Boxmoor Festival Evensong

It was a wet, windswept Sunday afternoon in late November. So what on earth possessed the best part of a hundred choristers to wend their way to St John's Church, Boxmoor, near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, when any sane person should surely have been relaxing with their feet up in front of a good fire?

Well, the lure of Choral Evensong knows no bounds, and on this occasion, there was the prospect of a twofold celebration; namely, the Feast of Christ the King and also the culminating act of worship in a week of music concerts at St John's.

Over the last few years, regional Evensongs have found a particular niche in the local calendar of RSCM events. The original concept was to give singers the opportunity to sing good quality core repertoire at various interesting venues around the area. Unlike the full-scale biennial Diocesan Choirs Festival held in the cathedral, no prior rehearsal was deemed necessary; it was assumed that the music used would all be well known.

However, as more of these 'come-and-sing' events took place, it became apparent that, with the demise of Choral Evensong as a routine service in many parishes these days, sadly the concepts of 'well known' and 'core repertoire' were far from universal. Luckily - and this is a testament to the increasingly high standards of choir training enjoyed throughout our area - this has not been a major stumbling block. Far from it; our intrepid band of conductors have proved that it is quite possible to put on a very successful service - sometimes almost from scratch. (Even if they did return home a little more follicly challenged!)

For the Boxmoor event, choir direction was in the capable hands of Christopher Muhley, our Area RSCM Chairman, ably accompanied by Nicholas King, Director of Music at St John's, on the organ. A short sectional rehearsal was followed by light refreshments (including home made scones for a real treat) and then everyone moved into the church for a final run through.

On this occasion, the music was quite ambitious, but there were early hints that many of the trebles had come well prepared, as demonstrated by a near faultless rendition of Christopher Gower's exhilarating descant to 'Ye watchers and ye holy ones' on the very first run through. Many choirs would be happy to settle for Vaughan Williams' ebullient setting of 'Let all the world' as an anthem but, on this occasion, it was chosen as an appetiser in the form of an Introit; the anthem slot itself being taken by William Harris' festive setting of 'O what their joy and their glory must be'. The Canticles were sung to Noble in B minor and, for a change, Andrew Carter's unusual through-composed and accompanied version of the Responses provided an extra festive note. (NB these can be found in the New Church Anthem Book and can heartily be recommended for choirs wishing to try something just a little different, yet highly effective.)

Although this is primarily a review of the music, it would be remiss not to mention the extremely high quality of spoken word throughout the service; the sermon being particular apposite to all musicians present and a real highlight of the occasion. It was also a great pleasure to welcome Trevor Ford, the RSCM's Vice-Chairman of Council, who not only addressed the assembled company but also sang with the basses.

Luckily the rain held off long enough to allow a full procession outside the church at the start of the service which, at 90 minutes in length, was longer than usual. However, the time went by quickly, and very soon that same band of happy - but now tired - choristers were wending their way home again with another collection of memories to savour.

To help relive those memories, and for other folk to get some idea of what they missed out on, please take a moment to look at the photographs we have included alongside this article.

*** Event reviewed by Andy Benoy ***