When I first went to Oxford I started to attend Choral Evensong every Saturday night. The three main medieval colleges to maintain great choirs were New College–pictured here; Christ Church (famous from Brideshead Revisited as Sebastian’s college) and C.S.Lewis’ college, Magdalen (pronounced ‘maudlin’).
For those who are unaware of this great Anglican tradition, Evensong is the evening service Cranmer constructed by cobbling together elements of Vespers and Compline. After the psalms there is an Old Testament reading followed by the Magnificat and after the New Testament reading is the Nunc Dimittis.
Psalms and canticles are all sung by the choir, and there is usually a choral anthem as well as decent organ music as prelude and postlude. The great Anglican choirs are traditionally all male voices. (this dates back to monastic times) Boys singing the soprano (treble) lines. Men take the alto, tenor and bass lines.
These male voice choirs used to be maintained not only in the cathedrals and collegiate churches, but also in many large parish churches. Many of them are now dying out due to lack of support, lack of funding, political correctness, desire for ‘relevant’ church music etc. However, you can still hear the glorious Anglican choral tradition at the great colleges of Cambridge and Oxford as well as in most of the Anglican cathedrals.
This tradition is one of the great contributions to Christendom that Anglicanism has made and Catholics would do well to learn from it.
Lest my more un-ecumenical readers protest that it is ‘Protestant’ or ‘we had all that stuff first anyway.’ Yes, yes, yes, I know all that, but in our attempts to reform the reform, we can learn much from the Anglican tradition–not only in some of the better music they have produced over the last 500 years, but also in how to fund, administer and maintain such a great musical tradition.