No Small Wonder
For Advent and Christmas
Words: Paul Wigmore, copyright 1983
"No Small Wonder" is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.
No Small Wonder
Composer: Paul Edwards
Lyrics and music available at No Small Wonder-Jubilate Group
Small wonder the star.
small wonder the light,
the angels in chorus,
the shepherds in fright;
but stable and manger for God -
no small wonder!
Small wonder the kings,
small wonder they bore
the gold and the incense,
the myrrh, to adore;
but God gives his life on a cross -
no small wonder!
Small wonder the love,
small wonder the grace,
the power, the glory,
the light of his face;
but all to redeem my poor heart -
no small wonder!
I was pleased to receive this note from Paul Wigmore in late November, 2013:
I see that this carol is absent from your site. It was broadcast by Kings College Choir in 2000. Publisher: Animus.
Because of copyright, I do not reproduce contemporary poetry, carols or hymns without the permission of the author. But I am always happy to do so, because it is my belief that the authors and composers of today are as well gifted as those who preceded us.
The story behind this carol:
Went the Day Well?
by Paul Wigmore
NO SMALL WONDER
A small wonder
One November morning in 1983 the young composer, Paul Edwards, gathered up his week’s bundle of laundry and was about to leave for the local launderette when he remembered the envelope. It had come in the post that morning. He quickly opened it and scanned the letter. It was from me.
The letter ended with a new work - a carol for Advent and Christmas, just three short verses. Paul Edwards had already set a number of my lyrics for choir and this was a new one. He slipped it into his pocket. It would be something to read while he waited for the machine to do the washing, he thought. Then, as an afterthought, he picked up a sheet of music manuscript as well. He just might get an idea while he waited for his laundry.
In the launderette he loaded the machine and sat down. He took out the envelope and read the poem. He grabbed the scrap of manuscript paper and began writing.
Trying to imagine how any composer could write this profound music while surrounded by the noise of washing machines is practically impossible.
The words had a similarly unlikely beginning. Earlier that same November I must have heard someone use the phrase, ‘Small wonder’. Those two words stuck in my head for the rest of the day and they were the first thing I thought of when I woke the next morning. All through that day they went round and round in my head. I tried writing it down to see if that would stop it - and then I had an idea. I was in the middle of writing lyrics for a new collection of Christmas carols for the RSCM [The Royal School of Church Music] and I wondered if I might write a carol based on the words. And so the carol emerged, eventually finding its way into the heart of the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, and being sung by them during the BBC Christmas broadcast from King's in the year 2000.
That November day in 1983 when I put my dodgy three-verse poem in the post box is, for me, a day that went very well.
This article originally appeared at WentTheDayWell.
(For information about this article see "The Earworm and the Carol," the blog of 14th November 2012)
The background to the carol
Earworm. This, I am told, is the correct name for that annoying scrap of music that insists on ringing in the ears and round and round the brain from the moment you wake in the morning until you fall asleep at night. You cannot stop it. One November morning in 1983 I woke to find I had an earworm. But mine wasn’t music. I am a lyricist, so my earworm was considerate enough to present itself in words. Two words. ‘Small wonder.’
Small wonder small wonder small wonder small wonder – it went on and on throughout the morning, the afternoon, the evening. It was the same the next morning. I had to do something to stop it.
And then I had a bright idea. I was in the middle of writing lyrics for a new collection of Christmas carols and I wondered if I might write a carol based on those words. And so the carol NO SMALL WONDER began to emerge. And the earworm stopped.
I wrote the three short verses about the wonders of the Christmas story. The crowd of singing angels! The strange star seen by the three wise men! The shepherd being told by the angels where the baby, Jesus, could be found! However, all through these three short verses there is a ‘but’. All these wonders were small wonders when you consider the astonishing fact that God himself was coming to Earth as a human being! Over all these lesser wonders came that one truly enormous wonder; no small wonder indeed.
The poem was written. I sent a letter to my dear composer friend, Paul Edwards, enclosing my poem. Paul remembers the day it arrived. He writes:
“I well remember Friday 18th November 1983, when the morning post brought Paul’s text beginning, “Small wonder the star. . . I was on my way to the nearby ‘Washeteria’, so I took the verses and some manuscript paper with me to while away an idle hour. And so it was that No Small Wonder (op. 204) came into being.”
His idyllic composition knocked me out. I had never heard anything quite so lovely. It transformed the words. Not long after it was published by Animus it spread across the country and round the world. Cathedral choirs, small church choirs and choirs of many kinds embraced it. The BBC included it in its televised Christmas 2000 broadcast of carols sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Animus tells me that this earworm-cum-washeteria production has broken their records.
NOTE: Some internet references mistakenly refer to it by its first line, ‘Small wonder the star’. but the title remains, No Small Wonder.
This blog originally appeared at The Earworm and the Carol.
Please see the Index of Carols written by Paul Wigmore.
Please visit The Jubilate Group-Words and Music for Worship, which provides free access to hundreds of contemporary hymns and arrangements by a group of the UK's leading Christian composers and writers.
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