Our Passion Music concert on 26th March was a night to remember. Singing with the rhythmic backing of a jazz ensemble and the gorgeous jazz vocalist was a wonderful experience. All those weeks of preparation, and the inspiring workshop with the composer Will Todd came together to produce an evening of glorious choral jazz and blues.
Piano – Kevin Gill, Double bass – Mike Green, Drums – Julian Powell, Saxophone – Andy Isherwood, Soprano – Hannah Davey.
Passion Music, written by Will Todd in 2018, is an extremely moving telling of the Easter story of Christ’s passion through English texts set to jazz and blues. We also loved singing Mass in Blue once again.
The choir wore blue and yellow ribbons to mark the tragic situation in Ukraine. At the beginning of the second half the choir sang A Prayer for Ukraine, and a retiring collection for the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Relief Fund raised £620.
Thank you to talented photographer Kyle Simms for this great collection of photographs from the concert.
Will Todd’s Mass in Blue and Passion Music are very different from our usual repertoire, but we’re really loving those jazz rhythms and blues harmonies! Listen to our singers and Music Director talking about the Will Todd music we’re learning for the concert at the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre on 26th March.
One of the thrills of performing works by a living composer is that it’s possible to actually meet them, and discover their views on the way they’d like their music to sound. For this reason, we were delighted that Will Todd was able to join in our choir workshop on Sunday 27th February, and share his thoughts on his Mass in Blue and Passion Music as we prepare for our concert on 26th March.
We all warmed to Will straight away, and soon we found ourselves doing something we would not have believed possible – improvising in Dorian mode! That put us in the right frame of mind to study Passion Music before the break and, fortified by tea and cake, Mass in Blue afterwards.
David (Wynne), our Music Director, led us in singing each section, and then Will made encouraging and helpful comments on the style and tempo of the music. He was not dogmatic – in fact, one of the features of jazz and blues style is that there is room for interpretation.
Click to enlarge photos
Kevin (Gill), accompanied us with those complex jazzy rhythms and unfamiliar blues harmonies on the piano. It is a source of amazement how Kevin can play complex accompaniments to works as diverse as Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, Brahm’s German Requiem and Will Todd’s Choral Jazz works without being fazed at all.
As always, there was plenty of time for humour!
Will Todd introduces Passion Music: In this video Will Todd describes how he chose the texts and set the music, illustrated with lots of excerpts from rehearsals and performances.
We’re delighted that Will Todd is coming to our choir workshop on Sunday. We’ll be rehearsing ‘Passion Music’ and ‘Mass in Blue’ , and it will be a real treat to hear insights from the composer of these wonderful pieces. They are challenging to learn, but it’s so rewarding to sing those complex rhythms and gorgeous blues harmonies.
In this 25 minute video, Will Todd gives us an insight into choosing the words for ‘Passion music’ and setting them to music. His fusion of choral, jazz and blues styles brings out the meaning of the story of Christ’s passion with spiritual sensitivity.
Rehearsals are well under way for a wonderful concert of Will Todd’s choral jazz music on Saturday 26th March.
Those who came to the Birmingham Festival Choral Society concert in July 2018 will remember the excitement of Mass in Blue, with its blend of energetic rhythmic jazz movements and gorgeous slow reflective pieces. Hannah Davey, our soprano soloist was the star of the show, and we’re delighted that she is able to sing with us again.
Passion Music was premiered in 2018 . Will Todd uses the same fusion of sacred choral music and jazz idoms to highlight different events in the Christian Passion story with spiritual sensitivity. The choir and soloist will be accompanied by a jazz ensemble consisting of piano, drums, double bass and saxophone.
Will Todd: Mass in Blue
Will Todd: Passion Music
Birmingham Festival Choral Society, conductor David Wynne,
Saturday 26th March 7.30pm
The Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, King Edward’s School,
Our Rossini concert on 30th October was a great occasion. It was wonderful to be performing live again – the first concert for 2 years.
BFCS had been ready to perform Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle in March 2020 when the pandemic caused the cancellation of the concert. We’ve been keeping it going during our Zoom rehearsals, so it was very well prepared! It was really enjoyable to sing it with such talented professionals – our soloists, Mimi Doulton, Rachel Gilmore, Ed Harrisson and Joe Kennedy, our accompanists, Ben de Souza and Kevin Gill, and our conductor, David Wynne. We were also very pleased to see so many of our friends and family in the audience.
Thank you to Alfred White for these lovely photos – a great souvenir of a wonderful evening.
Birmingham Festival Choral Society singers. Click the arrows to see all four photos.
We hope that you will enjoy listening to the beautiful Kyrie by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, sung by the Birmingham Festival Choral Society virtual double choir.
