Susan Down

Anglican 101 is a regular monthly talk on the background of the Anglican Church, held at 10.25 am between Sunday services (next one is Nov.24). Here are some highlights from the Oct. 27 presentation on the Anglican choral music tradition by Director of Music Donald Hunt.

Anglican churches and cathedrals have long been associated with their music. Stroll into any parish church in the worldwide Anglican Communion on a Sunday morning, and you’re likely to hear skilled organ playing, robust choral leadership, and solid congregational singing. Stay until late in the afternoon, and in a few cases, you’d be fortunate enough to hang your weary prayers on the nearly 500-year-old office of choral evensong. There you’ll find cradle Anglicans, agnostics, bewildered and delighted tourists, atheist music lovers, the lost, the homeless, the grieving, the students, ...and maybe even the faithful.

British concert pianist Stephen Hough has said of this service: “Evensong hangs on the wall of life like an old, familiar cloak passed through the generations. Rich with prayer and scripture, it is nevertheless totally nonthreatening. It is a service into which all can stumble without censure – a rambling old house where everyone can find some corner to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absent-minded fingers of faith or doubt in its passing stream.” The appeal of choral evensong as one of the most effective tools in our evangelical toolbox lies in Stephen Hough’s eloquent description: “It is totally non-threatening. It is a service into which all can stumble without censure.”

To his words I’ll boldly add that for the faithful, a richer understanding of the words can be attained through active listening to the sounds created by composers from across the world and throughout history. For lovers of art and beauty, by hearing sacred music offered in a completely different context than the concert hall (that is, in a non-consumerist way), the face of God becomes briefly visible. For the curious, evensong offers a taste of all these things and asks nothing in return.

As a church musician, I strive to present music which is neither old, nor new, but timeless. As people of God, we must also strive to sing the praises of our ancestors with sympathy and the praises of our own time with understanding.