Hi everyone. I thought I would share with you my personal enjoyment of the service of Evensong. By no means all of you will be Christian, indeed I’m careful to keep my own beliefs to myself. As a chorister at Coventry Cathedral 50 years ago, we were drilled to perform as professionals, and that’s been my approach ever since. We sang evensong on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and I’ve always enjoyed the music and the almost spiritual peace and quiet of this service.
This is a photo of us, probably around 1968, seated in front of the Chapter House of the cathedral. I love the architecture of this chapel and it makes for an almost classic photo. Robert Weddle, the Assistant Organist is the one in black academic gown, and to his right is the very first Organist and Choirmaster of the new cathedral, David Lepine – for many years he was my hero. He died aged 43 in 1972. See if you can spot the young Nicholas Houghton!
There’s a few choristers in this photo who went on to professional careers in music. Stephen Perrins, ex D of M at Ardingly, now at Solihull School; Stephen Tanner – recently D of M at Exeter Cathedral School; Harvey Brough of Harvey and the Wallbangers, and now a composer (Requiem in Blue); Omar Ebrahim – baritone at ENO and other places; Paul Daniel – ex MD at Opera North and ENO; Jonathan Rathbone – ex MD of the Swingle Singers. Heady times!
Evensong has been sung daily in English Cathedrals for over 400 years (I’m not certain when it became sung daily), but I’m guessing that apart from the period of the Commonwealth 1649-1660 when music was virtually banned, the 2020 Coronavirus might be the only period when sung evensong has been suspended. I eagerly await comments and corrections from my readers on this one. Robin and I try to catch evensong whenever we can in Cathedral cities. On a cold weekday, there might be only a handful of congregation, but the full choir is still performing, usually to an enviable standard. Your local cathedral, Chichester, has a very good small choir (14 trebles and six adults).
The Lewes Singers was established in 2004 to sing the weekend services at Sherborne Abbey. Since then we have sung in quite a number of cathedrals and abbeys. This year we were supposed to be singing at Westminster Abbey (now cancelled) and Ripon Cathedral (still possible).
Last year we sang at Rochester Cathedral and were able to record all our services. So here is an evensong (just the choral bits) compiled by me. Evensong on the Saturday was a special Annual service attended by residents of the French Hospital in Rochester, and we were asked to include something French for them. So I chose the popular Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. On the Sunday we sang the Poulenc: Salve Regina, so I’ve made that into an introit here (double click on the play button).
Poulenc: Salve Regina
After the introit, the service always opens with some responses, sung by the cantor and the choir. I wrote these myself in the early 1990s and Lewes Singers sing them really well.
Houghton: Responses (1st half)
Then we sing a psalm, and once again, I wrote the chant myself.
This is part of Psalm 119, verses 81-88. Chant: Houghton
The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis – the canticles – are set by Kenneth Leighton. This set (he wrote an earlier set called the ‘Magadalen Service’) was written in memory of the organist of Norwich Cathedral, Brian Runnett who died in 1970. The organist on our recording is Andrew Wilson who played for us all weekend. Thanks Andrew.
Leighton: Nunc dimittis
Next we return to my responses, 2nd half. As sometimes happens, the cathedral asked us to provide our own cantor, and you may recognise the dulcet tones of the fairly reverend Tony Jay (Bass in Lewes Singers).
Houghton: Responses (2nd half)
And to end, Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine.
Thanks to David Rawlins (tenor in Lewes Singers) for mastering all these recordings.
I hope that once the Church of England gets back to work, I might have inspired you to experience this daily, free, musical treat when you next visit a cathedral town. For me, one of the joys is that no one will speak to you or challenge you; it just happens, and if you happen to be there – that’s fine.
Have a good week.