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Parish Evensongs


David Rogers

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Several years ago I accepted an organist post at a large village (it doesn’t matter where). Evensong was still sung and was manned by a team of four readers. The incumbent always attended but preferred to remain a member of the congregation which I found helpful. Over time the readers have either died or quit and like the green bottles only one is left. Maintaining a roster using visitors from another parish is not easy for the wardens. Congregations have declined steadily. Easter Sunday was the fewest we have ever known with numbers too embarrassing to cite. All signs are that evening services are continuing to die; that the people of the parish don’t want an evensong, nor does it have support from the relatively-new house-for-duty priest, who never comes. Many will say this is has been the pattern for decades. The loyal core want to continue, having struggled at great expense through a cold winter. Common Worship would be shouted down if I used the phrase. Those are the facts. At what stage does one say “enough”; and who should say it? Do any members have ideas or advice?

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Our Evensongs were discontinued (much to the choir's, and my disgust), largely owing to the cost of heating, just over a year ago.

 

Recently, we have started re-introducing them. (Occasionally a sung Compline during the absence of Evensong proved that there was an interest, not just from the choir, in keeping an evening service going.) Congregations seem to healthier than before (numerically, anyway!)

 

Of course, you do not need a priest or licensed reader for Evensong, I believe.

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In my previous appointment, our weekly Evensong was very poorly attended (sometimes in single figures) and had no choir (except when we did a choral version). With a 22-mile round trip and frequent early trains to London on a Monday, I eventually agreed with the Rector that I would withdraw from these services except for choral Evensongs. As I recall, these weekly services soon became fortnightly, then monthly.

 

At my current appointment we have an evening Communion (BCP) on 2nd Sunday of the month (a blessed relief from the morning 'Family Service') and Evensong on the 4th Sunday. Usually, it's Parish Psalter and hymns except for the occasional choral one. These are fairly sparsely attended but have a warm and intimate atmosphere. We have even shoe-horned some choral Communion settings into the BCP...

 

It's nice to have a couple of Sunday evenings off but I'd be very sad if these services were discontinued (and there have been a few murmurings).

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I think we have discussed these kind of issues previously - certainly Sunday evening crowds have fallen dramatically in most places nowadays. My parents tell of when the evening service used to be the most popular in my Parish Church in Essex - now of course the morning service is the focus. When to give up? I'd guess that depends on a number of things, really.

 

Is the service choral? If so, how do the choir feel? Singing to a dwindling congregation every week can be disspiriting, I'm sure, but at the same time Evensong permits the singing of a whole range of repertoire which cannot (practically and liturgically) fit into a Sunday morning Eucharist (settings of the canticles, responses, more expansive anthems). For many choirs it will be their only experience of singing Anglican chant - at Beeston you can count the number of Evensongs we sing with the choir on two hands, and if it were more regular I'm sure the choir's psalm singing would be a lot better (and they would find it a lot easier, too). Recently, our DOM has had us singing a psalm at the start of choir practice when time permits and this should certainly help. In an ideal world we would sing a minimum of one a month (as I think many Parish choirs do) but instead we concentrate on particular festivals and our evening services don't have a regular pattern anyway. When we do sing Evensong some people do come specifically to support us, but the choir still generally outnumber the congregation.

 

I'd suggest that overall numbers are less important than the feel of the service and how it is appreciated by those who attend. At St Marys, Nottingham, they sing every Wednesday evening during University terms at 6.15pm and I accompany about half of these. Sometimes, there may only be 2 or 3 people plus the choir and priest, but it has a regular following - sometimes there have been as many as 15 or 20 so that choir and congregation are equal in number. It is certainly appreciated, and John Keys has said to me before that it is his favourite service of the week. However, the choir and repertoire is not stereotypically Parish Church! In a Cathedral, the emphasis is of course on the daily rhythm of prayer and worship, and there it doesn't matter if the choir and clergy say/sing the service alone. Of course, worship doesn't need to be of Cathedral standard to be worthy, so put into a Parish Church context, does it feel like a worthwhile communal act of worship which glorifies God, or is it just a drag which is done because it always has been? Does it have a worshipful atmosphere?

 

Hope that rambling might be of some use!

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Choral Evensong once a month with SATB 'scratch' choir (I sing - 'usually have introit, psalm, Mag & Nunc, responses and anthem) at my local 'town' PC. We have Parish Communion only at the (village) church where I play regularly but at one of the other ( again, village) churches where I deputise they do Choral Mattins complete with trimmings except anthem. When I started there I had to re-learn fast how to 'do' anglican psalms again!

