Music at St Olave's

Music is a very important part of church life at St Olave's and our robed choir is one of the region's most accomplished

 Music at St Olave’s Church York

The work of Saint Olave’s Church Choir lies at the heart of the liturgy of this ancient York parish church.

Music is a very important part of church life at St Olave’s and our robed choir is one of the region’s most accomplished.  The choir numbers up to 40 singers, ranging from school-age to ‘retired’, and including a number of families and students.

We are fortunate in being able to draw upon a wide repertoire which covers the most important styles and periods from plainsong and polyphony to the twenty-first century, including new works written for the choir.

St Olave's Church Choir in 2018

Our Church Choir

The core work of our church choir is to enhance the Sunday morning Sung Eucharist, which it does with a wide range of music. Highlights such as the major festivals of Christmas and Easter – and concerts – give the choir a prominent profile. An important part of the yearly cycle is a sung Requiem on Remembrance Sunday (those by Fauré, Duruflé, Mozart, Brahms and Howells have been performed in recent years), for which the choir has on occasion been joined by the Orchestra of St Olave’s Church.  The orchestra draws together players including local professionals, some of whom are members of the independent Academy of St Olave’s (directed by Alan George). The choir has also been joined by the orchestra for notable concert performances of Britten’s St Nicolas in 2014 and Bach’s St John Passion in 2016, as well as a hugely successful ‘come-and-sing’ performance of Handel’s Messiah for the York Residents’ Festival in 2015.

The choir prepares for our weekly 10:30 Sung Eucharist with a rehearsal commencing at 9:30 every Sunday morning.  The junior members of the church choir (up to age 13) meet in the choir room after school on Tuesdays to develop their singing, and to work on general musical skills. In the course of this they rehearse music for forthcoming services and also learn some (less churchy!) pieces.

The choir is sometimes available to sing for weddings and funerals. A fee is usually charged for the musicians’ time and expenses.

Joining the choir of St Olave’s Church

We are always happy to welcome new members to the choir of St Olave’s. Although the choir sings every week, attendance can be flexible, to allow for other commitments; all we ask is that good notice is given, and an online diary system helps us all to keep track.

For junior singers (aged 7-13), we suggest coming along to a junior choir rehearsal on Tuesday after school, to see how they like it. For older singers, we recommend firstly coming to a service to see and hear the choir in action, and then talking to the Director of Music over coffee after the service. There is a short audition, consisting of a few scales and ear-tests, along with a guided rehearsal of a straightforward piece from the choir’s repertoire. Please contact the Director of Music for further details by emailing keith@stolaveschurch.org.uk or by using the button below.

Watch our Virtual Choir, gathered together for our online services during the Covid-19 lockdown

Good Friday 2020

Remember not, Lord, our offences – Henry Purcell

The virtual choir of St Olave's

Sunday after Ascension, 24 May 2020

O thou, the central orb – Charles Wood

The virtual choir of St Olave's
God be in my head – John Rutter
If ye love me – Thomas Tallis
Oculi Omnium – Charles Wood

Listen to St Olave’s Church Choir

Requiem: A Service for Remembrance

Requiem: A Service for Remembrance

A service of music and readings for remembrance, with Fauré’s setting of the Requiem Mass – performed by St Olave’s Church Choir in 2012.

St John Passion Chorales and Choruses

St John Passion Chorales and Choruses

Follow the Passion of Our Lord with selected chorales & choruses from JS Bach’s St John Passion – St Olave’s Church Choir & Orchestra directed by Keith Wright

Watch our Junior Choir’s Covid-19 lockdown project!

Choir Gallery – Click or tap on the images to display large versions

Parry Centenary Concert June 2018
100th birthday celebrations with Dr Francis Jackson
Choir juniors, June 2018
June 2018
May 2018
Celebrating a new commission by Andrew Carter
Christmas 2018

Who We Are

Music Leadership

The high standard of sung worship at St Olave’s Church is led by a mixed robed choir of all ages, led by a professionally qualified Director of Music and an Assistant Director of Music.

