The singing of “The Deerfield Evensong” every Sunday after sit-down is a cherished tradition that closes each school week. This song gives the Deerfield community a chance to join together in a meaningful way, swaying and singing in unison—well, sort of. Although we are not altogether to sing it in person, the Evensong remains perhaps one of the most accessible connections to Deerfield.
The Evensong has a history that is nearly a century-long. On October 31, 1930, a teacher and Leader of the Deerfield Glee Club Ralph Herrick Oatley surprised the school with the announcement of a new song. Oatley composed the music and Richard Warren Hatch, then the Head of the English department, wrote the lyrics.
In the 1930s, Deerfield often participated in the New York Sing, a singing competition that held a contest for the best school song. The contest alternated between hymns and rallying songs each year. That year, it required a hymn. In response to this prompt, Mr. Oatley and Mr. Hatch wrote the Evensong
A Scroll article published on November 8, 1930, contains a quote from Mr. Oatley and Mr. Hatch, stating, “[We] wish it [is] clearly understood that the new song is in no way to replace the ‘Sons of Deerfield,’ which will remain the school song.” The “Sons of Deerfield” was later retitled and revised to become “The Deerfield Song” after Deerfield became coed.
The original sheet music for the Evensong (pictured below) was arranged for only bass and tenor parts, as the school was all boys when it was written. After the school became co-ed, the song was adapted to include the female soprano and alto parts.
Most recently, Director of the Choral Program Thomas Pousont, arranged a unique version of the second verse in order to utilize the distinctive voices in this year’s chorus.
Though the lyrics to the Evensong have not changed throughout its history, its integration into the school has differed over the years. During the time that Frank Boyden was headmaster, all-school meetings would be held on Sunday evenings, where songs from the Deerfield Songbook were sung. Math Teacher Marc Dancer ’79 recalls his own days as a student, when “the Sunday Sing had transformed into an all-school meeting with a guest lecturer, musician, poet, etc.”
Until recently, the singing of the school songs would only occur on special occasions, such as Convocation, Spring Family Weekend, and graduation. Dancer, then a faculty member, said, in order to prepare for Spring Family Weekend, “[they] had to practice at school meetings during the spring term so [they] had them memorized.”
Now, singing the Evensong to close Sunday sit downs is most similar to Mr. Boyden’s Sunday school meeting sing. Because of the weekly recitation of the song, students now are much more familiar with the school songs, and in turn are more connected to Deerfield’s history.
Though Deerfield considers the Evensong, The Deerfield Song, and the Deerfield Cheering Song, all school songs, only the Evensong and the Cheering Song have endured within the Deerfield community to become traditions.
The Evensong remains one of many traditions that root us in our school’s history. The song creates unmistakable memories of Sunday sit-downs that stay with students long after they leave campus.
Dr. Pousont believes that “sharing our voices is very personal.” As he said, “singing together as a group is one of the most powerful ways to bond as a community.”
Bored in quarantine? This is a perfect time to memorize the words to the Evensong. For those of you who are returning to campus in the fall, you’ll finally be able to belt out the lyrics as you’ve always wanted. Just be sure not to sing the senior verse if you’re an underclassman.