Sweaty in Evensong for Shakespeare extra credit

By Robert Beeland


Spring has arrived on the Mountain, and I am receiving extra credit for my Shakespeare class by attending an Evensong service at All Saints’ conducted by Dr. Stephen Cleobury from King’s College, Cambridge. Prior to the service, I realize that I don’t really know who Dr. Cleobury is. All that I know is that my Shakespeare professor, Dr. Pamela Macfie, has offered my class the chance to “enhance your quiz average” by attending the service. I’m all for extracurricular enrichment and, indeed, a boost of my quiz average (especially after a lackluster performance on my King Lear quiz). “Shakespeare would have attended Evensong services, both in Stratford and in London,” Dr. Macfie would later tell me.


I arrive in All Saints’ and pick up a bulletin. To my delight, a bio of Dr. Cleobury has been printed on the back. A friend and I find our seats, and before I get the chance to read about the him, the procession begins. The music is playing, and Cleobury (I think it’s him) passes by my aisle seat. It’s hot in here, my forehead is already showing signs of the heat. Why did I wear a jacket?


The choristers are seated and I start reading about Dr. Cleobury. He is the Director of Music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and a resident visiting artist with the School of Theology and the department of music.


My train of thought is interrupted by an extended final note to the processional Introit: Frank Bridge’s Adagio. It’s a bit jarring, and I go back to reading about Cleobury. His bio reveals a slew of honors and recognition that I could not do service in this odd article.


By the time I finish reading, the chanting of the Psalms has begun. A man in front of me apparently cannot help but take out his smartphone and record the chanting. I can see from my seat that the video he is recording is primarily made up of the shoulders of the person in front of him. That’s certainly not why he’s recording, though, and I’m not even able to really see the choir at all from my seat. All I can see is Cleobury, conducting the choir—comprised of choristers from the University Choir and the School of Theology’s choir—with poise. Cleobury waves his arms to conduct the choir like Poseidon summoning a godly wave. The man recording on his phone finishes the recording, turns to a friend, smiles and nods. Cleobury maintains another long final note to the Psalms, hesitating to stop the organist. He is controlled, fastidious, exact.


The Apostles’ Creed begins, and I am made aware of my hubris. There were some purple cards at the front of the nave with the Apostles’ Creed printed on them, but I assumed that I would remember it from all the times I spoke it in my own church at home. However, the words didn’t come out quite right. Did the words get changed? Who’s in charge of maintaining The Apostles’ Creed?


I also realize that I must not be in shape (and that I should probably be drinking more water)—I’m getting tired of standing, and I’m still sweating. The man who recorded the Psalms on his cell phone and another woman in front of him are fanning themselves—I’m not alone. I could take off my jacket, not sure where I’d put it, though.


Maybe the heat is getting to me, but all of a sudden, it’s time for the closing procession, Cleobury passes me—it’s the first time I’ve seen his face. I wish I could ask him about his proclivity for those long final notes, but he passes me and leaves the chapel. The procession finishes filing out of the nave, and I prepare to exit, but the organ continues playing. My bulletin reveals that “Those who wish are invited to sit and listen to the concluding Organ Voluntary.” I decide to stay, but I’m still getting pretty tired. How long is this supposed to last? “It’s how they weed out the non-believers,” my friend whispers to me.


The organ finishes playing and my duty is done. I remember, a verse from the Gospel reading, which I later find out is John 9:30: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” I suppose I do know where Cleobury comes from, but perhaps he did open my eyes.