New choir named in honour of great organist

Composer Francis Jackson was the organist and director of music at York Minster for more than three decades and has received many accolades in his lifetime including a CBE, but I am sure that even he will be thrilled to hear that a new choir has been named in his honour.

Dr Stephen Oxley, a Derbyshire organist and music tutor, struck up a lifelong friendship with the renowned  musician as an organ scholar in York in the 1970s and even made him the subject of his PhD thesis.

So when some of Stephen’s own pupils urged him to form a new choir with which they could sing he didn’t have to think twice about naming it after his mentor.

“You will never find another organ player like him he is just incredible. He has to have been the most formidable player in Northern England in the last 100 years,” explained Stephen.

“The fact that I had sat at his organ bench was awe-inspiring to me and I had two very happy years working with him. He really was just like a father to me and I will never forget that.

“I have long wanted to form a choir which could perform his music alongside other sacred choral music in cathedrals and churches and, having been prompted by my pupils, I have now decided to give it a go.”

Stephen, who lives with his wife and family at Blackwell, near Alfreton, has taught some highly talented musicians during more than 30 years as a music teacher at various schools including the Guildhall School of Music. Now he offers lessons from his home.

Some of his former students are opera singers at Glyndbourne, the Welsh National and The Coliseum. Others are in top orchestras across Europe.

As a musician he has given organ recitals in cathedrals and concert halls all over Europe  including Notre Dame, the Basilica in Florence, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral.

However as a student, back in the 70s, he was at first destined to follow a career in medicine and was studying the subject at Newcastle when one of his tutors encouraged him to follow his heart.

“My family wanted me to study medicine but I wanted to play the organ. I had been a chorister and organ student at Derby Cathedral and Southwell Minster and when I got to Newcastle I continued my musical studies at the Cathedral there in my spare time.

“Then one of my tutors at university, Donald Wright, who shared my interest in organ music and heard me play said: ‘Lad, why are you studying medicine? You should be studying music.’ I realised he was right.”

He joked that his family were none too pleased at his change of direction at the time.

“Eventually when I was playing at York Minster and the Albert Hall they became a little less hacked off,” he said with a laugh.

Stephen says that he wants the Francis Jackson Choir to be small enough to keep performances intimate but big enough to be able to do some large scale music. He is also keen to use their performances to raise money for charity.

“I am looking forward to expanding the choir, and the kind of music we are able to do, in time. I hope that we will be able to look at going abroad to perform in other Cathedrals. This is just the start and were are looking for people to join us on our journey,” he said.

The new choir rehearses on Thursday evenings at St Luke’s Church in Heage, near Belper and so far there are 16 members. Stephen reckons 24 would be a good number to have so they are looking to recruit more to the team.

It is not for absolute beginners but if you are interested visit their website francisjacksonchoir.co.uk

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