Guy Hayward: Former choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge creates Time Out-style guide of evensong services

The guide is designed to alert people to the 'world-class' music played daily in churches and cathedrals across Britain

Nick Clark
Arts Correspondent
@MrNickClark
Monday 26 October 2015 20:31
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Canterbury Cathedral Girls Choir sing in their first ever performance during Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral. In January last year they made history as the first all-girls' choir to give a public performance after more than 1,000 years of male-dominated singing
Canterbury Cathedral Girls Choir sing in their first ever performance during Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral. In January last year they made history as the first all-girls' choir to give a public performance after more than 1,000 years of male-dominated singing

A Time Out-style guide of choral evensong services is to launch next month, designed to alert people to the “world-class” music played daily in churches and cathedrals around the country.

Guy Hayward, a former choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, who masterminded the project, hopes it will attract a new audience into churches. “Choral evensong is one of the richest cultural treasures of Britain. But most adults don’t know about it,” he said.

Those seeking to enjoy a service after a hard day’s work can type their postcode into Choralevensong.org, which will then compile nearby churches offering services, along with the start times and types of choir.

Evensong at Westminster Abbey

The site was thought up by members of the Hampstead Church Music Trust, based at St John-at-Hampstead church in north London, and developed by Dr Hayward, who recently completed a PhD on how group singing forms community.

“It’s a simple idea, but it allows people across the country to see that there are services near them,” he said. “It can be hard to find what services are happening, where and when.”

The site will launch officially on 22 November, on the Feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Dr Hayward said: “Hopefully, it will make people realise what a big tradition choral evensong is. It’s at a nice time of day, between the end of work and dinner, and it’s free.”

The launch will involve Stephen Tucker, vicar of St John-at-Hampstead, blessing a laptop with the site running on a browser.

“In Britain, we have been blessing the plough for hundreds of years,” Dr Hayward said. “However, to avoid electrical malfunction, we may have to stick to smudging the laptop with incense or lighting a candle near it.”

The Dean of Westminster Abbey and the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral have agreed to bless the site with a prayer. Dr Hayward has sent an email to all of the churches on the site’s database and “hopefully, we will be able to have a unified St Cecilia’s Day blessing”.

The website will offer information on services at some 350 churches and cathedrals around Britain. Many hold one each day. “One of the extraordinary things about it is that there are paid choral singers, and there can be as few as five or 10 people, even in the big cathedrals,” Dr Hayward said.

Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer established the office of evensong, composing the service in 1547. After some modifications, it took its modern form in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

St Paul’s Cathedral says on its website that choral evensong was “one of the most-loved services”.

One musician who sings choral evensong said the website was a “great idea” and added: “Choral evensong is a wonderful moment out of the day. You can sit there and let it wash over you. It’s a highlight of the day, whether you’re religious or not.”

Dr Hayward hopes the site will appeal to more than just those who already attend evensong and want an updated timetable. “Our target is people who are spiritual but not necessarily religious, or just like music and don’t know that they have this on their doorstep,” he said.

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