Where I went to high school, the tradition just before Christmas vacation was to have a Nativity pageant, followed by a formal dinner involving both students and faculty.
One of the customs during the dinner, between the main course and the dessert, was for the students in the different foreign-language classes assemble in front of the piano and sing carols in the respective languages. The carols could have originated in one of the deployed languages (French, Latin, Spanish), or they could have originated in a different language and been translated into one of the deployed ones. I called this ritual “Language Caroling”.
When I started high school, I was studying French; the songs used by the French classes were old-time carols which originated in that tongue; the French classes never seemed to go for more modern carols. There were very few carols that originated in Latin; songs in Latin were mostly church hymns. The Spanish students used both old-time Spanish songs and modern carols translated into Spanish.
I had French in my freshman and sophomore years, but switched to Latin for the other two years; I felt Latin was my calling. But in my first year of Latin, those students were dominated by a fourth-year student who was also president of the glee club; she selected the songs to be used at the Dinner that year. Actually she choose only “Silent Night,” and used a professional translation rather than have the students attempt their own translation. She didn’t even give us our song sheets until we were gathering together in the dinner room at the given moment!
The rule was that the different language departments had to look over the lists of available songs for at least a week before thanksgiving vacation. By the day before Thanksgiving, they had to decide on their selections so that they had the whole time-span from resumption of school after Thanksgiving to the day of the Pageant and Dinner to practice. But during my first Latin year, the students didn’t rehearse that often. I wanted to get them together to practice during the last few minutes of their daily classes, but instead was overshadowed by that one dominating girl.
The following year, my senior year, that girl had graduated and now I was on top. I insisted that the Latin students be more conscientious in preparing and presenting their program for the next Dinner. As early as October I began looking over possible traditional songs – not necessarily Latin originals – and translating them, if there were no professional translations available. “O Come All Ye Faithful,” though a Latin Original, was not allowed because the Angel Choir sang it in Latin during the course of the Pageant.
Besides having the Latin students select their songs by the day before Thanksgiving, I spent Thanksgiving vacation making beautiful folders containing the musical scores. The French students had always put the word Noel on their folder covers; I made sure the Latin students folders had the phrase Pax in Terra – “Peace on Earth.”
Since different levels of Latin classes met at different times during school day, I asked permission from my teachers to leave my other classes a few minutes early in order to give some singing practice time to those students.
On the day of the Dinner, the Latin students gave an excellent presentation of “Angels We Have Heard on High” (which had a chorus in Latin anyway) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing” after having rehearsed frequently and received well-printed scores bound in beautifully decorated folders.
After I graduated, I still kept in touch with my Latin teacher so that I could still provide and prepare song scores and folders for the Latin students. I doted on them for years afterward; the Latin students’ repertoire increased dramatically. After one time that they used “The Little Drummer Boy,” The teacher said that song was a sensation among both users and listeners.
However, after 1984, with the retirement of the headmistress of the school, Language Caroling mysteriously disappeared from the Dinner program. Hence I believe Language Caroling had been her idea. Several times I have written the principals and some of the language teachers to resurrect it, but it never has been.
I still have my old book on which I wrote many pages of carols, hymns, and church services, many of them my own translations. Maybe some day I’ll condense it to a sensible number of songs, but most of them focused on Nativity. If I were asked to be a singing soloist around Christmastime on stage or TV, I’d want to sing those carols in Latin. On TV, there would have to be subtitles in English. People could very well recognize the melodies, but would have to realize that the words are in Latin.