 

A

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How I miss the days when Choral Evensong attracted perhaps 100-200 people, with a full SATB choir and wonderful anthems and settings. Psalm accompaniment was an art-form which had developed from being a boy-chorister, and of course, every organist aimed at the highest level of imagination, and musical beauty. It was always a lovely end to the week, and of course, organists would gather in local pubs afterwards and tell stories,(sometimes tall stories), but always in a convivial atmosphere of mutual support.

 

I think I finally accepted ten years ago that the era was gone, and I think the last Evensong I accompanied in this way was probably over a decade ago.

 

I suppose when you lose someone or something precious, you must accept the reality and move on. My problem is, that I don't see the slightest evidence of anything moving-on anywhere.

 

Best,

 

MM

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Choral Evensong once a month with SATB 'scratch' choir (I sing - 'usually have introit, psalm, Mag & Nunc, responses and anthem) at my local 'town' PC. We have Parish Communion only at the (village) church where I play regularly but at one of the other ( again, village) churches where I deputise they do Choral Mattins complete with trimmings except anthem. When I started there I had to re-learn fast how to 'do' anglican psalms again!

 

A

 

Please tell me what "Parish Communion" is. When I was an Anglican it was either Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist, High Mass or Low Mass. Surely the Communion or Eucharist service is not only for people from a parish but for anyone who steps across the threshold. Amongst the other titles that have crept in is "Family Service." Surely all services are for families! And like MM, I lament the passing of Matins (as well as Evensong),with Venite, Te Deum, Benedicite and psalms and the imaginative accompaniments that a good organist could bring if the first three were also to psalm settings.

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Please tell me what "Parish Communion" is. When I was an Anglican it was either Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist, High Mass or Low Mass. Surely the Communion or Eucharist service is not only for people from a parish but for anyone who steps across the threshold. Amongst the other titles that have crept in is "Family Service." Surely all services are for families! And like MM, I lament the passing of Matins (as well as Evensong),with Venite, Te Deum, Benedicite and psalms and the imaginative accompaniments that a good organist could bring if the first three were also to psalm settings.

 

Roughly, I guess it used to mean a communion service with a setting such as Merbecke which everyone sang, hymns, etc, possibly readings by members of the congregation, later on maybe the intercessions too. This contrasted with the more ambitious choral communion where the choir might sing more and the rest of the congregation less.

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Roughly, I guess it used to mean a communion service with a setting such as Merbecke which everyone sang, hymns, etc, possibly readings by members of the congregation, later on maybe the intercessions too. This contrasted with the more ambitious choral communion where the choir might sing more and the rest of the congregation less.

 

This would be my understanding of the phrase, also. However, these days, one is more likely to have a setting by Thorne, Rutter or Murray, etc, than Merbecke.

 

Sic transit gloria mundi....

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I was DOM of a small parish in Kent, with a supportive vicar. For a number of years we sang Evensong once a month, though this later was throttled back to once a quarter. I directed a small but loyal choir and we would sing the Responses, Psalm, Mag, Nunc and anthem. If I couldn't find appropriate music, I wrote it. The parish magazine or pew sheet would trail Evensong with invitations to premiere performances ! The friends of the tiny village church would lay on tea and cakes. In summer, the opening of the church on Sunday afternoons was timed to encourage local walkers to join us. Times of services were usually advertised in the local newspaper and a large billboard placed on a major main road that ran close to the church.

 

With the right willpower and effort from all concerned, we maintained a worthy tradition of worship that was a well-loved feature of parish life.

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How I miss the days when Choral Evensong attracted perhaps 100-200 people, with a full SATB choir and wonderful anthems and settings. Psalm accompaniment was an art-form which had developed from being a boy-chorister, and of course, every organist aimed at the highest level of imagination, and musical beauty. It was always a lovely end to the week, and of course, organists would gather in local pubs afterwards and tell stories,(sometimes tall stories), but always in a convivial atmosphere of mutual support.

 

I think I finally accepted ten years ago that the era was gone, and I think the last Evensong I accompanied in this way was probably over a decade ago.

 

I suppose when you lose someone or something precious, you must accept the reality and move on. My problem is, that I don't see the slightest evidence of anything moving-on anywhere.

 

Best,

 

MM

I know exactly what you mean, and understand how you feel. If I were in a parish situation I would feel the same.

My regrets are more specific, and relate more to cathedral situations than to parish ones.

I really regret the loss of the "Psalms of the Day" in so any places: either the portion is curtailed, or alternative lectionaries are introduced.

There seems to be a feeling that the clergy and/or congregation can't be doing with all this psalmody - it puts people off coming to evensong. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that some people come to evensong because of it!

