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Evensong choir breaks out in East End of London

30 September 2022

EAST LONDON EVENSONG CHOIR

A group of singers from the Evensong Choir at All Saints’, Poplar

A group of singers from the Evensong Choir at All Saints’, Poplar

CHORAL evensong is coming to the fore in churches in the East End of London, thanks to East London Evensong Choir: a group of singers who first came together six years ago under the pianist and composer Jonathan Pease.

The choir’s and project’s development was halted by the pandemic; so, evensong at All Saints’, Poplar, on Sunday 9 October, will mark its relaunch. The choir is now resident at the church, singing evensong monthly.

The initiative came about when Mr Pease took up an organist’s post in an East End church, and met some very able musicians — some of them former university and cathedral choral scholars — who had not been able to contribute to the musical life of their church in London.

He described Poplar as “a tough patch”, and the establishment of the choir as “the happiest of accidents. I wondered how many other churches were in the same position of finding it difficult to get choral worship together. It turned out that many had been asking the same question, and many musicians had been waiting for an opportunity to come along.”

Word was spread in the first instance around “friends and friends of friends”, and an ambitious choral evensong from the cathedral music repertoire announced. There was an eager response. Pre-Covid, the choir visited different East End churches, but, on reassessment, the best future looked to be a regular evensong series at a single church, All Saints’.

“It’s a huge and cavernous Georgian building, with a wonderful acoustic and a colossal three-manual organ salvaged from a Congregational church in Clapham,” Mr Pease said. “It’s the perfect place for choral worship. You can do absolutely anything you want to do: there are no limits in that building.”

Of the 9 October launch, he said: “We want people in the local area to know that we’re here, and we’re here for them. Whoever they are, they are welcome. We are keen to promote and share what we are doing. For newcomers, it’s a really friendly introduction.” The music is “Edwardian favourites”: Bairstow’s “I sat down under his shadow”, for the introit, Sumsion in G, and Balfour Gardiner’s “Evening Hymn” as the anthem.

The choir will also be singing a monthly midweek evensong at St Anne’s, Hoxton. The project has been supported by the Prayer Book Society, who will be providing a free drinks reception after the launch service at Poplar on 9 October at 5 p.m.

Mr Pease reflected on the power of choral music to elucidate the liturgy, “to give you the sort of service where you are surrounded by very beautiful things in terms of the texts, the scripture, the prayer, and the music; so that when it’s done — wow! It has this huge immersive power. I found myself thinking what a dreadful thing it was that I had to get on the Tube or on a bus to experience it.”

The music experienced by so many watching the Queen’s funeral services could provide some resurgence, he suggested. “It’s very interesting that there’s such a disconnect liturgically between what often goes on in an average parish church, and yet when there is a big occasion like this, the powers-that-be know what to reach for in this heritage of beautiful words and beautiful music. It just isn’t always making its way down to parishes.”

Clergy had been asking on Twitter how to make what obviously worked in a place such as Westminster Abbey work in their own parishes. “I think we’ve found one answer. I don’t think it’s a definitive answer, but it’s one that works for us,” he said. “I really hope other people are asking that, and coming up with creative solutions, because it can be done.”

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