Evensong

 

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!

Coventry Cathedral Choir 1968

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
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

Psalm 119 vv 81-88

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: Magnificat

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.

Nick

11 Comments

  1. Thanks, Nick, for posting that; I love Choral Evensong. I know the Chamber Choir rather fell from grace when we last went to Chichester, especially in the responses. (Embarrassingly, I found afterwards that a couple of high-powered local singing friends were there – though the anthem wasn’t too bad?) But could we perhaps do an Evensong some time at St Anne’s or St Michael’s? I’ve taken part in several at St Anne’s with Sussex Harmony and the Ch Choir would be more cathedral-like than they are – not that that’s their aim. I would have thought most choir members, whatever their outlook, would enjoy it; we managed the Advent liturgy a few years back.

    1. Author

      Hi Brigid. You might be right – perhaps we (Lewes Chamber Choir) should have another go at evensong. They’d love it at St Michaels (St Annes already do their own, once a month). Let’s put it on the agenda. Nick

  2. Hard to tell but could the young Nick be the fifth boy from the left in the centre row – with the dark shiny hair?

  3. I am an atheist as is my older sister Helene who sang in the London Philharmonic Choir for ten years. I remember her commenting, soon after she started, on the enthusiasm with which she could sing to the glory of God! When I joined the ESCChoir (incidentally the same day as Nick) I knew what she meant. Music is music, and even if it isn’t God who has all the best tunes – in my view – religion has certainly produced some of the best. So I’d be very happy to sing Evensong in Lewes, a lovely suggestion.

  4. And i forget to say how much I enjoyed this lovely selection of music, Thank you Nick.

    1. Author

      Hi Grace. I’m sorry but you haven’t spotted me on the photo yet. Great that you love the music. Re-Zadok the Priest – agreed it’s difficult to think of a more powerful start to any piece of choral music. And that’s interesting, because it’s a very quiet opening, suggesting that we respond more to potential strength than outright bluster. Nick

  5. Ah, yet another Evensong fan…last time in York I joined ‘Cathedral Music’ which helps to keep the choirs and organists going with support funding. The only time B Singers have sung evensong was (I think) some years ago at St Mary de Haura in Shoreham – but it would be lovely to do so again. Sadly not much opportunity for girls to join choir schools in the 1950s
    A lovely alternative Salve Regina on radio yesterday (A Scarlatti) with counter-tenor and soprano.
    Gini H

  6. Not Christian but love Evensong too. One of my all time favourite singing experiences was singing Evensong at Chichester Cathedral with Paddock Singers many years ago.

  7. Back row, left, second from the end?
    I love evensong too. (back to St George’s in Windsor, before the panto).
    Grace – which years did your sister sing in the LPC? I was there too for quite a few years.

    1. Author

      Hi Sian. It’s difficult to be sure what is the back row, but…..assuming the back row starts with the boy furthest to the left, I’m 4th in, the boy to my left has glasses. Nick

      1. Hi Nick
        I can see that now though I thought you were on the end of the second row on the right hand side. Looks like your twin?
        Penny

Leave a Reply