Advent 11 – While Shepherds Watched

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” is a Christmas carol describing the Annunciation to the Shepherds, with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and England’s Poet Laureate Nahum Tate.

The exact date of Tate’s composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady’s 1700 supplement to their New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. It is written in common metre and based on the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14.

It is the only one of the sixteen works in the 1700 supplement to still be sung today. It was published by Davies Gilbert (London, 1822), and William B. Sandys (London, 1833). The carol is most commonly sung to two different tunes: Winchester Old in the United Kingdom and a variation on a Handel aria arranged by Lowell Mason in the United States.

The southern version:

3 comments for “Advent 11 – While Shepherds Watched

  1. Mudplugger
    December 12, 2018 at 20:21

    In some parts, this carol is often sung to the tune of “On Ilkley Moor Bah’t ‘At” – try it, it works.

    • macheath
      December 12, 2018 at 20:41

      You got there before me, Mudplugger! If you’ll permit me plundering my archives for more detail:

      A picturesque tale is told that the first line [of ‘Ilkley Moor’] originated at a Wesleyan picnic, when a knowing question to a courting couple caught the imagination of one of the choir. This choir member then went home and – here’s the clever bit – set to a well-known hymn tune the now-familiar tale of the young man who goes courting sans headgear and meets a nasty end.

      The tune chosen was one widely used for the Christmas carol ‘While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night’ and the result was a resounding success – not least because local choirs could immediately perform it with the harmonies familiar from their Sunday services.

      JH, enjoying this series immensely – thank you!

  2. December 12, 2018 at 21:42

    Pleasure, both.

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