Listen to the beginner piano arrangement of Once in Royal David’s City.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks is a Christmas carol describing the Annunciation to the Shepherds, with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and England’s Poet Laureate Nahum Tate. The exact date of Tate’s composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady’s 1700 supplement to their New Version of the Psalms of David of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorized to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. It is written in common meter and based on the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14.
David Weyman’s adaptation of “Christmas”, taken from an aria in the 1728 opera Siroe by George Frideric Handel was arranged by Lowell Mason in 1821, and it is now this version which is most commonly used in the United States.
In the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, the standard hymn tune of While Shepherds Watched is “Winchester Old,” originally published in Este’s psalter The Whole Book of Psalmes from 1592. This tune was, in turn, arranged from chapter VIII of Cambridgeshire composer Christopher Tye’s setting of the Acts of the Apostles in 1553.
* This hymn arrangement is also available in our books: