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Minster Minstrels - York's youth early music ensemble

Ruby Jones - 2018 John Marvin Achievement Award Winner

Minster Minstrels with Trevor Pinnock at York Early Music Festival 2018

Performing at YEMF 2017

Exploring period instruments with Tim Bayley

Minster Minstrels is York's youth early music ensemble for school-age musicians of any instrument. Directed by Ailsa Batters, with the support of Minster Minstrels assistant Lottie Brook, the ensemble learns how to interpret the wide variety of music from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods with authentic character and style. They perform regularly, including appearances at York Early Music Festival and York Early Music Christmas Festival, as well as taking part in Music Hub events throughout the year. 

There are also opportunities to work with professional musicians in workshops and master-classes and to attend early music concerts to hear and see them in action. The group are extremely excited to be underway with organisation for a workshop with South Asian Arts UK, to discover and learn about traditional instruments and repertoire, which will take place next Summer at the NCEM. 

A recent highlight for the group this year, was their joint concert with The Early Music Group of Killi at the NCEM, who worked with the Minstrels during their tour of the UK from Estonia. Many of the musicians within The Early Music Group of Killi are award winning performers on instruments such as the harpsichord, guitar and voice. This collaboration has really inspired the Minstrels to try out some new instruments, using percussion and incorporating singing into their programme, that will be performed later in the year and into 2019. It was an outstanding concert enjoyed by all as part of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff Charity Concert series, raising money in support of the Lord Mayor and Sheriff charities, which include the York Blind and Partially Sighted Society, the Island and the York Music Hub. The money raised for the Music Hub was subsequently used to support the NCEM's Music4U youth programme, which offers creative and accessible music making opportunities for those living in challenging circumstances across the city and surrounding region. 

Have a look at this short video of the performance below:

Other highlights of the Minster Minstrels' performing history have included: performing with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) and premiering a new work by Anthony Bailey, as part of the York Early Music Festival Bassoon Extravaganza project; taking part in activities for European Day of Early Music alongside the European Union Baroque Orchestra ; and performing at historical venues such as Cawood Castle and the Treasurer's House, York. 

Up next for the Minster Minstrels is a Christmas performance at the York Music Centre playing works such as In Dulci Jubilo and Corelli's Christmas Concerto, with the addition of some singing and bells, dotted throughout their programme! In addition to this the Senior group are looking forward to a performance at the beautiful Fairfax House in March 2019 and the whole group will be performing as part of the prestigious York Early Music Festival 2019, where they will explore 'The Shock of the New', looking at exciting Italian repertoire and ornamentation that shocked audiences and musicians when premiered. 

Participants say:
  • "I have learned lots of new things like the history behind the music and about how dances and dance steps affect how we play the music"
  • "I love that we learn about the context of the music - it helps with a real in-depth understanding"
  • "I have grown as a musician and been inspired to take my music further"
Parents say:
  • "I appreciate the superb standard of performance. Whatever level they have reached the standard is truly excellent due to parts being allocated depending on each musician's personal strengths and those of their instruments"
  • "Ailsa is a wonderful director - she's there each Saturday with a smile on her face, and is always so encouraging, enthusiastic and patient" 
  • "We as parents have loved our daughter's time with Minstrels, watching her grow in confidence and as a musician"
For details about joining Minster Minstrels, please contact the NCEM on 01904 632220 or email The group meets 9.30am-1pm on Saturday mornings during term time at Millthorpe School, as part of York Music Centre.

To see further clips of the ensemble at work, please see our short video clips here  and here
Minster Minstrels is run by the NCEM in partnership with York Music Hub, with support from Mayfield Valley Arts Trust.