Tuesday, 18 December 2012

In praise of choral evensong

Choir stalls at St David's Cathedral
I'm ambivalent to the austere charms of C of E choral evensong when I hear it broadcast on the radio (Twice weekly on Radio 3, live at 3.30pm on Wednesday and repeated at 4pm Sunday). But when I see (or even take part in) this intimate performance live, it's an entirely different experience. The way voices carry within the transcendent architecture and massive acoustic of a mediaeval cathedral is nothing short of astounding; every note seems to shimmer with a halo of resonance.

Coming from a Welsh chapel background, I didn't grow up with the rituals of Anglican liturgy, so the mysteries of the responses and when you're supposed to stand up and sit down again are not familiar to me. But all of this seems inconsequential when you hear a choir's performance of a Stanford anthem or their sensitive singing of the Psalms and Canticles. I've heard them described as 'minor musical miracles in a gigantic space'. Hyperbolic language, perhaps, but I agree.

Once a year I sing a week of choral evensongs at St David's cathedral with the East Wickham Singers. I thoroughly enjoy being part of a centuries-old musical tradition and I look forward to the meditative and reflective moments the services allow me. If I lived in St David's, or close to one of our other great cathedrals, I think evensong would become a regular musical ritual for me. It's a living tradition that costs precisely nothing to experience live. The best free show in town! 


Ailsa said...

Derrick, I belong to a small group (16) of auditioned singers called the Raleigh Convocation Choir (RCC), and we ONLY do Evensongs. We travel around this part of the state at invitation, and lead these beautiful services. very ancient, very beautiful...would love to join you in that week at St David's sometime!!

DNP said...

Sadly, a 'proper' sung evensong is getting quite hard to find in the English church as 4-part harmony choirs are becoming increasingly rare. The East Wickham Singers always welcome guests!