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John Rutter Christmas Carols

Updated on October 3, 2014
Choir singing on Christmas
Choir singing on Christmas | Source

Christmas Carols Written, Arranged, or Adapted by John Rutter

The women's chamber chorus that I sing in often includes a John Rutter Christmas Carol in our yearly holiday concert.

One of my favorite John Rutter Christmas Carols that we've sung is Shepherd's Pipe Carol, one of the first carols he wrote. It's a joyful, uplifting carol!

One of our choir members found a couple links online where we could listen to the carol to learn the music more quickly. I've included both links (one is a YouTube video) on this page.

To hear the Shepherd's Pipe Carol, click John Rutter: The Art of the Christmas Carol and scroll down that page to listen to the Cambridge Singers sing that carol and two of his newer carols.

Otherwise, scroll down this page to watch the video of Shepherd's Pipe Carol sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Both performances are excellent.

Continue scrolling down to watch and listen to some of my favorite Christmas Carols that composer/conductor John Rutter has written, arranged, or adapted.

John Rutter
John Rutter | Source

Who is John Rutter?

John Rutter, born in 1945, is sometimes called "the world's greatest living composer and conductor of music". Most people who have sung in a choral group will be familiar with some of his work.

Rutter says he fell in love with Christmas carols when he was a chorister (choirboy) in grade school. Eventually he started composing his own Christmas carols, including one of his first, Shepherd's Pipe Carol, which he wrote when he was 18. (National Public Radio interview December, 2008)

He studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, and later was Director of Music there. Then he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir mostly dedicated to recording. He divides his time between composing and conducting. Read more about his career at John Rutter/

A good part of his repertoire consists of Christmas carols he's written, adapted, or arranged -- he loves Christmas and its music, saying, "...the music of Christmas is always perfect, and so I love to remember and celebrate Christmas in music and song."

John Rutter Christmas Albums

You can preview the songs on these albums on Amazon. You can also download the songs or the entire albums if you prefer not to buy the CD. I have the first CD, The John Rutter Christmas Album, and it's lovely. We play it while decorating our Christmas tree.

Shepherd's Pipe Carol - Words and Music by John Rutter

This carol is one of the first that Rutter composed, at the age of 18. It's still one of his best-loved carols. Here it is sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It's one of my favorite choral arrangement carols because of the joyous and uplifting melody.

Lyrics to Shepherd's Pipe Carol

The Holly and the Ivy - Traditional English carol arranged by John Rutter

Holly and ivy have been used as Christmas decorations since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Holly was sacred to the druids who associated it with the winter solstice, and both holly and ivy can keep their green coloration even during the winter.

Here "The Holly and the Ivy" is performed by the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble on December 5, 2009 at Old Mission de Tolosa. Arranged by John Rutter.

Lyrics at The Holly and the Ivy | Wikipedia

Nativity Carol - Words and Music by John Rutter

The Choir of Kings College Chapel, Cambridge sing John Rutter's Nativity Carol.

The music is beautiful, and this video is visually very appealing as well. Look at the angelic faces of these choirboys!

Coventry Carol - adapted from the original version by John Rutter

The original version of the Coventry Carol is from 1591. It refers to the "Massacre of the Innocents" in which Herod orders all male infants in Bethlehem under the age of two to be killed (Matthew 2:16 - 18). The version here is adapted by John Rutter.

Lyrics at Coventry Carol | Wikipedia

Christmas Lullaby - Words and music by John Rutter

Beautiful voices, lilting and soothing lullaby.

Sung by Neeber-Schuler-Chor, Frankfurt Christmas 2006.

Donkey Carol - Words and Music by John Rutter

This delightful, melodic carol is in 5/8 time, giving the feeling, perhaps, of a donkey ambling over an uneven, bumpy road. Our women's choir enjoyed singing this carol a couple years ago.

This video is from the Christmas Concert 2008-Basilica Superiore di San Francesco d'Assisi.

Music starts slightly past 30 seconds.

Lyrics at Donkey Carol |

Carol of the Magi - by John Rutter

"The VocalEssence Chorus & Ensemble Singers perform the American premiere of John Rutter's newest work, "Carol of the Magi" at the first of their sold out Welcome Christmas 2009 concerts. Recorded live on December 6, 2009 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis."

Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day - English traditional carol arranged by John Rutter

This is a tradition English carol that tells the story of Jesus as if it's being told in his own words. His passage through life is characterized as a dance.

This recording is from John Brown University 66th Annual Candlelight Service Christmas 2008.

