Renaissance in Choral Evensong prompts new Oxford research

Choral Evensong Research Radio 3 Live
18th February 2019

Cathedrals are experiencing a boom time for their services of Choral Evensong and a research degree is underway at Oxford to shed fresh light on the reasons why.

A large scale online survey has just been launched as part of this new academic study to understand the current renaissance of Choral Evensong in the Church of England.

Today, 18,000 adults a week attend ordinary weekday cathedral services– that’s an increase in 35 per cent since 2007 – and the listener data for BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong is showing its highest audience levels in the programme’s 92-year history.

How to listen to BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong

These statistics, coming on the back of the latest Church of England data, published at the end of 2018, which again confirmed that cathedral services are showing continuing growth – and not just for Christmas – was the prompt for University of Oxford musicologist Kathryn King, whose doctorate intends to find out what lies behind this upsurge.

Kathryn, a doctoral researcher at Magdalen College, Oxford, is asking:

“Who is going to Choral Evensong? Who’s not going? What does it mean to them? What does it do for them? Why now.

“And what can understanding these motives and experiences add to our understanding of the role of cathedral music in the 21st century?”

Kathryn’s research methods combine social investigations with insights from music psychology, using a variety of approaches: ethnographic explorations involving the congregations of two cathedrals and an Oxford college; quantitative and qualitative studies, interviews and focus groups, and an innovate programme of psychological and physiological ‘experiments’.

This includes an immersive Evensong experience study, which uses a specially-created virtual reality Evensong service. Following Kathryn’s successful trial of the technology last October at iF Oxford, a science and ideas festival attended by 13,500 people, the resulting ‘virtual Evensong’ experiments are now underway, with details to be published later this year.

Meanwhile, Kathryn is collecting information from Choral Evensong-goers all over the world using an online survey. Working with Hanna Rijken, a Dutch scholar who examined the attraction of Anglican Choral Evensong in the Netherlands – where it has been a growing phenomenon since the 1980s and a similar survey is being undertaken in parallel – Kathryn hopes to gather responses from a large number of people, and generate reliable evidence about the growing contemporary appeal of this ancient service.

Kathryn is keen to use her findings to examine and question the many current theories about the service’s resurgence – but while it’s still early days in her research, Kathryn’s emerging findings point to a complex and multifaceted picture of the diverse backgrounds, circumstances, motivations and experiences of contemporary Evensong-goers, even within the same congregation at the same service.

Said Kathryn:

“The findings of this research will, I hope, offer original insights into the lives and minds of today’s Choral Evensong-goers, shed new light on the real-time experience of listening to sacred music in sacred settings, and advance our understanding of the possibilities and potential of cathedral music, at Evensong and beyond’.

What does cathedral music mean to you? What does it do to you? And what do you do to it, for it and with it?

Would you like to help advance this research by taking part in the University of Oxford’s study? You can find a link here

Take part in the survey here or at the research project website here.

If you prefer a paper copy of the survey, please write with your name and address to kathryn.king@magd.ox.ac.uk or Kathryn King at Magdalen College, Oxford, OX1 4AU.