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Carols for Choirs

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Carols for Choirs
Covers of the original editions of
Carols for Choirs post 1970
EditorsSir David Willcocks, Reginald Jacques, John Rutter and Bob Chilcott
Cover artistAlfred Daniels; John Grandidge
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date
1961 (Vol 1)
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Media typePrint (paperback)
Pages360 (Vol 1)
ISBN9780193532229 (Vol 1)
WebsiteCarols for Choirs on OUP.com

Carols for Choirs is a collection of choral scores, predominantly of Christmas carols and hymns, first published in 1961 by Oxford University Press. It was edited by Sir David Willcocks and Reginald Jacques, and is a widely used source of carols in the British Anglican tradition and among British choral societies.[1] A second volume was published in 1970, edited by David Willcocks and John Rutter, and the collection is now available in six volumes. A compendium edition was published later. In addition to music for Christmas, the collection also offers works that are suitable for other Christian festivals such as Advent and Epiphany.

The books contain commonly performed carols and their harmony arrangements, with descants from the editors (mainly Willcocks) which have become the de facto standard descants for these tunes in the Anglican communion in the UK. Most of the arrangements were originally written for use by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge or the Bach Choir in London.


A choir singing from Carols for Choirs in the Natural History Museum, London

Carols For Choirs was originally launched by the organist and music editor at Oxford University Press Christopher Morris. Whilst working at St George's, Hanover Square, he realised that church choirs lacked a definitive book of Christmas carols, and felt that a single book would be more convenient than using separate pieces of sheet music and hymn books.[2] Under his direction, the first book of Carols for Choirs was commissioned. The book was originally to be called Carols for Concerts.[3] To edit the collection, Morris enlisted David Willcocks, Director of Music at King's College, Cambridge, and Reginald Jacques, conductor of the Bach Choir.[4] The book was published in 1961, containing new arrangements of traditional carols, but it also popularised pieces by modern composers such as William Walton, Benjamin Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett, William Mathias and John Rutter.[5] Carols for Choirs was an instant success and became OUP Music Department's best-selling title, with over a million copies being sold.[2] OUP were keen to commission a second volume, but after the death of Jacques in 1969, a new editor had to be found to support Willcocks, and an undergraduate at Cambridge University, John Rutter, was recruited. Carols for Choirs 2 was published in 1970.[4]

The Carols For Choirs series have become standard choral texts throughout the English-speaking world and were highly influential; according to the composer John Rutter, they "changed the whole sound of Christmas for everybody who sings".[2][5]

On 29 December 2021, it was announced that a new volume, Carols for Choirs 6, would be published in the summer of 2023. A poll was released to suggest the colour of the new book, the most popular colour being purple.[6] The volume was released on 13 July 2023, featuring fifty carols (both originals and arrangements).


Choir singers sometimes refer to the books by the colours of their covers, with the "green" and "orange" books (volumes 1 and 2) being the most widely used. The "blue" book (volume 3) contains a number of longer anthems.[7] A compendium volume called 100 100 Carols for Choirs (the "white" book) consisting of 74 of the most popular items from Carols for Choirs 1, 2 and 3, plus 26 pieces new to the series was published in 1987. It contains both accompanied and unaccompanied items, as well as the Order of Service for a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

The "red" book (Volume 4) features fifty carols arranged for sopranos and altos.[8] Oxford University Press extended the series with volumes appropriate for other church seasons, such as Lent/Easter.[9] In July 2011, Oxford University Press published the fifth incarnation of the original series, Carols for Choirs 5, edited by composer Bob Chilcott, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first volume; it is presented in gold covers.[9]

Other seasons[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whiteley, Sheila, ed. (2008). Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 96. ISBN 9780748631872.
  2. ^ a b c Bannister, Matthew (21 December 2014). "Christopher Morris Obituary". Last Word. 25 minutes in. BBC. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Carols for Choirs: the journey to press". OUPblog. 7 December 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  4. ^ a b Beeson, Trevor (2009). "17. The Oxbridge Choirs". In Tuneful Accord : the church musicians. London: SCM. p. 141. ISBN 9780334041931.
  5. ^ a b "Christopher Morris, musician - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 October 2016.
  6. ^ "Oxford Choral". Facebook. 29 December 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2021.
  7. ^ Senior, Evan, ed. (1978). "Carols for Choirs 3". Music and Musicians. 27. Hansom Books: 25.
  8. ^ "Reviews". Brio. 43 (1). International Association of Music Libraries, United Kingdom Branch. 2006.
  9. ^ a b "...for Choirs Collections". Choral Series. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2016.

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