James O’Donnell

James O'Donnell's picture
Professor in the Practice of Organ and Sacred Music

For the last twenty-three years, James O’Donnell was the organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey. He is currently professor in the practice of organ and sacred music at the Yale School of Music and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

At Westminster Abbey, James led the Abbey’s music department and oversaw all musical aspects of the Abbey’s work, including directing the celebrated Choir of Westminster Abbey. He was also responsible for the music at royal, state and national occasions, including the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on 29th April 2011, and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on 9th April 2002. Most recently, he led the music for the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Internationally recognized as a conductor and organ recitalist, James O’Donnell has performed all over the world, including the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. As soloist and director James O’Donnell has worked with many of Britain’s leading ensembles.

He is music director of St James’ Baroque and appears regularly with the BBC Singers. He is visiting professor of organ and of choral conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and was president of the Royal College of Organists from 2011–13. He is an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Doctor of Music honoris causa of the University of Aberdeen.

Before taking up his appointment at Westminster Abbey in January 2000, James O’ Donnell was a junior exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music and then organ scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge.

His first professional appointments were at Westminster Cathedral, where he was for five years assistant and subsequently, for twelve years, master of music. Under his direction the Choir of Westminster Cathedral won the Gramophone “Record of the Year” award for its Hyperion disc of masses by Frank Martin and Pizzetti and a Royal Philharmonic Society award, both unprecedented for a cathedral choir.


Sacred Music
Program of Study: 
Religion and Music