A church-going Christian would be used to the practice of ensemble singing alongside prayer and contemplation, but exactly how and when the idea of religious practice blended into artistic appreciation?
Possibly from my earliest TV Christmas carol concerts, and certainly enhanced by discovering Radio 3’s Choral Evensong on midweek afternoons some time in the 1990s. Although that programme broadcasts all year round, it seems particularly suited to the dusky and dark afternoons of autumn and winter, possibly because of the format’s similarity to the Christmas Eve broadcast of lessons and carols at King’s College Cambridge.
I would agree with Tom Service that the musical pleasures of choral evensong are inevitably associated with the medieval churches and cathedrals which still retain professionally-led choirs able to perform it. If you love to visit a historic Christian church it’s surely easy to listen to some of the music which has been designed to be sung within it.
My most memorable personal experience of attending a religious service involving such a choir was at Mass in the Gothic style (but Victorian built) St Mary’s Catholic cathedral in Sydney, Australia. The music included William Byrd, as I remember.
Yes, perhaps such music is an old-fashioned taste even for a church-goer, the sort mocked by Philip Larkin in “Church Going“. After all, it is now more often specially planned and performed for secular audiences, for example at the Three Choirs Festival , rather than as natural parts of the religious life of a community.
I confess to preferring plainchant and polyphony and contemporary composition (which usually requires the skills of professional singers) rather than hymns from the 19th and early 20th centuries where a choir sings in hearty unison to organ accompaniment just as they might do in your local parish. Probably a bit of snobbery, that. Whichever, you have the strong sense that this is a form of cultural expression which, as the 21st century progresses, will become more rare and select.