Orientes Reges Tres Sunt Nos?

If you and 29 of your closest friends are going to sing in Latin, the Frost Hall lobby is the place to do it. All those voices rising in rich harmony take time to reach the 15-foot ceiling, and when they do, the room fills with the sound. Rounding out the picture is the elegance of the room, with its marble columns, leather-upholstered thrones, and artwork in the classical style.

The students enrolled in Latin 101 and English 262 (Classical Literature) gathered there December 9 to sing Christmas carols in Latin for passersby. Some stopped to listen, and then joined in: “Orientes Reges Tres Sunt Nos” may not ring a bell when viewed on a page of lyrics, but once you catch on that it’s “We Three Kings” it is easy to follow along.

Katie Gilbert ’16 was singing for the fourth year; with her self-designed Kenneth L. Pike Honors Program ancient languages major she’s been studying Latin all through college, and Syriac and Greek to boot. Sally Tinkham ’18 had the distinction of being the only singer in an armorial helmet; every student in her Latin class has to take it home for a day, get a photo of themself wearing it, and post it on the class Facebook page. Other students have posted photos of themselves in a helmet on a motorcycle, with President Lindsay, and on a horse, but Sally may be the first to get a photo on the College blog.

Although the caroling took place during the meeting time of the Latin class, it was not a graded assignment. “It’s just nerds being nerds,” joked Chris Warne ’16, a double major in classics and languages with a biblical languages concentration. Cana Short ’17, who sings alto in the College Choir, sang the opening note to start the group on key. Though they’d rehearsed only a bit in class, and though only a few—Cana, Katie, Elspeth Currie ’16 and a few others—sing in a College ensemble, they sounded polished and accomplished. For “Silens Nox” (“Silent Night”), the lights in the lobby were turned off, darkening it on an overcast afternoon, and students pulled out their phones and used the “candle app” to light the room up with virtual candlelight as if in church on Christmas Eve. Latin speakers John Skillen (associate dean of European programs) and Liesl Smith (Global Education) joined the student singers.

Ian Drummond, who teaches history and Latin at Gordon, started this annual pre-Christmas tradition four years ago. “I was originally inspired to craft an ‘active’ component of Latin, since it’s a ‘dead’ language,” Drummond says, “and music is one point of access. Plus, it’s a way to make our Latin-learning community a bit more visible on campus and spread Christmas cheer.” Graeme Bird (who teaches Classical Literature) conducted the singers this year from across the 17th-century oak refectory table that anchors the lobby.

Kids, do try this at home!—you can access the Latin lyrics online. For the most part, just read what you see; the spelling is phonetic. Here are Sally Tinkham’s tips about the few curveballs the language throws us.

  • Pronounce V like a W
  • C and G are always hard (as in cart and goat)

Veni Veni Emmanuel: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

Orientes Reges Tres Sunt Nos: “We Three Kings”

Adeste Fidelis: “O Come, All You Faithful”

Silens Nox: “Silent Night”