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Evensong in Winchester Cathedral

29 May 2019

A group of just over 40 singers from the Northampton Bach Choir had a day out in Winchester in late May 2019 where we sang Evensong in Winchester Cathedral, as the regular cathedral choir took a break for half term. The vergers and canons of the cathedral were very welcoming and seemed to appreciate having the singers there to take part in the service. We travelled by coach, along with some supporters, helpfully organised by the concert manager Mark Gibson, which made it a relaxed day and there was time before we sang to explore the city and find some refreshment.

Northampton Bach Choir at Winchester Cathedral

It was a joy to sing for the service in such a beautiful and majestic building seeped in history, to be part of an ancient tradition which has carried on for over a millennium. There is something very moving to know you are part of something which has been done regularly for so long; to realise that you are hearing the same biblical readings and singing the same psalms as so many have done for centuries.

People have been praying in that spot for over 1000 years, and the monks, who were first to live and worship there in Christian community, would have prayed seven times a day throughout the 24 hours, including rising during the night to pray. Their worship would have had many similar elements to the service as we experienced it; listening to readings from scripture, reciting or usually singing the psalms and canticles, alongside praying for the needs of the world and local community. Although the current inhabitants don’t meet to formally pray seven times of day, the tradition of regular worship continues, underpinning the work of the cathedral and taking part in the worldwide work of regular prayer.
The choir in the quire stalls

We sang a mixture of music we had sung on previous cathedral visits, including Ayleward’s Responses, Smart’s Evening Service in Bb, and a work for Ascension new to us by the centenarian composer Francis Jackson, Sing praise to God who reigns above. The music was challenging to learn in just two rehearsals, but under Lee Dunleavy’s leadership we gave a fine rendering, and the sense of worship and peace in the cathedral was palpable. Our répétiteur travelled with us and played the magnificent organ, with his final voluntary - Gordon Jacob’s Festal Flourish - particularly rousing.