‘While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night’:

A Paradigm of English Village Carolling for Three Centuries

An article by Ian Russell in The European Journal of Musicology, Vol. 20, no. 1 (2021), 81-104.

In the vernacular tradition of English village carolling, as it is performed in the southern Pennine hills, one text occurs in more musical settings than all others. This is the carol While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night. Since 1969 I have recorded in oral tradition more than 30 different tunes to which these words are sung within 40 kilometres of the city of Sheffield. That number could easily be doubled if I took into account the tunes found in manuscripts and locally circulated printed collections assigned to this text.

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