Choral Evensong: The New Mindfulness?

Southwell Minster Evensong
10th April 2019

A place where heaven seems to touch earth

Is Choral Evensong the new mindfulness, writes the Dean of Southwell, the Very Revd Nicola Sullivan and her Director of Music.

Dean Nicola said:

“Someone once described Evensong to me as like getting into a warm bath at the end of a tiring day.

“What is it about the Evensong experience that seems to resonate with busy modern people? I think it is the combination of ancient texts set to inspirational music, the choir’s singing, hearing Scripture read aloud, and prayers and silence all offered within an unhurried and prayer soaked church.

“Whatever worries or concerns we have carried in the day, the broader perspective of God’s love, good purposes and healing presence helps to sooth them, settling us into the coming evening and night.

“Lasting no more than forty to forty-five minutes, heaven seems to touch earth and we return to our ordinary lives filled with peace and hope again.”

Southwell Minster’s Director of Music, its Rector Chori, Paul Provost, suggests a more modern interpretation:

“Mindfulness is a hot topic and a buzzword today, but the church got there centuries ago with its Choral Evensong.

“Choral Evensong is rightly hailed as the jewel in the crown of the Anglican tradition of choral worship.

“At Southwell, you can enjoy music sung by boy or girl choristers alone; sung by adult singers alone; sung by the whole Cathedral Choir; and on a Feast Day, with incense and clergy in splendid copes; and during Lent, with less organ accompaniment and a sparser feel.

“But the one constant through all that variety is that nothing is required of the congregation – there is no need to ‘get involved’ except on your own terms.

“This is at odds to much of our modern life – and even more of a good reason to try Choral Evensong for yourself,” he added.

Andy Macintosh is a part time verger at the Minster. He and his son, Ciaran who is in Year 5 Junior Department at the Minster School, talk about Evensong:

“I have had a connection with the Minster for over forty years when my parents used to take me to the 9:30am family Eucharist on a Sunday,” says Andy.

“The Junior Choir sang this service, dressed smartly in grey suits and my seven year old self said to my Mum: ‘I want to do that.’ She replied ‘you just want to dress in a smart suit.’ ‘No, I said, I love to sing,’ .

“After I left choir in 1989, I carried on singing and found cathedral choirs wherever I landed, Birmingham, Lichfield and Coventry, but Southwell is my home and it’s where I’ve always wanted to come back to,’ he added.

Andy said that it was the numerous opportunities to sing Evensong for BBC Radio 3 that had been a real highlight for him as a chorister.

When he started as a Junior in 1984, Southwell had sixteen boys in its Junior Choir. He sang a full choral Evensong for the first time when the junior boys were invited once a year to join the main cathedral choir. They sang Stanford’s Evening Canticles in Bb.

“This has been a memory that has stayed with me; it was exactly what I wanted when I had signed up,’ said Andy.

His son, Ciaran, said:

“The best thing about Evensong is the chance to perform fantastic music, especially the big anthems with the great organ parts and exciting choir parts.

“I would encourage people to come to Evensong because the music is inspiring, tells stories of God, the services aren’t too long… and there are no sermons!”.

Southwell Minster like many of our cathedrals, offers daily Evensong services.

These last approximately 45 minutes and are composed of specially selected hymns and biblical readings. Although the tradition is Anglican, the Evensong services are open and welcoming to visitors of all backgrounds and traditions.

Southwell Minster has several acclaimed choirs, including the Cathedral Choir (men and boys), the Minster Girls’ Choir, and the Minster Chorale (voluntary adult choir).

Schedule available here.

During term-time Evensong begins at 5.30pm Monday to Saturday (Evening Prayer on Wednesdays) and 3.30pm on Sunday. During school holidays, the cathedral often welcomes Visiting Choirs to sing Evensong, or have said Evening Prayer instead.

Website here – www.southwellminster.org