The city of Salisbury is located about an hour and a half west of London and at its centre can be found the famous Salisbury Cathedral, which dates from the medieval period. During a recent visit to the Hi-Fi+ offices, which are located in Sandleheath not far outside Salisbury, Pete Trewin, Associate Publisher of Hi-Fi+, invited me to accompany him to attend Evensong services at the cathedral. I gladly accepted.
There is a bit of a back-story, here, as our Mr. Trewin, apart from his formidable talents as our magazine’s Associate Publisher, is also a formally trained choral singer who frequently participates in Salisbury Evensong services as a member of the choir. On the particular evening in question, however, Mr. Trewin was not singing, which mean he was able to serve as my tour guide.
The spire of Salisbury Cathedral is said to be the tallest in England and I can vouch for the fact that, as one approaches Salisbury from the surrounding countryside, the tip of the spire is visible from miles away as it pokes up above the tree line. But, inspiring as the Cathedral is when viewed from a distance, it is even more beautiful when experienced from up close. As Pete and I walked toward the sanctuary, I marveled at the Cathedral’s beautiful lines and crisp, intricate exterior details. It dawned on me that I was gazing upon a centuries-old church built long before the founding of my home country (I hail from the USA). But interior of the Cathedral was even more breathtaking. Words really can’t do it justice, which is why I’ve provided a selection of photographs here.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Church of England and its services, it may be useful to know that Evensong is an early evening worship service that falls after the working day is finished, but before what many would consider the appropriate time for an evening meal. In this way, Evensong creates a perfect sort of pause or caesura that creates a break at the end of the work day—a moment to stop, reflect, listen, meditate, and to gather oneself and (for believers) to draw close to God at the close of the day.
By tradition and design, the Evensong service (unlike many other types of church services) requires little in the way of call-and-response participation from the congregation; rather, Evensong is conducive both to literal and figurative quietude and stands as an open invitation to listen, to mediate, and (for those so inclined) to pray. The service highlights both chants offered by the Precentor and beautiful choral works performed by a choir accompanied, where appropriate, by a pipe organ. The sound, which resonates within the Cathedral’s high arched ceilings, is delicate, indescribably beautiful, and profoundly moving.
Whether you consider yourself a person of faith or not, I would encourage those who live within driving distance of Salisbury to come visit the Cathedral and to attend Evensong services. You can view the services as a sublime musical treat, as a pause for emotional and/or spiritual refreshment, or as all of the above. For audiophiles in particular, hearing the choir in Salisbury Cathedral serves as an important reminder that, no matter how much we may love our hi-fi systems, there is nothing, nothing to equal hearing the real thing. I can promise you this: Your time in Salisbury Cathedral will be well spent.
To learn more about services at Salisbury Cathedral, follow this link: http://www.salisburycathedral.co.uk/services.php