The Kyrie is the first movement of Rheinberger’s most famous choral work, the Mass for double choir in E flat, (Cantus Missae) Op 109. Written in 1878, it recalls the old compositional style of alternating unaccompanied choirs , as used in late Renaissance Venice. Listening through stereo headphones is the best way to appreciate the full double choir effect .
We hope that you will enjoy the images and music on this recording of Paul Fincham’s ‘Ring the Bells’, from the BFCS virtual choir. Hear the swinging bells in the different voice parts!
The composer wrote this Christmas piece in 2019 to raise money for ‘Crisis’, the charity for homeless people. Birmingham Festival Choral Society sang it at last year’s Crisis Carol Service in St Martin’s in the Bull Ring, and this year we’ve sent them this recording for their use.
Did you see the article about our online rehearsing and performing in the Birmingham Post yesterday? We were very pleased to have such a big spread in the paper to show how BFCS has been responding to the challenges of the lockdown. Mary Keating, the author and BFCS soprano, has provided the text below to enable you to read it easily online.
Carry on singing –
Birmingham prides itself on being a cultural oasis so it is tragic that theatre and live music have been so badly affected by Covid-19 with no end yet in sight. What has been overlooked, in the concern over the continuation of professional performances, are the consequences for the many community choirs across the city who support and give purpose to so many lives.
The Birmingham Festival Choral Society (BFCS) is one such choir and it is special because it is the oldest choir still operating in Birmingham. Founded in 1845, this year marks the 175th anniversary. Having weathered many historical upheavals, will this be the final curtain?
Music Director, David Wynne, is determined that this will not be the case. The choir continues to sing and has even produced a performance recording of Mozart’s Ave Verum that can be seen on the BFCS website. While concern about infection remains so high the intention is to continue producing these performance recordings. Indeed there is an ambitious plan to produce a concert recording.
The experience of managing Zoom rehearsals is far from simple, as other choirs will confirm. The BFCS is not only the oldest choir, it is also a very large choir. For normal rehearsals and performances choir numbers are around eighty. Imagine that number of people singing together via varying internet speeds – what a cacophony, certainly not up to the usual high standards. To manage this issue David developed an ingenious way of conducting the rehearsals and supporting each choir member to learn their parts.
One of the first things David recognised was that without the opportunity to sing together in parts and as a whole it is a strange and isolating experience for the performer and the conductor. So much of what singers and conductors do is reliant on hearing each other. How to replicate this was the question. Usually rehearsal recordings only have the music for each individual part, so this does not address the issue of singing in isolation. Instead David produced recordings with all the voice parts singing but weighted in favour of each part. As a Soprano you can listen and sing with the Soprano weighted part, and you are also singing with the rest of the choir.
As David commented this was a huge learning curve. He had never heard of Zoom and certainly never done any audio and video editing. Initially he sang all the male parts but what of the alto and soprano? Luckily for the choir David’s wife, Alexandra, is a professional soprano. Where the tenor part became too high even for David he managed to persuade Edward Harrison to lend his voice.
The innovation did not stop there. When it became clear that conducting live suffered from the same internet delays, the audio rehearsal recordings became videos with David conducting.
The danger for all choirs currently is that members are lost. So far the vast majority of BFCS have taken part in the Zoom rehearsals and over forty contributed to the performance recording. Initial anxiety about the technology putting many people off has not been realised.
Research on the possible dangers of spreading the virus through singing continues. Although anecdotal, there is no firm evidence that singing of itself spreads the virus through airborne transmission. Even with or without that evidence the confidence of choir members to return is doubtful. So what does the future hold for the BFCS and others like it? David feels that much has been learned in a very short time about how technology can support the choir to continue to work towards performance standards, albeit virtual.
Beyond Covid many of these developments, spearheaded by David, can continue. Producing the rehearsal recordings can be maintained. These can support all the choir to work on their own to improve their practice. For those less confident about their singing and sight reading they would be invaluable as a way of encouraging a wider membership and greater inclusivity. Importantly for a community choir, those housebound members who have been singing with the choir for years will be able to continue to enjoy singing with us.
BFCS has withstood many historical upheavals. Its future after the First World War and the 1918 flu epidemic looked very shaky. Choir members dropped to critical levels and finding male voices was understandably very difficult. Nevertheless, the choir has faced many upheavals risen to the challenges and deserves its current reputation as one of the best choral societies in Birmingham. Covid-19, tragic as it is, holds the opportunity to improve the quality and inclusivity of the choir that prides itself on being the “friendly choir”.
If you are interested in finding out more about the BFCS or joining us, visit the website and look out for the next sets of performance recordings that show that the choir remains a vibrant entity.
The friendly Birmingham choir singing the world's best choral music.