Evensong among the scaffolds


With scaffolding for Rockefeller Chapel's ongoing renovation climbing the sanctuary walls and construction debris slung across the pews, attendees at Sunday's choral evensong joined the choir up in the chancel. Stripped of its usual fanfare, the 5 p.m. service was intimate—worshippers' folding chairs sat only inches from organist Tom Weisflog, SM'69, and the chapel's red-robed singers—and featured soaring hymns, a reading from the Gospel of John, and a recitation of a W. B. Yeats poem, "The Magi": "And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more / ...The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." Weisflog closed out the 45-minute "rest for the soul" with a forceful performance of Georges Bizet's "March of the Three Kings" on the chancel organ.

A combination of vepsers and compline, two evening services of prayer and thanks, evensong is a mainstay in many European chapels, and it draws on customs that reach as far back as ancient Rome. At Rockefeller, choral evensong began in October 2006 and is held on the second Sunday of every month. The aim, says Chapel Music Director James Kallembach, is to attract more Hyde Park residents, students, and tourists, and to "give the Rockefeller Chapel Choir, a first-rate choral group, a larger musical venue in the tradition of the great academic chapels of Europe, particularly Britain. I think the idea is fitting for a chapel with great architecture and a capable choir."

This past Sunday's audience was small—perhaps four or five dozen people—but most other Rockefeller evensongs draw crowds of between 100 and 250 listeners. The December installment, Advent vespers, lures some 600 into the sanctuary. Kallembach looks forward to this June, when the E. M. Skinner organ, now undergoing a $2.1 million restoration, returns to its Rockefeller perch with more than 8,700 pipes.


Photos: Only inches from the audience, organist Tom Weisflog (top) leads the congregation through the hymn "What Child is This"; the choir sings amid a latticework of scaffolding.

January 14, 2008