Mass in Blue, April 2011

Photography by Rishi Coupland

Hackney Sings The Blues: A Unique Choral Event

Hackney Singers performed Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a jazz setting of the Latin Mass, accompanied by the Will Todd trio with the composer at the piano, and renowned jazz­ singer Bethany Halliday. The programme also featured the whimsical Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare by jazz legend George Shearing who died earlier this year.

The 130-strong Hackney Singers choir were conducted by Associate Conductor and long-standing friend of Will Todd, Dan Ludford-Thomas, and the choir’s Repétiteur, Andrew Storey.

Written in 2003, Will Todd’s Mass in Blue is a brilliant mix of driving jazz grooves and clear, strong, choral writing against which the solo piano and solo soprano voice weave and blend in a delightful aural tapestry. The work reflects not only the composer’s love of jazz music and his admiration of jazz performers, but also his own experiences of improvisation and of church choral music.

Watch excerpts from Mass in Blue on YouTube

Born in Battersea in 1919, George Shearing became one of the great jazz pianists and band leaders. He emigrated to the US in 1947, performed for three US Presidents and composed over 300 works including the famous Lullaby of Birdland. Songs & Sonnets from Shakespeare, first performed in 1999, was his second “collaboration” with Shakespeare, the perfect showcase for his English musical background combined with American jazz influences.

The Songs and Sonnets of Shakespeare were ‘delightfully presented and showed the choir in well-controlled, reflective mood’ – Andrew Storey, Conductor.

The Mass in Blue was ‘tailor-made’ for the enthusiastic Hackney Singers.  With the Will Todd trio and soloist Bethany Halliday, the Hackney Singers sang ‘with a fantastic fusion of energy and enthusiasm which was channeled into a vibrant performance. I thought the whole evening was charged. Members of the choir sang with purpose and high intensity, enhanced all the more as smiles continually broke out throughout the singing” – Dan Ludford-Thomas, Conductor.

Audience comments

“I’ve never really been into jazz singing but I found this performance of Mass in Blue by the Hackney Singers and the superb soloist truly dynamic and I enjoyed it immensely”

“The singing was incredibly moving I had goose pimples at time hair standing up my neck at others and could not stop moving along to the exciting rhythms. Great that HS are broadening their repertoire – so enjoyable, so timely!”

“I really enjoyed the concert last night – particularly the second half, which I thought went with a real swing. It sounded really tricky to sing, but the choir did very well – I didn’t detect any moments of uncertainty. The soloist was amazing too.”

“What a wonderful jazz night. I couldn’t stop tapping my feet.”

“Such an exciting programme and so unexpected. I loved it.”

“It was a privilege having the composer there.”