As another day fades and sunlight drifts away across the stone work of Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral, sweet voices rise to greet the setting sun.
Inside the cathedral a tradition hundreds of years old is taking place – a service of Evensong.
The traditional musical form mingles scripture and prayer with ethereal voices, creating a contemplative atmosphere that soothes the soul and feeds the spirit.
‘Evensong has taken place at Portsmouth Cathedral since it first became a Cathedral in 1927,’ says Dr David Price, organist and master of the choristers.
‘It used to happen once a week, but we have added services over the years until there’s nearly a service every day now.’
The cathedral has three separate choirs which all perform at different times during the week, ranging from the Cathedral Choir composed of boys and men to an adult choir (the Cathedral Consort) and even a girl’s choir (the Cantate).
David says: ‘For a long time Evensong has been a male bastion and it’s taken a while for people to have girls’ choirs. It was completely the right thing for us. The choir gives girls a chance to sing from eight to 18 years old.
‘Girls’ choirs sound different to boys’ choirs, there’s a different colour of sound and that’s an added joy. A boys’ choir has a depth of timbre and a very young sound because their voices change at 13, whereas a girl’s choir is more luminous.
‘Composers write specifically for both boys’ and girls’ choirs, so we get to have that at our disposal and two or three times a term the choirs join together like they did for our recent performance of Handel’s Messiah. You get volume from having 70 or 80 singers together and a new quality of sound and power.
‘Evensong is one of those services that people can drop in and out of regardless of belief or lack of belief. It’s something that’s inclusive and accessible.’
The Portsmouth Cathedral choirs regularly perform for BBC radio and this year in June will appear on BBC TV to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Despite these high profile performances, The Very Reverend David Brindley, Dean at the cathedral, is confident that the choirs will deal well with the pressure.
‘Occasionally at Eucharist we get a thousand people here, it’s great for the choirs in terms of performance and confidence – the boys are incredibly professional.
‘We do several broadcasts each year with the BBC and on Thursday June 5 we will be performing a Drumhead service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
‘Drumhead services used to take part on the battlefield. Soldiers would pile drums up to form an altar and put the cross on top.’
Alongside the spectacle of live broadcast events, Mr Brindley also thinks that weekday services have an impact on people too.
‘Music is very important to faith. It touches emotional depths that otherwise aren’t touched.’
‘You can’t go away unaffected.
‘I think people take away calmness from the services, having been in touch with God and with themselves.’
Evensong at a glance
WHERE: High Street, Old Portsmouth
WHEN: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday at 6pm and on Saturday at 5pm.
CALL: (023) 9282 3300
* Free evening performances six nights a week.
* Critically-acclaimed choirs with a range of members from eight years old to adult.
* Space to relax and refresh after a busy day at work.
* Anyone can apply for an audition to join the choirs by contacting the cathedral.