At Last – Choirs are Back

15th September 2020

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford will ring out to the sound of its Cathedral Choir tonight (Tuesday 15 Sept) as they come together to sing their first Choral Evensong since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Choral Worship is Back

Church of England cathedrals have begun the journey back to a “new normal”, gradually re-opening slowly and safely where they can, and beginning to welcome back choral singing after an historic six-month silence to keep people safe and save lives during the pandemic.


York Minster resumed its choral singing last week with world premiere performances of three specially commissioned anthems. It was the first time there had been singing in the Minster since the last sung service on 15 March 2020 –the first break in choral singing in 360 years.

The three anthems were premiered at Evensong by the adult singers of the York Minster Choir including ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song’ by Cornish composer Becky McGlade last Wednesday; ‘Now cheer our hearts this eventide, Lord Jesus Christ’, composed by Philip Moore, Organ Emeritus of York Minster at Thursday’s Evensong and last Friday saw the premiere of ‘After this, we will return’ by Cambridge composer, Sarah MacDonald.

Patricia Dunlop, Director of Visitor Experience at York Minster said:

“Our priority is to enable everyone to keep safe as we return to worship in the Minster and to adhere to the social distancing guidelines currently in force. Covid-19 has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, and this change is just one more adaptation that we have to make in order to enjoy Sunday worship in a safe manner, as we welcome choral music back to the Minster.”

Blackburn Cathedral’s boy and girl choristers returned to sing in the cathedral this weekend and Evensong will be offered there every day except Monday and Saturdays. Lichfield Cathedral, too, has announced a return of choral music to its services. From week commencing 28 September Evensong will be sung by the Cathedral Choir each Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Truro Cathedral Choir returned to sing at the 10:00 Sunday service on Sunday and is planning on resuming its Evensong services from October.

The Dean of Truro, Roger Bush, said,

“We couldn’t be happier to welcome back Truro Cathedral Choir after such a significant time away. Whilst we are glad that we have been able to undertake worship in the cathedral since early July, it has felt somewhat strange to be doing so without our choir. The choir being able to sing once again in the cathedral during worship is a significant step and certainly a cause for celebration.”

In Chichester the Lay Vicars returned to their first singing services on Sunday which saw them come together for their first morning service followed by singing at the installation of the bishops of Lewes and Horsham which was streamed online in the afternoon.

Head Organist & Master of the Choristers, Charles Harrison said:

“The Lay Vicars have already begun preparing for the resumption of choral services. We gathered in the Cathedral as the evening sun streamed through the west window, and sang together for the first time since March: it was a joyful and moving occasion and we look forward to sharing our music-making again with the Cathedral community.”

The choirs of Winchester Cathedral returned on Monday for their first Evensong – the longest the cathedral has gone without a choir since the English Civil War.

Following guidance on singing issued by the Government and Church of England, the cathedral has carefully planned the safe and gradual return of choral worship and will come together for Evensong every day except Wednesdays.

The Very Revd Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester, said:

“It’s marvellous to see the choir back in the cathedral and to hear choral music resound again in this ancient space.

“The choir of Winchester Cathedral is not only a fundamental part of its worship, but also one of its crowning delights. The return of the choir’s unique energy and beauty to worship will be a source of enormous joy.”

The return of the Winchester Cathedral Choir was enabled by funding from the Church Commissioners, supporting churches and cathedrals to bring choirs back into places of worship. The Rev Canon Andy Trenier, responsible for liturgy and music at the cathedral, said:

“We are grateful to the Church Commissioners and welcome this tremendous news to restore the much-valued choral tradition to this great cathedral. From Remembrance to Christmas the music will give great solace to many.”

Please remember to check ahead on each cathedral’s website or social media for updates regarding services and opening times to avoid disappointment. You may have to book to attend services at some cathedrals.

Every Church of England Cathedral which is able to re-open to the public has achieved the Visit Britain’s industry standard and consumer charter mark We’re Good to Go which means visitors can be confident that cathedrals are taking all the necessary steps to help ensure people’s safety in line with latest Government and Public Health guidance. Please check ahead as services and opening times may have changed, you may have to book a ticketed slot at some cathedrals, and please be advised face-coverings are now mandatory in places of worship unless you are exempt.

Can’t get there? Try listening to some Choral Evensong here.