” to the reverent “There is No Rose,” these movements paint a rich musical picture of the Christmas story, offering different moods and perspectives.


Britten’s choice of instruments was also distinctive. A Ceremony of Carols prominently features the harp, a historically significant instrument dating back to ancient civilizations. The harp used in this composition, the concert or pedal harp, enhances the ethereal and celestial feel of the music.

Listen to Some of A Ceremony of Carols

There are 12 movements in all, but we will only listen to a few for today’s 15-Minute Music Lesson on Britten’s Ceremony of Carols.

1. Procession “Hodie Christus natus est”

“Hodie Christus natus est” is a Gregorian antiphon to the Magnificat at Second Vespers of Christmas. It is sung exclusively by the sopranos and is patterned on a traditional processional in Christian church service. It has no time signature and can be sung in a flexible tempo. The last several measures can be repeated to allow the whole ensemble to take their places.
Hodie Christus natus est:
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt angeli:
laetantur archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

7. This Little Babe

The piece “This Little Babe,” stands out among the other movements for its distinct portrayal of a confrontation between the infant and Satan, symbolizing the clash of good versus evil. It achieves this through its swift tempo, polyrhythmic elements, overlapping vocal segments, and a gradual crescendo throughout the movement. The lyrics were penned by Robert Southwell.

According to Jeff Spurgeon of New York’s classical music station, WQXR, “In Southwell’s verses and Britten’s musical interpretation, the battle between good and evil is depicted triumphantly by “a baby born in obscure poverty.” This portrayal stands in contrast to grand orchestral arrangements and massive vocal ensembles, instead employing a harp and a choir of children.”

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.
His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes;
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy;
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy!

10. Spring Carol

“Spring Carol” is on a text which was set by William Cornysh in the 16th century. Britten set it as a duet between two sopranos that depicts the signs of spring. This movement ends with a call to thank God, which transitions appropriately to the next movement.
Pleasure it is to hear iwis the Birdès sing,
The deer in the dale, the sheep in the vale,
the corn springing.
God’s purvayance For sustenance.
It is for man.
Then we always to him give praise,
And thank him than.

Watch the Entire Piece

If you’d like to spend a little longer than 15 minutes, you can watch the entire Ceremony of Carols here:

Spotify Playlist

You may also use this Spotify Playlist to listen to Britten’s music.

Christmas Blessings Giveaway:

Christmas Blessings Giveaway

Christmas came quick this year!! At least it feels that way when everywhere you turn there are signs of Christmas all around, yet we haven’t even gotten to Thanksgiving yet. It seems the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier every year. It IS the most wonderful time of the year after all, so why not celebrate for as long as we can, right?!

To help celebrate this Christmas season, I’m teaming up with a group of amazing bloggers to bring you the 10th annual Christmas Blessings Giveaway!! I can’t believe we have been blessing families for TEN years!! We all love doing this and we look forward to it every year! While the giveaway has changed and evolved a bit over the years, many of participating bloggers have stayed the same – so many generous and dedicated women are behind this giveaway.

This year we will have FOUR winners!! Each winner will get a $200 gift card to wherever they choose – a restaurant, clothing store, grocery store, online retailer – any place that offers gift cards!

There are lots of entry options in the Rafflecopter form below – the more you enter, the better your chance of winning!  I know it can seem tedious and time consuming to go through all the entries, but isn’t a chance at $200 worth it? I think it is!  Plus, all of these amazing bloggers donated their own money towards the prizes, so this giveaway wouldn’t be possible without them.  I hope you’ll take the time to check out each one. Who knows, maybe you will find some new blogs to follow.

The giveaway will run from Monday, November 13th through Wednesday, November 22nd (ends at 11:59pm ET). Winner will be notified by email shortly after the giveaway ends and will have 48 hours to respond to claim the prize or another winner will be drawn. By entering this giveaway, you agree to be added to the email lists of the participating bloggers.  Please be sure to read the Rafflecopter terms and conditions upon entering.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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  1. I am so glad to be a part of this community and blog… homeschooling a special needs son has its challenges but I find many ideas to contribute to “music in our homeschool,” The Hawk Homeschool.

  2. Gena, I remember singing the Hodie and This Little Babe in choir at Christmastime when I was younger. Thank you so much for reminding me!

  3. I love sprinkling these music live courses into our homeschool days! Thanks for offering free learning for our kids.

  4. Thank you for this! We can’t wait to get started on this. This project comes along side of what we are currently doing in our homeschool.

  5. "State Songs of the 50 U.S. States" online course from Music in Our Homeschool is the perfect way to combine geography and music education in your homeschool, classroom, or homeschool co-op. Click through to see a free preview lesson. #musiccourse #elementarymusic #musiceducation #musiclessonsforkids #musicinourhomeschool

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Music Lessons for Holidays and Special Days self-paced online course for elementary students. Learn about some great music associated with holidays throughout the year, plus fun days such as Star Wars Day, Dr. Seuss Day, and Talk Like a Pirate Day!