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If ye would hear the angels sing

Peter Marchbank recounts that when in 1964 he took up the post of Director of Music at Queen Mary’s School, Basingstoke, a boys’ Grammar School with a well-established musical tradition, he found himself charged with putting on a Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in the Parish Church to which the Mayor and the Town Council, as well as the Governors, parents and whole school would be present. In the first year he got by with the newly-published Carols for Choirs and a few favourites from the Oxford Book of Carols; but the following year he asked PAT to provide a carol that would be relatively straightforward and eminently singable; the result was If ye would hear the angels sing. The earliest version in the Cambridge University Library dates from 1965 (classmark MS.Tranchell.2.343), composed for SATB & organ, and is presumably the version written for Peter Marchbank. A 1974 version was arranged for ATT/BrBB choir & organ (classmark MS.Tranchell.1.55); a note at the end of this later version reads "This version [in C major] is revised from the original for TBrBB in F and the version for SATB in D flat", but this men's voices "original" does not seem to be present in the CUL.

After Peter moved on from Queen Mary’s School in 1977, the piece lay unknown until 2003 when he was able to show a copy to Geoffrey Webber (Peter Tranchell's successor at Caius). Geoffrey had been aware only of the men's voices version in the Caius Music Library. This led to Caius Chapel Choir performing the carol that year, then to its submission by Geoffrey for publication. 

The D-flat SATB version was published by Oxford University Press for the Church Music Society, 2008. Church Music Society publications; 042.

Score available to purchase from Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0193950189

If ye would hear the angels sing, by Peter Tranchell


The work has been recorded at least four times, featuring on the following CDs:

Nine Lessons & Carols, King's College Choir, Stephen Cleobury (Conductor), 2012, (recording of the service from December 2010) available through Hyperion (the web page includes sound clips of all tracks including If ye would hear.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, Choir of King's College Cambridge, 2009, (recording of the service from December 2008) available on Amazon (and others).

Dormi Jesu: A Caius Christmas, 2014, Delphian

Oxford Christmas Choral Highlights 2010, Oxford University Press Music, published December 12, 2018, available here

Some of these recordings can be found on YouTube and other music streaming services. Here is one from King's  - we do not know if this is legally published on YouTube.

And a slower version from the Oxford City Choir


The words are by Dora Greenwell (1821-1882):

If ye would hear the angels sing
‘Peace on earth and mercy mild’,
Think of him who was once a child,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

If ye would hear the angels sing,
Rise, and spread your Christmas fare;
‘Tis merrier still the more that share,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Rise and bake your Christmas bread:
Christians, rise! the world is bare,
And blank, and dark with want and care,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.

If ye would hear the angels sing,
Christians! See ye let each door
Stand wider than it e’er stood before,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Rise, and open wide the door;
Christians, rise! The world is wide,
And many there be that stand outside,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.