The best kept musical
 secret in Baltimore

People come from far and wide to hear St Stephen’s Choir of Men and Boys sing our monthly services of Evensong. Choral Evensong is the one of the great gifts the Anglican world has given the Church catholick, and it is cherished not only by Anglicans, but by music-lovers of many persuasions—including those with none at all.

singersWith the beginning of the academic year, the choir has returned to its regular schedule, and Choral Evensong is again being sung monthly. However, the best kept musical secret in Baltimore is that the choir also sings Choral Mattins at 11:00 AM every Sunday, except for the first Sunday of the month, when it sings Choral Evensong at 6:00 PM.

This is a particular boon for aficionados of choral music who find driving in the dark winter evenings difficult. It gives them a chance to hear the music of great Anglican composers, including Thomas Tallis and Ralph Vaughan Williams, as well as works of masters such as Tomás Luis de Victoria, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Lamentably, the late 1960s saw the beginning an ecclesiastical ‘reform movement’, which for nigh on half a century—along with giving us clunky liturgy and polyester vestments—has, for no good reason, been doing its best to kill off Choral Mattins. Indeed, St Stephen’s is one of the few churches in America in which it is still sung.

As a consequence, most people under the age of 60 are entirely unfamiliar with this glorious service and its rich choral tradition. Yet until relatively recently, it was the best attended of all of St Stephen’s services.

semi-choir of fransciscan friarsMattins should not be seen as in competition with the Eucharist, but, rather, as complementary to it. And it is a service of worship and praise as old as the Faith itself. Indeed, its origins are to be found in the services of morning and evening prayer conducted by Moses, Aaron, and the Children of Israel in the Wilderness.

Our services of Mattins and Evensong came into being during the English Reformation. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer condensed the Breviary Offices sung daily in Monastic communities into a morning and an evening service, in order to make them accessible to the laity.

Previously, the only Breviary Offices attended by lay people were Lauds and Vespers. They generally called them ‘Mattins’ and ‘Evensong’, and they are still known by those names today. After all, there’s really no point in reinventing the wheel. GPH✠

3 comments to The best kept musical
 secret in Baltimore

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    I am afraid that the following two exerpts from the article are contradictory.
    “Previously, the only Breviary Offices attended by lay people were Lauds and Vespers:
    Our services of Mattins and Evensong came into being during the English Reformation”.
    The position was and is, that the Daily Office in Synagogue is Morning, Midday and Evening, in Christian Cathedrals and parish churches, Morning and Evening Prayer, and in Monastic Communities, Mattins, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Evensong and Compline, with a Eucharist at least on Sundays and Holy Days.
    The problem with all of them is that over the centuries they become very complex so that it takes longer to find out what is to be said, than to say it. Thus there have to be “reformations” of the Office from time to time. Cranmer was much influenced by Cardinal Ximenes work. Today Vatican II and what has followed has made things easier to follow. Try to Google CE daily prayer, and you will find the Morning and Evening Prayer set out for you in English according to the day, and in traditional or contemporary form. The same is available in French Google Prière du temps présent, according to the RC form here.

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    I ought to add that the loss of the Daily Office musical tradition on the European Continent was occasioned by the Revolution in France and the depradations of Napoleon across the continent. He stole much of the property of the Church, and so the musical tradition faltered. It survives in it’s monastic form in recent foundations, but it is unusual in France to find a proper choir in a parish or great Church. They do exist but are few.
    As in times past in the Church of England, Sunday Morning in an Orthodox Church is the singing of the Morning Prayer, the Litany and then the Eucharist. Ordinary people find this rather overwhelming, so in the CE the services were separated, and in the Orthodox Church it is customary to pop out from time to time, returning after a rest!
    The Morning Prayer and indeed the Morning Monastic Offices, are really the Liturgy of the Word from the Eucharist, extended.

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    I should also have mentioned the constant problem of the movement of language, which leaves behind forms once well understood, “Prevent us O Lord in all our doings” now unintelligable. Further Liturgical Language is a special form so creating a “modern” form whilst necessary from time to time, is difficult to do well. Today there are normally scholars appointed to advise on the matter of style.
    Paix du Christ, as we say around here.