CHORAL evensong is making a name for itself in the churches of London’s East End, thanks to the East London Evensong Choir: a group of singers who first formed six years ago under the direction of pianist and composer Jonathan Pease .
The development of the choir and the project was halted by the pandemic; thus, evening song on All Saints’ Day, Poplar, on Sunday October 9, will mark its relaunch. The choir now resides at the church, singing the evening carol monthly.
The initiative came about when Mr Pease took up a post as an organist in a church in the East End and met some very capable musicians – some of whom were former university and cathedral choristers – who had been unable to contribute to the musical life of their church in London.
He described Poplar as “a difficult time” and the founding of the choir as “the happiest of accidents.” I wondered how many other churches were in the same situation where it was difficult to get choral worship together. It turned out that many had asked the same question, and many musicians were waiting for an opportunity to introduce themselves.
Word first spread around ‘friends and friends of friends’, and an ambitious Vespers Choir from the Cathedral Music repertoire was announced. There was an enthusiastic response. Before Covid, the choir visited different churches in the East End, but, after reassessment, the best future seemed to be a regular series of evening carols in one church, All Saints.
“It’s a huge, cavernous Georgian building, with wonderful acoustics and a colossal three-manual organ salvaged from a Congregational church in Clapham,” Mr Pease said. “It is the ideal place for choral worship. You can do absolutely anything you want to do: there are no limits in this building.
Of the October 9 launch, he said, “We want people in the area to know we’re here and we’re here for them. Whoever they are, they are welcome. We want to promote and share what we do. For newcomers, it’s a really friendly introduction. The music is among ‘Edwardian favourites’: Bairstow’s ‘I sat in its shade’ for the introit, Sumsion in G, and Balfour Gardiner’s ‘Evening Hymn’ as the anthem.
The choir will also sing a monthly midweek evening at St Anne’s, Hoxton. The project was supported by the Prayer Book Society, which will provide a free drinks reception after the launch service in Poplar on October 9 at 5 p.m.
Mr. Pease reflected on the power of choral music to elucidate the liturgy, “to give you the kind of service where you are surrounded by very beautiful things in terms of text, scripture, prayer and music; so that when it’s done — wow! It has this enormous immersive power. I found myself thinking how awful it was to have to take the subway or bus to experience it.
The music experienced by so many watching the Queen’s funeral could bring some resurgence, he suggested. “It is very interesting that there is such a liturgical disconnect between what often happens in an average parish church, and yet when there is a big occasion like this, the powers that be know what to expect. expect in this heritage beautiful words and beautiful music.This is simply not always the case in the parishes.
The clergy had asked on Twitter how to make what clearly worked in a place like Westminster Abbey work in their own parishes. “I think we have found an answer. I don’t think that’s a definitive answer, but it’s one that works for us,” he said. “I really hope other people ask for it and come up with creative solutions because it can be done.”