27 February 2010

The Best Evensong in London: St. Bride's Fleet Street

   
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You don’t have to be a Believer to enjoy Choral Evensong. Without going into lots of detail, Choral Evensong is a service of evening prayer in the Anglican Church that is almost entirely sung. In the English cathedral tradition, the choirs have traditionally been made up entirely of men and boys. Since my first trip to the UK in 1989 I have been to many a Choral Evensong in the Cathedrals of Canterbury, Coventry, Ely, Gloucester, Lincoln, Salisbury, Wells, Winchester, Worcester, York, and St. Paul’s in London as well as St. George’s Chapel Windsor, and King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge. The combination of a good choir, good music, and amazing acoustics made each of these experiences special in one way or another.

But in 1992 while I was working in London I was working the day shift one Sunday at the front desk of the Sydney House Hotel in Chelsea trying to figure out where to go to Evensong that night. I had been to St. Paul’s a number of times, but I was a little tired that day and wanted something that started a bit later so I could take a little nap between work and Evensong. So I decided to take advantage of the somewhat later starting time at St. Bride’s. Just down the road from the enormous edifice of St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Bride’s is a lovely little church tucked in between a few office buildings. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St. Bride’s has a tiered spire that is said to be the inspiration for the tiered wedding cake. Located just off of Fleet Street, St. Bride's has traditionally been the journalists’ church.

When I walked into St. Bride's for the first time I was surprised at the interior. It looked brand new and was set up so that the entire body of the church looked like the “choir” section of a large cathedral. What I found out later is that the church had been badly bombed during World War II and that the interior looked so new because it had been rebuilt after the war.

The next thing I noticed was that the choir (the group of singers, not the architectural feature) was made up of men and women not men and boys. And the sound that issued from that small group of maybe 12 singers was one of the most amazing things I have ever heard in my life. The strong, clear sound of the choir and the incredibly bright acoustics of St. Bride’s made me feel like my body was soaring up among the barrel vaults of the church along with the music. Since that first experience at St. Bride's I haven’t even wanted to check out Evensong at other churches. I even arrange my trips to the UK so I can be in London on at least one Sunday evening just so I can go to St. Bride's for Evensong. There is something to be said about hearing one of the great cathedral choirs in the spacious acoustic of a great cathedral, but the choir and space at St. Bride’s provides a magical experience that is a must do for anyone with a predilection for choral music.

Here is a recording of the choir at St. Bride's. It is a lovely recording, but it doesn't begin to do justice to hearing them in person.



And here is a short video that shows the interior of St. Bride's.

8 comments:

  1. Isn't it lovely? I've only been once, to a memorial service. And Dr Johnson's house just round the corner! Typical that you should have visited more often than someone living in the UK :-)

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  2. What a lovely post. Thankyou, Thomas.

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  3. Gives me chills. It must really be something to be there in person.

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  4. Call me madam: I live in DC a city with lots to do and see and I have to remind myself go see and do them.

    Cornflower: My pleasure. Next time you are in the City on a Sunday evening you should check it out.

    Megan: Yes, both the visual and aural atmosphere really make it incredible in person.

    Inkslinger: I am glad you liked it.

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  5. Its great isn't it - until July I used to work two steps down the road - so would often pop in at lunch time.

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  6. Hannah: That is one of the nice things about working in the City, there are lots of Wren churches tucked here and there.

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  7. Lovely! St Paul's is, of course, magnificant, but there are so many other terribly lovely churches in London as well.

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