FOR the first time since they were originally written down, a collection of little-known medieval Christmas lyrics have been set to music by composer Stef Conner, especially for a historically-inspired musical event in York’s oldest surviving church.

Tomorrow’s singing day at St Mary’s Bishophill Junior is open to everyone and requires no singing experience or sight-reading ability.

In a workshop session from 10am to 5pm, participants will spend the day singing and listening to boisterous Yuletide toasts, Nativity lullabies and haunting winter songs that evoke an ancient and beautiful York Christmas.

This will be followed by a rustic buffet dinner with spiced wine from 5.30pm to 7pm in The Ackhorne pub, just around the corner from the church, before the singers join the Lâre Canteras ensemble for their performance at the 7.30pm carol concert.

Tomorrow’s 90-minute concert programme is inspired by the 800th anniversary of York’s Royal Charter, which is why the 13th century lyrics will be prominent.

Lâre Canteras will perform pieces that span the history of York from the Dark Ages to the present day, including an Anglo-Saxon hymn to the Morning Star and an Old Norse winter poem, to celebrate York’s Viking past.

Infrequently heard versions of familiar carols such as Silent Night and the Coventry Carol, taken from the earliest known manuscript sources, will be sung with historically informed pronunciation, and lesser-known medieval and renaissance carols, a Mystery Play, folk songs and dancing will feature too.

Tomorrow’s event has been masterminded by York choir leader, singer and musicologist Lisa J Coates and Royal Philharmonic Society Prize-winning composer Stef Conner, who has a Ph.D in music from the University of York as well as a love of north east folk traditions, in which she became immersed while performing with the folk group The Unthanks.

Having seen the positive effect of singing on people’s lives through their work running choirs, Lisa and Stef were inspired to combine their passion for harmony singing with their love of British heritage and folklore, using song to build bridges into the past.

“It’s incredibly comforting to be reminded that people who lived hundreds and thousands of years ago experienced many of the same conflicts, difficulties and pleasures as we do, in their daily lives,” says Stef.

“We find it exciting to hear stories that inspire us to empathise with our ancestors – and when that experience is combined with the emotional intensity of singing and the atmospheric power of an ancient building something very special happens.”

Taking part in the workshop and concert costs £45, including dinner and refreshments.

The concert is open to all; tickets cost £12, concessions £8, students £5, and both workshop and concert tickets are available online at or by contacting