Review: “Gant’s writing flows with an easy, effortless charm”




Book review: Deck the Hall by Andrew Gant

“What’s the difference between an organist and a terrorist?”

“You can negotiate with a terrorist!”

It’s an old joke for sure, but it never fails to raise a chuckle! If you’re wondering how to melt the hard-working heart of your steely church organist this Christmas Deck the Hall by Andrew Gant is sure to have them drooling over every musical tale and factoid. This book would make a delightful gift for anyone who enjoys traditional church music and those who have a serious interest in the social history behind our favourite Christmas carols.

Notable composer and conductor, Andrew Gant, teaches music at St Peter’s College, Oxford and has directed many leading choirs, include those of the Guards’ Chapel, Selwyn College, Cambridge and Her (now His) Majesty’s Chapel Royal based at St James’s Palace in London, where he led the choir at many state events. Gant’s friendly, rhythmic writing flows with an easy, effortless charm yet his voice never misses a beat and remains firmly confident and authoritative. These stories, which do gallop along at a fair old pace, are underpinned by Gant’s serious research and sound professional knowledge. For the serious reader looking for something significant to get their teeth into, it’s a very pleasing, well structured, composition.

The meaty hard back book is beautifully bound and, at well over 300 pages long, is not for the faint-hearted. Gant shares tales and anecdotes behind twenty-seven carols from a variety of traditions and places of origin. Chapter Six is dedicated to that much loved carol In the Bleak Midwinter. Gant writes: “One of our most hallowed Christmas traditions, alongside mince pies and a sherry at Auntie’s, is the annual competition to find our favourite carol. Magazines and broadcasters regularly run a festive countdown, voted on by readers or listeners, or by a panel of experts who probably give the exercise more or less attention depending on whether or not they’re being paid. Results vary depending on what’s included: congregational items only, or choir carols as well? Folk songs, or newly composed pieces? Sacred or secular? What about a wassail? Noddy Holder as a write-in? And how about Jingle Bells?

“There are trends and consistencies in the results. Top of the list of favourite English carols is often O Holy Night, which isn’t remotely English but French to its Gauloise-blushed fingertips (even the English translation hails from America, not England; the words are an un-English mixture of Catholicism and Unitarianism; and it’s an aria, not a choral piece). More of that in a later chapter.

“A Top Thirty in the November 2022 edition of the UK’s Classical Music magazine described its chosen winner as ‘nigh on perfect’. Viewers of BBC TV’s Songs of Praise at Christmas 2020 put the same song a respectable third. A 2008 poll of leading choral directors placed it first. Broadcaster Classic FM gave this carol unique honours in 2018 ranking it third and sixth.”

Deck the Hall is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Main Photo Credit: Brett Wharton via Unsplash

Val Fraser

Val Fraser is a trained journalist with over 12 years’ experience working on staff in various demanding media environments. She has authored/edited thousands of articles including news, travel and features. Val has authored/contributed to nine non-fiction books. A regular columnist, she stepped up to the role of Digital Editor in September 2022 and is responsible for the Sorted Magazine website.

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