Lyrics at Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day | Wikipedia

Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant (He is Born the Divine Child) - French Carol, arranged by Rutter

The lyrics of this traditional French carol are from the mid-19th century and the music from the 17th century. The arrangement here is by John Rutter.

Salt Lake Children's Choir singing at the 2007 Christmas concert in the Cathedral of the Madeling in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Lyrics at Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant |

Personent Hodie - "Sing Aloud on This Day"

Even though this video indicates that the arrangement is by Holst, this is an error which a number of viewers on YouTube pointed out. This version is arranged by Rutter.

This is a German melody from 1360, with Latin text from the 12th century. This is another carol which refers to the Massacre of the Innocents; when Herod ordered that Bethlehem babies under the age of two be killed.

Brighton Chamber Choir 2005

Michael Griffin


Original lyrics 1582 at Personent Hodie | Lutheran Hymnal

The Wexford Carol - arr. Rutter

The Wexford Carol, sometimes known as "Good People All This Christmas Time" (from the first line of the carol) is an Irish carol, and one of the oldest Christmas carols, dating back to the 12th century.

The Stairwell Carollers perform The Wexford Carol at St Charles Church in Ottawa, On., Canada -- Christmas concert Dec 8, 2000.

Lyrics at The Wexford Carol | Christmas Hymn and Carol Lyrics

Wexford Carol -- Allison Kraus, Yo-Yo Ma

I also love this version of the Wexford Carol performed by Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma. It gives me chills to listen to.

One of my favorites! Also accompanied by bagpipes and bodhran.

I don't know if she's singing the version arranged by Rutter, but it's a truly beautiful rendition of this carol.

You can buy this version of The Wexford Carol as an MP3 download.

From the program, "Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace", December 2008

Buy Wexford Carol MP3 Download - - Allison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma

I hope you enjoyed listening to some of these Christmas carols? Do you have a favorite John Rutter carol? (One he's written, arranged, or adapted?)

Thank You For Visiting! - I hope you enjoyed this page!

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    • delia-delia profile image


      4 years ago


    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from U.S.

      @Diana Wenzel: Thanks! I really enjoy his music too. I'm glad that listening to it was a good day to start your morning.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      5 years ago from Colorado

      Such uplifting music. Beautifully presented. A great way to enter into my morning. Thank you!

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 

      5 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      What a well-researched lens. I liked it! ::::blessed::::

    • TeacherSerenia profile image


      6 years ago

      I was listening to the Shepherds Pipe Carol back in the 1970s when I was a little girl - only I had no idea what it was called or who wrote it. This week (after more than 30 years) I have finally been able to find it again and now I can't stop listening to it. Thank you for a wonderful trip down memory lane. Blessed by a passing angel.

    • Travel Shepherd profile image

      Michael Shepherd 

      6 years ago from Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland

      Wow!, you have created a great lens. I must do better with mine when there is something like this to emulate.


    • Churchmouse LM profile image

      Churchmouse LM 

      7 years ago

      Oh yes yes yes! I am listening to Rutter's Magnificat as I write this. So pleased to see your super lens dedicated to his carols. The first one I ever heard was the Shepherd's pipe carol - and have loved everything else he has written since. We now try not to listen to his music when working because you just can't get it out of your head!! Keep up the great work on this lens - am adding it to my featured ones now.

    • DuaneJ profile image


      7 years ago


    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I feel a link to John Rutter, not only through singing his carols in the college choir, but also because I believe he has a personal connection to Lincoln Cathedral. (Canon Rutter) This is a super lens, so sprinkling some angel dust on you today :)

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Il est ne is one of my favourites as it makes me nostalgic for one of my happiest moments. Surprised to see it here. Wish I am there to listen to your carols.

    • KarenHC profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from U.S.

      @tvyps: Ha :-) When I was googling "John Rutter", it often came up with "Do you mean John Ritter?" Yes, Allison Kraus's voice is beautiful!

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I heard John "RITTER" do Christmas carols once on Three's Company with his roommates, ha! Interesting lens, Allison Kraus has a great voice, huh?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Such a lovely selection of Christmas carols -- I can't pick just one favorite and they each evoke a certain happy Christmasy feeling.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What a beautiful Christmas music lens. Tis the season!

      I'm just starting to get into the holiday music again.

      Merry Christmas!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've sung a few of these in Christmas choirs myself. My favorite is The Holly and the Ivy. I didn't know about the composer. He was certainly gifted for Christmas music. You did a wonderful presentation of his works.


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