Yorkshire choristers join Stephen Fry and Alexander Armstrong for musical evensong service

For choristers across Yorkshire, the coronavirus lockdown has provided an opportunity to join a worldwide project being supported by the likes of actor and comedian Stephen Fry and television presenter Alexander Armstrong.

Alexander Armstrong is due to give a reading in the virtual service. Photo: PA/Ian West

Singers from Wakefield Cathedral and Harrogate Ladies College and choristers from across Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield are featuring in a virtual choral evensong which will be broadcast on YouTube this evening.

The virtual version of the musical service has been created by The Rodolfus Foundation, an organisation dedicated to supporting and raising the profile of the choral tradition.

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Elizabeth Lees, who sings at St John’s Church in Ranmoor and St Matthew’s Church in Sheffield city centre, is among those who will feature. “I have really grown to love and enjoy evensong because you can go with no focus at all,” the 26-year-old says. “I really miss singing evensong with my choir at the moment so I thought it would be a really different but enjoyable thing to do.”

Stephen Fry is featured in the virtual evensong. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

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Stephen Fry will read the story of David and Goliath as part of the service, whilst actor Simon Russell Beale will also give a reading and Alexander Armstrong will introduce Hubert Parry’s choral piece I Was Glad, which has been chosen as the ‘anthem’ for the virtual project.

Other contributors include the Canon Organist Emeritus at Durham Cathedral James Lancelot, and Andrew Lumsden, who is organist and Director of Music at Winchester Cathedral. A blessing will be given by the Rev Richard Coles.

The whole piece will open and close with Cosmo Sheldrake’s Evening Chorus, an improvisation using endangered British birds’ songs recorded in Dorset woodland.

Sophie Powell, head chorister at Harrogate Ladies College, explains why she has taken part in the project. “Choral music has, and still does play a huge role in my life,” she says, “so anything I can get stuck into I will. For me, being part of a choir is to be part of something much bigger than yourself.”

It is hoped that the project raises money for two causes including The Rodolfus Foundation, which is appealing for funds to support its work.

The foundation runs residential singing courses, a youth choir and partnerships with local choirs, which aim to encourage young people from all backgrounds to sing to a high standard.

The evensong will also support Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund, an appeal set up by the Friends of Cathedral Music and the Ouseley Church Music Trust. Their aim is to raise £1m to offer grants to church choirs who may not otherwise survive the Covid-19 crisis.

Ralph Allwood, The Rodolfus Foundation’s musical director says he has been touched by the range of singers who have contributed to the virtual evensong project. I have had some wonderful letters telling me how contributing has brought them great joy during lonely lockdown. We so miss bringing beautiful music to beautiful buildings.

“We have highly experienced professionals and young choristers contributing, with some families singing together in their beloved evensong, so sorely missed at the moment. It has taken a month to come together and we hope it will give as much pleasure to those listening to it as it has to those putting it together.”

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