Choral Society performs Evensong service for Good Friday


BG Independent News

As night approaches in England, the ancient cathedrals come alive with the sound of Evensong.

Every day of the year at late afternoon, these services, less than an hour long, give praise, mostly with music, and with two readings appropriate to the season.

The University Choral Society, directed by Mark Munson, will present an Evensong service for Good Friday, April 19, at 7 p.m. in First United Methodist Church.

Michael Gartz, who will be the organist, said Evensong dates back to 1610 with the introduction of the King James Bible and the English prayer book.

The order of the service has remained the same and that’s how it will be performed Friday.

Munson will offer a brief introduction to those attending to give them a sense of what will occur.

Mark Bunce sings as Mark Munson conducts the Intrit in the vestibule of First United Methodist Church.

Evensong is infrequently performed in the United States. As organist at St. Timothy’s in Perrysburg Gartz has presented a few, and Trinity Episcopal in Toledo, his home church when he was growing up and early in his career, has offered Evensong services on special occasions.

Gartz said his greatest exposure comes from attending Royal School of Church Music conferences in New Jersey during summers dating back to 1971.

Cathedral organists from England would come over, and choirmasters would bring their boys choirs. The conference would culminate in an Evensong service  at St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Starting in 1989, singers from Trinity in Toledo, under the direction of Jim Metzler, traveled to England to sing. This led to the formation of Canterbury Singers USA.

That ensemble travels to England during the summer and winter breaks when English choirs are on vacation.

Mark and Tina Bunce, of Bowling Green, traveled to England with the Canterbury Singers and performed Evensong hundreds of time in a number of cathedrals. 

Gartz who started touring with the ensemble in 2006, said he’s performed in at least 10 cathedrals.

In their travels, the Bunces have sung for the 50th anniversary of VJ Day and for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral.

On Friday, Mark Bunce will serve as the precentor who leads call and response sections.

The Evensong has passages unfamiliar to most American choir singers. One feature is a psalm that’s chanted in speech-like patterns. 

There is little cogregational singing. The congregation will invited to join in the singing of one hymn and participate in he chanting of the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.

Introducing this tradition both to the Choral Society and local listeners was part of the reason Musnon programmed it.

Directing an Evensong is new to him. He and his family did attend five Evensongs while traveling a few years back in England.

Though the format is unchanged, the music is different. A Magnificat is always included, and Gartz said there are hundreds, if not more, different settings of the traditional prayer. There is also a Nunc Dimittis, also known as “Simeon’s Song.”

This scripture story tells of a devout Jew who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that before he died he would see the Messiah. When Jesus was presented as an infant in the temple, Simeon held him and declared: “O Lord, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.”

Gartz selected settings by American composer Harold Friedell. These fit the church, the choir, and the organ in the church more than the more romantic settings typically sung in England.

The anthem is selected based on the liturgical calendar. For the Good Friday service, they will perform 20th Century Hungarian composer György Deák-Bárdos’s setting of Mathew 27:46, which tells of Christ’s final moments on the cross.

Aside from the music there will be two lessons, Bible readings appropriate to Good Friday. One will be delivered by Amy Miller, pastor of First United Methodist Church, and the other by Andrea Curry, vice president o the Bowling Green Ministerial Association.

Munson also had practical reasons for deciding to present Evensong.

The Choral Society was founded as a town-gown musical ensemble to perform large-scale works with orchestra. This year that will be the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 5 on campus and then at Detroit Orchestra Hall the next day as the culmination of the Bowling Green Philharmonia’s 100th anniversary celebration. (See details

Preparing for the Ninth, which will be sung with other university choirs, occupied half the Choral Society’s rehearsal time. Evensong could be done in the remainder of the schedule.

“I’m pleased they really latched onto it,” Munson said.

The Evensong will be presented with the solemnity of a church service. After Munson’s introductory remarks, Gartz will play an organ voluntary and then the choir will sing  an Introit in the church’s vestibule before processing into the sanctuary. The service will end with the tolling of the church bells, and the listeners will be asked to leave in silence.