Monday, December 25, 2017

Glen Rock Carolers – "Hosanna in the Highest" (1829)

Lo! 'tis a youthful chorus sings
Hosanna to the King of Kings

Every Christmas Eve, a group of 50 male carolers gather at the only stop light in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, to continue a tradition that began in 1848.

From midnight until sunrise, the carolers walk the streets of Glen Rock, serenading the townspeople with Christmas carols.  They sing in three-part harmony, accompanied by trumpets and trombones.

The carolers wear a uniform consisting of a greatcoat with gray hat, gray gloves, and a striped woolen scarf:

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In 1837, an Englishman named William Heathcote built a woolen mill in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, a small town just a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon line.  Business was good, and several of Heathcote’s brothers and nephews came from England to join him.  The family began to operate a rope works in addition to the woolen mill.

On Christmas Eve in 1848, William’s brother Mark and three nephews decided to walk through the town and sing Christmas carols to their fellow Glen Rockers.  They were accompanied by William’s bassoon-playing brother James.

Here’s a statue of the original carolers:

The four hymns that the original carolers sang that night are still sung.  By 1900, the number of songs had grown to nine.  “Silent Night” was added in the 1930s, and other carols were added in 1986, 2003, and 2013.  

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If you want to be a member of the Glen Rock Carolers, I hope you’re patient.

There’s not a lot of turnover in the ranks of the singers.  In fact, the newest of the 50 members of the group was admitted to membership in 2008.

Contrary to the words from our featured song that are quoted above, the Glen Rock Carolers are not a “youthful chorus.”

The three most senior Glen Rock Carolers have been members for 47 years.  Three other have been singing in the group for 40 years or longer.  

The active Glen Rock Caroler has been a member for 26-plus years.

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There are a number of families who are represented by more than one caroler – for example, there are three Englers (all of whom have been members for at least 36 years) and four Krebs.

The Glen Rock Carolers in 1908
But the Krohs are in a class by themselves.  P. Kenneth, Jack, and Robert Kroh are life (retired) members, each with at least 52 years of membership.  Robert Jr., Todd, and Brent are active members, with 39, 36, and 15 years (respectively) of caroling under their belt.

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In 1999, one of the carolers travelled to England and visited the farm that William Heathcote owned before migrating to Glen Rock.

One thing led to another, and the Glen Rock Carolers were invited to sing at a holiday festival in Sheffield in 2002.  The group returned to England in 2012.

The carolers commemorated each of those trips by adding a new carol to their repertoire.

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“Hosanna in the Highest” is one of the four carols that the Glen Rock Carolers have sung every Christmas since 1848.

The text of the carol comes from an 1829 English hymn book, but the source of the tune is unknown.

Here is a video of the Glen Rock Carolers singing “Hosanna in the Highest” in 2015:

You can click here to go to the Glen Rock Carolers’ website and order their CD.

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