List of organists at St Olave's
Director of Music: Keith Wright

Director of Music: Keith Wright

Director of Music


Keith Wright has been Director of Music at St Olave’s Church in York since 2011, and is also Assistant Director of Music and Head of Keyboard at St Peter’s School. A native of Yorkshire (he sang as a boy in Wakefield Cathedral Choir), he was educated at Edinburgh University under professors Peter Williams and Kenneth Leighton, and studied the organ at St Paul’s and Southwark cathedrals with John Scott. Prior to his arrival in York, he was successively Assistant Organist at Wakefield Cathedral and Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral, with whose choirs he recorded and broadcast dozens of times, and toured in Europe, Scandinavia, Brazil, the USA and Canada.

In Durham Keith taught Harmony, Keyboard Skills, Performance and Conducting in the University’s music department, and directed a chamber choir (Palatinate Voices) and period-instrument orchestra (Durham Baroque) with whom he performed the major Bach works (the two Passions, the B-minor Mass, the six motets, the Magnificat and many cantatas) in addition to works from over six centuries. He has an especial interest in seventeenth-century church music and the organ’s role in it, and carried out research in the Durham Chapter Library which resulted in new editions, recordings and broadcasts, some involving the Early English Organ Project instruments (two replicas of early sixteenth-century organs), of which he has been a trustee.

In York his role in the school involves – in addition to teaching – responsibility for the Chamber Choir, String Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra. He is busy as a soloist, accompanist, teacher and conductor, and has been an examiner of both paperwork and playing for the Royal College of Organists, and of A-level Music for the AQA. He is a contributor to the new Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, writing about the work of Kenneth Leighton. Away from music he enjoys cycling, both as a spectator of the sport and as a rather slower participant.

Maximillian Elliott

Maximillian Elliott

Assistant Director of Music

Dr Maximillian Elliott is Assistant Director of Music at two historic churches in York, namely: St Olave and All Saints, North Street. Born and raised in Cheshire, Max moved to York as a student in 2010. Having graduated from the University of York with a first-class BA in Historical Archaeology in 2013, an MA with distinction in Historical Archaeology in 2015 and a PhD in Music in 2020, Max has recently created a website (yorkorganhistory.co.uk) for the purpose of disseminating his doctoral research. Max has written extensively about the history of music-making in Yorkshire, particularly during his tenure as editor of The PipeLine (Journal of the York & District Organists’ Association) between June 2013 and October 2015. After joining the British Institute of Organ Studies in 2017, Max produced an article for their annual journal entitled James Ingall Wedgwood: a correspondent ‘temporarily out of tune’ and has delivered papers at several BIOS conferences. Max is currently writing a book about the organs of York, which will provide the history of fifty-eight instruments within or adjacent to the city walls.

Max served as President of the York & District Organists’ Association between 2017 and 2019 and has now undertaken the roles of Membership Secretary, Webmaster and Concert Manager. The YDOA is an active fellowship of musicians with over one hundred members and its activities have expanded considerably during the last few years. Over thirty volunteers from the YDOA have recently been assisting Martin Renshaw with the installation of an 1879 Henry Willis organ at St Denys’ Church in York. The YDOA co-ordinates and promotes an annual series of organ recitals at twelve venues across the city of York and its wider advocacy of organ-playing in the local area has been extremely beneficial. Max has also been serving as Diocesan Organ Adviser since June 2020.

St Olave's Church Organ

St Olave’s Church Organ

J W Walker & Sons constructed the organ for St Olave’s Church in 1907 (four years after completing their celebrated instrument at York Minster). Having been restored in 1978, enlarged in 2004 and further modernised in 2018, our excellent organ now comprises three manuals and over forty speaking stops.

St Olave’s Church hosts a wide range of concerts. In recent years we have held music festivals featuring internationally renowned organ recitalists such as Daniel Cook, Thomas Ospital and Daniel Hyde, as well as concerts by local choirs and the Academy of St Olave’s chamber orchestra.

Keith Wright at the organ

Listen to St Olave’s Church Organ

Improvisation on three themes from an organ recital by Thomas Ospital on 26 June 2019:

  1. Communion Tu es Petrus from the plainsong propers for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul
  2. Hymn-tune ‘York’ (Pray that Jerusalem may have peace and felicity)
  3. Theme song from the TV series Gentleman Jack, by Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow

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