I’ve just attended a choral workshop on Will Todd’s ‘Mass in Blue’. I’ve sung the words of the mass with various choirs over the years; some masses have been gentle, some loud, some predictable and some surprising. This was surprising. Will’s website describes it as ‘an upbeat setting of the Latin mass for SATB choir, soprano solo and jazz trio or ensemble’. Ralph Woodward, who led the workshop with Will at the piano, soon had us swinging enthusiastically to the beat even if our sight-reading wasn’t always up to hitting the right notes.
What was most interesting about the day, though, was having Will Todd give a short talk on his work. He explained how he was classically trained but always wanted to write jazz, and that he was initially dissuaded from doing so by his more traditional university teachers. I don’t know much about jazz, and indeed I would put it low down on my list of preferred musical genres, but I began to change my mind in the course of this day. He explained how jazz has to do with improvisation. When writing a piece in the classical manner, you may have things planned out more and know what’s going to happen. But in jazz there will be surprises. I began to think of the analogy with writing; some writers plan in great detail, others ‘freewrite’ and see where their intuition takes them. Others do a mixture of both, and I think I’m probably in that camp.
I liked Will’s thoughts on the editing process; ultimately the most important thing is to recognise the difference between the diamonds and the dross and have the courage to throw away the latter, edit and redraft. He explained how he rewrote the entire Mass in Blue, keeping in one special phrase from the Benedictus, adding ‘when it’s the right thing, it’s easy to finish’.
His final advice? Make sure you create with the whole you.
More on Will Todd at http://willtodd.com/massinblue.php