My greatest regret is that I will probably never again sing one of the most heart-warming stories in its entirety.

Next time I take a visiting choir to a cathedral, I will try to find one that still insists on the Psalms of the Day - and make sure we're there on the 15th Evening! -:)

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I know exactly what you mean, and understand how you feel. If I were in a parish situation I would feel the same.

My regrets are more specific, and relate more to cathedral situations than to parish ones.

I really regret the loss of the "Psalms of the Day" in so any places: either the portion is curtailed, or alternative lectionaries are introduced.

There seems to be a feeling that the clergy and/or congregation can't be doing with all this psalmody - it puts people off coming to evensong. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that some people come to evensong because of it!

My greatest regret is that I will probably never again sing one of the most heart-warming stories in its entirety.

Next time I take a visiting choir to a cathedral, I will try to find one that still insists on the Psalms of the Day - and make sure we're there on the 15th Evening! - :)

 

Come to the Midlands DHM! Both Lichfield and Southwell still use the BCP cycle, although at the latter they use those specified in the Lectionary on Sundays and Holy Days. I know from experience that York also use the BCP cycle. The 15th evening (Psalm 78) is a wonderful journey and I've been fortunate enough to be at both Lichfield and Southwell to hear it in recent years. I trust you'll find an organist who is suitably adept at word-painting to accompany you!

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Psalms of the day - absolutely!

 

We have, in addition to the re-emerging regular Evensong (psalms, canticle setting, hymn, anthem) - which have lectionary psalms according to the preferences of this place, also been setting up 'cluster' Evensongs where choirs of various churches get together to rehearse and sing the service in each others' establishments. I always insist on the psalms of the day for these - not only do people come to hear them, but they are also a learning process for choristers who do not normally do much psalm singing. Hopefully it will rub off in the future in various places.

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For anyone at a loose end on a Sunday I commend the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. During term time they have two choral services every Sunday. Both are BCP. Evensong is at 15:30 and has Responses, the Psalm, Mag and Nunc, an Anthem, hymns and a voluntary which the congregation stays and listens to. Matins is at 11:00. There are Responses, a Psalm, Venite, appropriate canticles, anthem, hymns and a voluntary (also listened to). On the first Sunday of the Month there is a Choral Eucharist at 11:00 instead of Matins with a Setting, Creed, motet and so on.

 

The choir is of 10 men and 14 boys. Attendance is free. The April programme is available here http://www.chapelroyal.org/docs/CR%20Music%20List%20April%202013.pdf

 

If you are ever in the area ...

 

Best wishes

 

J

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How I miss the days when Choral Evensong attracted perhaps 100-200 people, with a full SATB choir and wonderful anthems and settings. Psalm accompaniment was an art-form which had developed from being a boy-chorister, and of course, every organist aimed at the highest level of imagination, and musical beauty. It was always a lovely end to the week, and of course, organists would gather in local pubs afterwards and tell stories,(sometimes tall stories), but always in a convivial atmosphere of mutual support.

 

I think I finally accepted ten years ago that the era was gone, and I think the last Evensong I accompanied in this way was probably over a decade ago. ...

MM

 

Well, we may not get a congregation of between one and two hundred, but full Choral Evensong is far from dead and gone here, MM. Not only do we sing it (almost every Sunday evening in term-time), but a few miles down the road, you can hear Christchurch Priory Choir sing Evensong at least as often as we do. I believe the same happy situation obtains at the abbeys of Romsey and Sherborne.

 

Here at the Minster, we always sing responses, psalm(s) - if the service is sung by the Gentlemen only, plainchant is used - a setting of both canticles and an anthem. In fact, we still occasionally sing composed settings of the alternative canticles for Evensong, the Cantate Domino and the Deus Misereatur. In this, we are fortunate in that we have our own chained library (which includes much choral and some organ music, some of it not existing anywhere else). We also have two gentlemen who possess (legal) copies of Sibelius - and some free time.

 

For the coming term, we have two new works to learn: Leighton's Collegium Magdalenae Oxoniense setting of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis and Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb. The last full choir Sunday Evensong usually features Stanford, in A and perhaps Stainer's I saw the Lord, or something of this nature.

 

And before you ask, yes - I consider myself fortunate to be organist of this church, in the middle of all this glorious music. In addition, the congregation are both supportive and appreciative - as are our clergy.

 

All we need now are a few hundred thousand pounds to rebuild and restore the organ....

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The 15th evening (Psalm 78) is a wonderful journey and I've been fortunate enough to be at both Lichfield and Southwell to hear it in recent years. I trust you'll find an organist who is suitably adept at word-painting to accompany you!

