How to: Organise perfect Christmas carols

The perfect carol concert mixes ancient mysticism with festive community spirit: the magnitude of the Christmas story told through angelic music combined with the joyful, end-of-term release of group singing.

There’s a knack to programming, though. Too much musical dexterity, and you’ll bore the half of the audience for whom the carol concert is their annual dose of live culture; too much unison Ding Dong Merrily and it descends into the distinctly unmagical, raucous bawling of the football terrace.

Crucial ingredients:
Audience copies of words
Heating in church
Angelic soloists
Organ with trumpet stop
Mulled wine and mince pies

Descant by aged, vibrato soprano
Lisping juvenile rendition of Little Donkey
Angels From the Realms of Glory-much too high for most congregations
Tedious shouts like Unto Us A Boy is Born, We Saw Three Ships

Must-have unison carols:
Once in Royal David’s City (first verse by pure soloist)
It came upon the Midnight Clear (thoughtful words)
O Little Town of Bethlehem (simply beautiful)
The First Nowell (great descant)
Good King Wenceslaus (acting and levity)
Hark the Herald Angels Sing (magnificent organ accompaniment)
O Come All Ye Faithful (feel-good factor)

Leave to the choir:
O Holy Night (soaring and uplifting)
In The Bleak Midwinter (touching and simple)
The Lamb (ditto)
Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar (glorious baritone solo and scrunchy chords)
Thou shalt leave thy lowly stable (Berlioz) (mellow harmony)
The Snow (exquisite violin solo)
Anything from Messiah