St. Paul’s holds a service of Evensong once a month from September to May, with the exception of December, when we have the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and in the month in which Easter occurs.
Evensongs in November and May are held in the Nave, using the combined forces of all the St. Paul’s choirs. All other Evensongs are held in the Chapel and are sung by the St. Paul’s Chamber Choir. Evensong services are on Sunday evenings at 5:00 p.m.
What is Evensong?
Evensong is the choral version of Evening Prayer. During Evensong, prayers and canticles are chanted and sung, instead of being spoken, as they are during Evening Prayer.
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are services which are particularly associated with the churches in the Anglican Communion. They first appeared in the first (1549) version of the Book of Common Prayer, and they are descendants of the canonical hours of the pre-Reformation Catholic Church. Morning Prayer is descended from the hours of Matins and Lauds, Evening Prayer from Vespers.
Evening Prayer is a short, simple service, which includes prayers, readings, psalms, and canticles (or songs). In Evensong services, everything except the readings and prayers is sung.
The two canticles associated with Evening Prayer are the Magnificat of Mary (My soul doth magnify the Lord) and the Nunc dimittis of Simeon (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace). There are over five centuries of musical settings of these two canticles for Evensong - usually paired and intended to be sung together - by such composers as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Henry Purcell, Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles H. H. Parry, Herbert Howells, Herbert Sumsion, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, just to name a few.
Evensong at St. Paul’s
It is an unusual experience to get to hear a sung Evensong in this country, as not many churches schedule them. It is an even rarer experience to participate in one in a space like the St. Paul’s chapel, which is small and intimate and has a wonderful organ and exquisite acoustics. The personal nature of the space brings a spiritual dimension to the service that can be less intense in larger rooms.