 

Out of interest, with which stop(s) do the respective organists 'smite the enemies in the hinder parts'?

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Out of interest, with which stop(s) do the respective organists 'smite the enemies in the hinder parts'?

 

 

Well, it is over two years since I was at Lichfield for Psalm 78 on a Tuesday evening (if I recall). Southwell was more recent - last autumn - and Simon Hogan certainly used plenty of organ for the angrier parts of it (as you can at Southwell), and I certainly recall some more exotic colours for the frogs, flies, caterpillar and grasshopper, and a 'flash' of 32' reed under the thunderbolts. He'd been in post for just a week at the time but already seemed very at home with the screen organ!

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Out of interest, with which stop(s) do the respective organists 'smite the enemies in the hinder parts'?

 

Not quite smiting anybody, but I have a recording of Francis Jackson's 'Tremble though Earth at the presence of the Lord' (Psalm 114, I think) being thoroughly trembled with the 32' reed at York.

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The late Herbert Byard used to relate that, as a boy in Gloucester, he would run to the Cathedral on the 15th Evening in order to hear Sir Herbert Brewer smite the enemies of the Lord in the hinder parts during Psalm 78. He found out much later that it was done by means of a swift double jab on the Ophicleide reversible piston.

 

I find the Solo strings with octave and sub are useful for smiting, sin and wroth, the poison of asps, war in their hearts, very swords, coming about me like bees, etc. To these, as occasion demands I may add the Swell Double Trumpet, Vox, Oboe, and so on (I have a Swell to Solo coupler), and emphasise various points with the swell pedals. All this, of course, underpinned by the Pedal 32'.

 

There's no doubt that other people besides myself enjoy this sort of thing. When the organ darkens, the Decanal countenance invariably lightens. I'm looking forward to Psalm 136 and Og the King of Basan on Sunday week.

 

There is some very effective use of a big 16' metal on the Pedal to illustrate taxing of the Divine patience in John Scott's playing on an old St. John's College Psalms recording.

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I cannot comment about the hinder parts, but I remember the late Canon Colin Beswick, sometime Precentor of Norwich Cathedral, recall that he challenged Adrian Lucas (the then Assistant) to find a suitable backdrop for the last part of verse 12 in Psalm 39 "... like as it were a moth fretting a garment". I have yet to find out if the challenge was satisfactorily met, and by what means...

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I cannot comment about the hinder parts, but I remember the late Canon Colin Beswick, sometime Precentor of Norwich Cathedral, challenging Adrian Lucas (the then Assistant) to find a suitable backdrop for the last part of verse 12 in Psalm 39 "... like as it were a moth fretting a garment". I have yet to find out if the challenge was satisfactorily met, and by what means...

 

 

I remember hearing of the same organist using the cimbelstern in his interpretation of the fair ground.

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I remember hearing of the same organist using the cimbelstern in his interpretation of the fair ground.

 

Indeed. I believe that it was I who posted that story. To the best of my knowledge, it was true. The verse concerned was 'My lot hath fallen upon a fair ground.' Afterwards, Michael said (apparently) 'Eehh *, ah, please don't do that again.'

 

There are quite a number of stories regarding these two musicians at this time - one involving whiskey, another sherry - and a dead clergyman.

 

 

 

* Which was pronounced gently, with a very wide, tight mouth shape, with the corners slightly turned down.

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I cannot comment about the hinder parts, but I remember the late Canon Colin Beswick, sometime Precentor of Norwich Cathedral, recall that he challenged Adrian Lucas (the then Assistant) to find a suitable backdrop for the last part of verse 12 in Psalm 39 "... like as it were a moth fretting a garment". I have yet to find out if the challenge was satisfactorily met, and by what means...

 

If you do, I would be most interested to learn how this was done, please.

 

Apparently, Brewer used to do it at Gloucester Cathedral (on the old H&H organ), with a quick double-jab on the reversible thumb piston to the Pedal Ophicleide. In that generous acoustic (and given that the Ophicleide was on FHW's fairly standard high pressure of 375mm), this must have been quite exciting.

 

Ah - I note that David Drinkell has already mentioned this - sorry. I thought that I had read every post from the previous page.

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Indeed. I believe that it was I who posted that story. To the best of my knowledge, it was true. The verse concerned was 'My lot hath fallen upon a fair ground.' Afterwards, Michael said (apparently) 'Eehh *, ah, please don't do that again.'

 

 

Sorry, I hadn't realised you'd got there first. I heard it years ago from an unrelated source ... so it must be true!

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