Choral Evensong

Choral Evensong is one of the great traditions of the Anglican Communion. It is a special service when we glorify God through the beauty of choral singing, the poetry of Christian liturgy, and the stillness of prayers. People who come to Evensong can find tranquillity, and quietly contemplate the mysteries of faith as the choir sing beautiful settings of ancient texts. It is a time for thought, meditation and inspiration, coming together in community to ponder the deeper meanings of life.

People who are unsure of faith often find great comfort in coming to Evensong and simply immersing themselves in the beauty of choral music.

At St Peter’s Berkhamsted, our church choir leads services of Choral Evensong usually on the 2nd Sunday of the month. This can vary at different times of the year, so please check our Worship Calendar if you would like to come to one of our services. Everyone is welcome, whether you are a regular churchgoer or not.

About Choral Evensong

For anyone unfamiliar with Evensong, it helps to understand that Choral Evensong is simply the text of the daily service of Evening Prayer set to music.

Each service of Evensong is based around the same pattern, a spellbinding patchwork of prayer and poetry. While the music changes from week to week, the structure of Evensong has remained virtually unchanged since the 17th century, a familiar, soothing rhythm.

Originally, the service of Evening Prayer was put together after the English Reformation, when the Church of England combined parts of the Catholic offices of Vespers and Compline. This is why the Lord’s Prayer appears twice during Evensong.
At St Peter’s we use the Book of Common Prayer, which uses a rich, elegant form of English that would have been familiar to Shakespeare. While this traditional language may sound flowery to modern ears, it is poetic and adds a great sense of splendour to this service.

The music is drawn from our rich Anglican choral repertoire, and also from other European traditions. You may hear Responses set to music by English composers such as William Byrd, a Magnificat by the Irishman CV Stanford, or an uplifting anthem by Italy’s Palestrina or Britain’s Vaughan Williams. Each setting breathes new life onto ancient words and brings us closer to God.

While the choir sings the main part of the service, Evensong is interspersed with hymns, when the congregation can join in singing. These are usually hymns of praise or thanksgiving, some asking for God’s peace as the day draws to a close.

Evensong usually follows this pattern:

Versicles & Responses (part 1)

Traditional prayers inviting God to be present with us, sung by the priest and choir


Selected verses from the Psalms, usually set to a rhythmic Anglican chant



Old Testament Reading



The first of the Evening Canticles, the song of praise sung by Mary 2000 years ago when she became the mother of Jesus

New Testament Reading


Nunc Dimittis

The second Evening Canticle, the joyful words of Simeon when he saw the baby Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem


A longer choral piece, usually a text in English, Latin or another language which is connected with the liturgical theme of the day.

The Apostles' Creed

Said together, when we affirm our Christian faith

Versicles & Responses (part 2)

Prayers for courage, grace and protection, sung by the priest and choir

Hymn & closing prayers


Organ voluntary

The organist may play a piece of organ music as the choir departs


Music has a crucial role to play with its capacity to transcend the here and now by opening the doors of our minds and hearts to something beyond ourselves, to God. When sacred music is performed in a sacred space, such as a church or a cathedral, then we have an opportunity to come to the windowsill of heaven and to contemplate the glorious life of being in the company of God.