Congregational singing at the Priory
The Priory is a parish church. The congregation is the whole body of worshippers, and the choir is a musically-skilled group within that whose role is to undertake leadership, and to sing items of music which need skill and rehearsal to bring off as part of the offering. The choir is not a bolt-on extra, nor superior to the rest of the congregation; it has a specific task to do, just as do the servers, readers, intercessors and clergy. The congregation is not an audience; it is the whole company of worshippers, and actively engaged with the liturgies at every level. Sometimes that engagement is silent; sometimes it’s vocal; sometimes it’s at home online – but it’s not spectatorship. Nor should the effort and gift of time involved in a voluntary choir’s preparation be underestimated. Organ music also, is not entertainment after prayerfulness, but a summing-up for the onward journey.
Illustrating the elements of worship with music which reflects it, topically, is where we are these days. When the Priory was built, music would have had functions which would be quite distinct from where it has got to now, in terms of emotional engagement and sheer variety of material available. A thousand years’ more music is on our shelves than was on theirs, let alone profound changes.
The purposes of music in worship vary from illustrative enhancement to mystical, transformative experience and missionary outreach. It should never be overlooked that the insights presented by composers of choral music are part of our spiritual journey. Listening to choral interpretations is another form of prayerful experience – not all prayer is verbal, and there is scant space for contemplative prayer-time in most lives, so a slot within the liturgy when this sort of inspirational sound can be provided by the choir, is valuable. All the worship is offered to God, of course: but we mustn’t forget that liturgically we do a lot of talking to each other, making statements, and discussing concepts. Little of this is even remotely addressed to God. The liturgy is full of things where we learn our faith and celebrate it conversationally. Music is part of that, too.
What that looks like at Evensong and Benediction
more involvement by the congregation
a variable template of choral/congregational items in any one service
information about anthem texts to facilitate active listening
support for the congregation in learning anything new in order to join in
Psalms – sung by everyone, led clearly by the choir. Mostly Anglican chant; occasionally other forms.
Canticles – sometimes choral, sometimes shared, sometimes fully congregational to Anglican chant. At least one Gospel Canticle should be sung by all. We would alternate Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis therefore, unless a fully choral occasion is deliberately required.
Responses – usually congregational with choir descants. For a festal occasion, may be choral.
Anthems, Introits, and one of three Benediction hymns – fully choral.