For her upcoming Christmas concert, singer and VIU English professor Anna Atkinson has been scouring online repositories of Victorian-era songbooks.
She’s been on the lookout for tunes to include in her upcoming charity show, Carols and Candlelight: Songs from a Victorian Christmas. The performance takes place at Cedar United Church on Sunday, Dec. 16. The event is a fundraiser for the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank, with the evening’s proceeds being split evenly between the church and food bank. Atkinson said she hopes to raise $1,000.
“Really the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it and one of the things about the Victorians that’s fascinating is that they are the ones who, more than any other period in history, tied Christmas to the process of making sure that everyone had enough, to the process of charity,” Atkinson said. “And so it’s kind of neat to go back into that period, especially for a concert that seeks to benefit one of the most important charities in town.”
In her song search, Atkinson and her accompanists have made some new musical discoveries and assigned some seasonal carols playful nicknames like “The Batman Carol” – “The first line is, ‘Lo, the eastern sages rise at a signal from the skies’ and I read that first line and all I could think of was the Bat Signal – and “The Spanky Jesus Song” – “It’s an old ballad and it actually comes from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and at the end of this song Jesus actually gets a spanking.”
She said she anticipates the concert will be “a wonderful evening full of enchantment and silliness and solemnity and all of the contradictions that go into Christmas.”
“It’s a neat time period because they were obsessed both with the renewal of life and they sort of had this odd obsession with death,” she said. “So you get really interesting and kind of spooky carols, but you also get some of the most beautiful and beloved carols that have ever been written.”
When putting together the program, Atkinson said she didn’t expect to find such variety. She said while some songs date from the 19th century, others are even older but regained popularity during that time.
“The research for this was a real eye opener, I had no idea,” Atkinson said. “There are some songs that are fun and even funny and upbeat and we’ll rock them out a little bit, and some of them are more contemplative like In the Bleak Midwinter. And then there’s some that sound almost like the Salvation Army chorus and we’ll be doing some of that, too. So it’s widely varied and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
WHAT’S ON … Anna Atkinson presents Carols and Candlelight: Songs from a Victorian Christmas at Cedar United Church, 1644 Cedar Rd., on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20, call or text 250-327-2247.