Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | August 30, 2021

Choral Evensong – Discovering New Ways to Connect with God


A special service occurs Thursdays at 5:30 pm. Choral Evensong at Grace Cathedral is a mid-week service, filled with music performed live by our Choir of Men & Boys, in-person at Grace Cathedral. 

Evolving from monastic services in the middle ages, Evensong was created in the Anglican Church in the 16th century. It is a church service traditionally held near sunset, focused on sung hymns, psalms and other biblical canticles, interspersed with prayers.  

Perfect as a spiritual retreat during the week, this is the service to attend for those who seek solitude and reflection.  

Christopher Keady is the Assistant Director of Music at Grace Cathedral, supporting our Canon Director of Music Ben Bachmann. Eva Slavitt, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, had a chance to catch up with Christopher in between his busy schedule and had some questions about Evensong at Grace Cathedral. 

What is so unique about Choral Evensong at Grace Cathedral? 

Firstly, Evensong is a meditative experience, as much like our sound baths as it is like a Sunday morning church service. It involves consistent patterns of sitting, standing, and singing. Grace Cathedral is the only place in the Bay Area where one can get into the rhythm of this particular musical meditation week after week; indeed it is one of few such programs in the country. Secondly, we are incredibly blessed by the magnificent space of the cathedral. The play of light through the stained glass, the incense rising high above the gathered people, and the reverberation of music all transport one far away from the ordinary business of our daily lives. 

How long is an Evensong service?  

The service typically lasts 45 minutes 

What can attendees expect when they attend an Evensong service? What kind of music is it? 

First, I encourage folks to arrive early to hear the organ music that begins around 5:20 pm, and to get a chance to find a seat and settle into the space. Before the pandemic, and hopefully in the near future, attendees sit in the front of the church (the “Quire”–that’s where the choir sits), surrounding the choir and in among the organ pipes. At the moment, however, the congregation sits in the pews in the main space. Be sure to get a leaflet, which lists everything that happens during the service, and includes parts for you to speak or sing. We love for everyone to participate, but, that said, you may feel a bit lost at first, and it’s absolutely fine to just sit and soak it in. 

The choir sings a wide range of sacred choral music, meaning it was written for religious texts or poems, and for a choir of many voices to sing. Sometimes it’s accompanied by the organ; sometimes a cappella. There is a huge trove of beautiful music written specifically for Evensong, as this service has been regularly sung in English churches and cathedrals since the 17th century. The styles stretch from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary music written in the 21st century. 

Do attendees join in on the singing?  

Yes! There two hymns for all to sing, led by the organ and choir. Music will be in the leaflet. Additionally, everyone chants (like singing a tune, but without changing pitch) the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer during the service. The rest of the music is sung by the choir, but an important thing to note is that, in this service, the choir isn’t a special group. When the choir prays in song, it’s on behalf of everyone present. That sense of “us” is so special in today’s fractured world. 

How do I attend the next Evensong service?  

Evensong happens every Thursday at 5:30 pm; doors are open at 5:10 pm. (Future dates are listed here.) At present, everyone 12 years and above will need to show proof of vaccination before entry to Grace Cathedral. For contact tracing, advance registration is recommended, but it is not required as we can also take your information at the door. See our Regathering page for more information. 

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