Singing the praises of evensong

When former choral scholar at Trinity, Guy Hayward (2005), looked online to find evensong services at churches he planned to visit, he found the details ‘totally buried’ in church websites.

There were listings by the Friends of Cathedral Music Trust and a Choral Evensong Facebook page but nothing comprehensive online. Dr Hayward explained:

We came to the conclusion that a website was needed that presented in a single format details of free choral music at some 350 churches and cathedrals around the country.

Many people love the music of choral evensong services, and choirs put much effort and love into making them so special. Evensong is one of the glories of Britain and it is also free of charge. We think this wonderful tradition deserves to be better known.

Initially, former organ scholar at Trinity, James Sherlock (2003), now Director of Music at Hampstead Parish Church, helped Dr Hayward get to grips with the choral tradition in London. From there, Dr Hayward found other lists of churches around the country and the Choral Evensong Facebook page filled in most of the remaining gaps.

Now you can type in your postcode or town to and details will appear of choral evensong and other services at nearby places of worship, as well as information about the choir.

Choral evensong is a 45-minute church service held at the ‘even’ point between active day and restful night, allowing listeners time for peaceful contemplation.

The service dates back to the Reformation and was created with the general public in mind. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer created the liturgy, which was laid out in the first version of the Book of Common Prayer, in 1549. A few decades later, composers developed polyphonic choral music for the new service.

Dr Hayward has recently completed a PhD exploring the role of rhythmic synchronisation in the formation of community by group singing. He says the high proportion of musical content of evensong distinguishes it from other church services – and gives it wide appeal.

Some people may be ambivalent about religion but most can connect with the beauty of the music of Evensong. The sound of voices in harmony can carry us beyond the limitations of human words towards those things we cannot articulate.

Our target is people who are spiritual but not necessarily religious, or just like music and don’t know that they have this on their doorstep. Hopefully, the website will make people realise what a big tradition choral evensong is.

Dr Hayward, who is now studying singing at Trinity Laban in Greenwich, speaks from direct experience. While at Trinity College he sang in the choir daily.

Trinity was intense…it was quite a commitment on top of your degree. It grew me as a musician. We were working so hard to make this high quality music – amazing, world class stuff – and yet sometimes there were only five, ten people in the congregation.

Though that didn’t really concern the choristers, Dr Hayward believes many people would enjoy ‘one of the great jewels the Church has to offer’.

At Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral you have world class music every evening; not only can you get in free of charge but you get to experience the church in the most fulfilling way, rather than just as a historical relic.

Director of Music at Trinity College, Stephen Layton, welcomed the new website.

This is a celebration of England’s heritage, a tradition that stems from 16th century composers such as Tallis and Byrd who were contemporary with the foundation of this college. As an aural art, and one embedded in ancient patterns of liturgy, the preservation of such music must be through performance and through the regularity of our beautiful services.

Mr Layton said that choral evensong is a manifestation of this ‘duty of care,’ as is Trinity’s tradition of live web casting every service from the chapel. Trinity’s award-wining choir performs evensong in the College chapel three times a week during term (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday) – services that are free and open to all. If you can’t make evensong at Trinity in person, you can listen live or listen later to any service from the past four years.

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