Skip to content ↓

Crotchets and Quavers by Cambridge

The evensong tradition

[by Patrick ’09]

On Tuesday, I went to Trinity College chapel for evensong. I expect most people
are unfamiliar with this tradition, so it deserves some explanation:

There are 30+ constituent colleges to Cambridge, each meant to serve the every
need of its students. Most of them have a chapel, a dean, and a choir.
According to Anglican tradition, there should be prayers every evening, and the
choir gives it voice (hence, evensong). In reality, only one college (King’s)
manages to do it every day, but everyone else sings Sunday and at least one
other day.

A good choir is a thing of great pride for a college, and they will entice good
musicians with scholarships, free dinners, etc, etc. Some choirs have
reputations all their own – Trinity happens to be one of them.

Since I sing with my own college choir most days, I rarely get to go hear
others. But I had time off this week. So at 6.15 Tuesday, I walked into
Trinity chapel with all the pretense of being a real Trinity student and sat
down in one of the long, sideways stalls.

**Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the actual thing – it’s not nice to take
pictures during the service, but I have some informal pictures that I will post
very soon.**

Everything is candle lit. The choir process in in two neat rows, followed by the
dean and cantor, all dressed in long robes. They sing a lot of the same texts
every day but to different music. In fact, most of our job is constantly
learning new music; we may repeat a few favorites, but generally, the program
is fresh throughout the year. On this particular day, they sang the Byrd Second
Service (yes, it’s a lovely piece).

Choir is one of the truly special things that I would never get to do in America
(you’ve already heard about punting and formals). Most singers are not known for
being able to learn music, but quick rehearsals and sight-reading are routine
here. Our conductor says it’s an English thing, although I think it’s just a
difference in training. In any case, I am rapidly expanding my musical
knowledge with every service. It’s all part of this *other* education that
we’re supposed to be getting at Cambridge; frankly, it’s the one I prefer.

12 responses to “Crotchets and Quavers”

  1. kathryn says:

    can’t wait for the pictures smile

  2. Laser says:

    Wow, that sounds astonishing. I’m currently taking a Musicology-esque course and am studying all sorts of musics. It must be so cool to actually hear and partake in this stuff (one of my instructors sung Mozart’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall!).

  3. Jesse says:

    Cambridge sounds absolutely lovely. I would love to hear the choirs there. Choir is immensely enjoyable to me–I can’t sing to save my life though.

  4. Patrick says:

    Re: Laser
    Actually, I do have a recording of us! It was the Remembrance Day service, made for the BBC:

    Re: Clea
    I love non-audition choral societies. I owe a lot to them. We have those here, as well as the massive concert choruses – I’m sure you’re familiar. I’ll go sing in their concerts occasionally.

    Re: Mum
    I did have to audition. One’s never sure how “difficult” they are. However, I can tell you that sight-reading, blend, and broad understanding of musical styles are critical.

  5. yukiko says:

    I love music in general and I like to sing through my piano.

  6. I was at King’s recently for their evening song. The choir is just _amazing_ – probably the best choir around the globe.

  7. Patrick, did you have to audition to sing in your college choir?
    And if so, how difficult was the audition?

  8. Clea says:

    I love choir music. I’m in my high school choir, but, oh! we’re terrible! It’s a shame. The problem is that there aren’t any auditions. Anyone can be part of it (which has its good points, but not many), even the tone deaf. We can’t harmonize to save our lives. But I like being in it anyway, because I love the music. They really do know how to do it in England. I’ve bought many CDs that were made at Cambridge.

  9. E. Rosser says:

    Wow, how cool. Long live the English choirs!

  10. Anonymous says:

    I know it’s pretty cute…I liked London a lot when I visited last year!