Singing the Services


Essential information for singing at services in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral

Dress – smart black and white turnout. Women: white blouse, black skirt (or trousers) and black jacket or cardigan.  Men: dark lounge suit, white shirt and sober tie.  As the Cathedral is well-known for being cold, not just in winter, warm clothing is advised – lots of layers underneath!

Music – will have been provided at the preceding weekly practice(s) so please remember to bring it with you as spare copies may not be available on the day. Please also bring a black folder, as we now sing the first and last hymns while processing in/out.  Note that if St Mary’s Cathedral Choir music is being used this must not be marked in any way or removed from the building.  Please listen for and follow any instructions regarding return of borrowed music after the services.

Hymns – unless otherwise stated, first and last verses are sung in unison, others in harmony. St Mary’s uses the New English Hymnal (NEH) and copies of the Full Music Edition will be found in the choir stalls (bring your own if you have one), and sheet copies of the hymns should be available on the day.  Please ensure that the Cathedral Choir’s hymn books are not marked in any way. These and any other music kept in the stalls must be replaced where found.

Order of Service – the morning Eucharist service follows the Scottish Liturgy 1982, as set out in the white weekly service booklet specific to St Mary’s (which also gives details of the day’s music and weekly notices). Evensong is found in the small red Scottish Prayer Book (1929) p. 21 et seq. and on A4 laminated cards. Copies of these should be available in the choir stalls. Note that at the morning Eucharist, hymns and anthems etc. are not announced, although they generally are at Evensong.  The choir-specific notes overleaf will be useful. Participatory music is marked in bold italics.

Etiquette – as well as being religious services, these events are performances and they can also be an opportunity for us to showcase our abilities to help advertise a forthcoming concert. We are very visible and audible to the congregation when we’re in the stalls so a certain amount of decorum and presentation is called for, and particular points to note are:

  • Rehearsal in the choir stalls. Please be organised with your music ready to start promptly. Putting your music in the correct running order saves noisy rustling of paper during the services.
  • The usual seating is – sopranos (front row) and tenors (back row) sit on the organ side (Cantoris), altos and basses sit opposite (Decani) – or as otherwise decreed by the conductor.
  • After the practice, put the music for the first and last hymns in your black folder and take it with you to the Chapter House. Please do not leave coats, bags or water-bottles in the choir stalls. During the services they can be locked in the Vestry (morning Eucharist) or Chapter House (Evensong).
  • Water-bottles are not to be used during the services, but discreet sucking of pastilles or lozenges is quite acceptable!
  • Forming up for procession: please form up in pairs in 2 lines in the North Aisle by the organ casing – in silence, please. The Crucifer (cross-bearer) leads, followed by women then men, in order of seating arrangement – front row first. If one line is longer than the other, those at the rear should even up the pairings by joining the shorter line, moving across to the correct side on reaching the top of the Choir stalls. If there is still an odd number, the proper solution is for one person to walk between the lines in front of the last pair.
  • Processing in: don’t carry anything other than your black folder with the hymn music (and any other music if used for final practice in the Chapter House) – no bags or water bottles, please.
  • Walking naturally in pairs, in line behind the person in front at approximately arm’s length from that person and the one beside you.
  • Stands and Sits will be given by the conductor, so watch carefully to ensure consistent timing. It may be only a small point, but the whole choir standing/sitting simultaneously creates a good impression.



Rehearsal: 9.30am in choir stalls ready for prompt start.

Service: at 10.25am form up for procession in the North Aisle by the organ. Please observe silence. After the Vestry prayer, follow the Crucifer (and Acolytes if present), singing the first hymn (Introit) while processing.  Follow the long route down the North Aisle to the West Door and then up the Nave, dividing left and right round the Nave Altar, up to the top end of the choir stalls. Bow in pairs on reaching the organ console and progress back down through the choir stalls towards the Nave. Face the conductor while singing the rest of the hymn.

Remain standing for opening prayers, Kyrie or Gloria, Prayer.

Sit for Old Testament reading.

Stand for Psalm or other Responsory (if scheduled) then sit for Epistle.

Stand for Second hymn (Gradual) and first part of Gospel Acclamations (if sung), then turn to face towards Gospel reader in Nave.  After Gospel turn to face conductor for second of part of Gospel Acclamations (if sung) and then sit for sermon.

Stand for Nicene Creed which is said (words in service booklet).

Sit/kneel for Intercessions.

Stand for Peace greeting and Offertory Hymn, prayers, Sanctus and Benedictus.

Sit/kneel for prayers.

After Lord’s Prayer stand for Agnus Dei, after which proceed to High Altar for Communion (or a blessing) if desired (not compulsory) – file out from Nave end of choir stalls.  At the High Altar rail, altos and basses fan out to the right while sopranos and tenors fan left from the centre of the rail.  After communing, return individually to stalls: stand when indicated for Anthem or Motet and sit thereafter if time.

When the introduction to the Final hymn is played, turn to face the High Altar and bow along with the Crucifer. Then turn to face the congregation and, following the Crucifer, file out from the Nave end of the stalls while singing the hymn, the first pair of singers in the front rows either side leading out.

On reaching the top of the North Aisle, stop and remain in formation until after Dismissal Prayer. Turn to face clergy for this.

Do not return to the stalls until the organist has finished playing.


Rehearsal: 2pm in choir stalls, ready for prompt start.

Service: at 3.25pm form up for procession at the East end of the North Aisle. Please observe silence. After Vestry prayer, follow the Crucifer on the short route down the North Aisle, turning left at the pillar after the pulpit. Then process up through the Choir to the High Altar end of the stalls and then back down through the stalls towards the Nave.  Turn round inwards to face the High Altar, bow all together (take cue from Crucifer) and turn back ready for the Introit.

Remain standing for Introit followed by Opening prayers, First Responses (Preces), Office Hymn and Psalm(s)

Sit for first reading.

Stand for Magnificat.

Sit for second reading.

Stand for Nunc Dimittis and then turn to face High Altar for Apostles’ Creed (said).

Face front for (Second) Responses, Amens following intoned prayers and Anthem or Motet.

Sit/kneel for prayers.

Stand for Offertory Hymn, closing prayer and Three-fold Amen (if sung). Then turn inwards to face the High Altar and all bow with Crucifer and Priest. Don’t move until Crucifer sets off – process out in pairs (as before) following Crucifer – via High Altar this time.  On reaching the top of the North Aisle, stop and remain in formation until after Dismissal Prayer – turn to face clergy for this.