I had a bit of a 'time travel' experience this summer. As a member of Christ Church in Short Hills’ Choir, I found myself standing in the quire stalls of the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral, waiting to begin singing. Light filtered in through stained glass windows high overhead. The organ prelude echoed through the ancient stone walls. The words we would begin singing were ancient as well, the Preces and Responses, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, the psalms and prayers.
As I joined my fellow choir members in the opening notes of the hymn, I couldn't help but feel a connection with every person whose voice had filled the space. We were worshiping, across time, with thousands upon thousands of others. And as we sang, the cathedral, built centuries ago to amplify and harmonize the human voice, took the sound we were making and transformed it into something larger, fuller—almost as if the echoes of other voices were joining in.
For eleven days this summer, under the guidance of Dr. Andrew Moore, Christ Church in Short Hills’ choir master and organist, the 28-member Christ Church Choir had the honor of serving as resident choir in two Anglican cathedrals: Bristol Cathedral (from July 29-30) and Salisbury Cathedral (from July 31 through August 6). Accompanying us on the organ was the esteemed organist Dr. Brian Harlow, allowing Dr. Moore to lead us during the services and prepare us for our daily performances.
Several choir “alumni,” who’d previously relocated as far away as California and South Carolina “came home” to join in the adventure. The Rev. Bowie Snodgrass (along with her family) was part of the group, as were a selection of other friends and family members, bringing the total number of travelers to almost 40.
Evensong is the name for the Service of Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. This service has been the principal evening liturgy of the Anglican and Episcopal tradition since 1549, when Archbishop Cranmer combined the two monastic services of Vespers and Compline. Choral Evensong developed out of that tradition and includes music, chant and prayer.
Cathedrals are the main sustainers of the English Choral tradition, and many UK cathedrals produce Choral Evensong six days a week all year long. In the summer, their own choirs can take a break which opens up the opportunity for visiting choirs. Being selected is a competitive process, and Christ Church Choir was fortunate in having sung at Salisbury (a “top tier” cathedral) seven years ago on our first international choir trip.
Both Bristol and Salisbury are beautiful and historic structures, but it was Salisbury that truly threw me into that “time traveler” experience. The building has been standing for eight centuries. It was 803 years ago, in the year 1220, that ground was broken for Salisbury Cathedral, and its main body was completed in 38 years (!). It is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the United Kingdom and is a leading example of Early English Gothic architecture (and has the tallest church spire in all of England).
Each day we would enter the Cathedral Close through an arch located across the street from our hotel, and in a few steps, you are presented with this magnificent building - almost like walking into a movie set. But it is a movie set humming with activity as the cathedral operated like a small city. We were welcomed warmly by the staff and folded into the community seamlessly.
Happily, you don’t have to fly over to the UK to experience Choral Evensong! In fact, over the next few months you have several opportunities, right here in our own diocese. Come and join in the everlasting song – you may have your own “time traveling” experience!
Upcoming Diocesan Evensongs:
Saturday, September 30, 5 PM, at St. Paul’s, Chatham
Combined Evensong sung by the choirs of Grace, Madison and St. Paul’s, Chatham
Sunday, October 1, 6 PM, at St. Peter’s, Morristown
Choral Evensong sung by the choir of St. Peter’s, Morristown
Saturday, November 4, 5 PM, at Calvary, Summit
Vigil for All Saints' Day sung by the choirs of Calvary, Summit and St. George's, Maplewood
Sunday, November 5, 4 PM, at Christ Church, Short Hills
Evensong for All Saints Day sung by the choir of Christ Church, Short Hills