Mass in Blue Concert is a Sensation!

A once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity (WN ??/09/23) became the experience of a lifetime on Saturday night when 170 students and teachers performed composer Will Todd’s electrifying jazz ‘Mass in Blue’ with a stellar line-up of professional artists and musicians to a packed house at Worcester Cathedral.

The project leading to it with seven Worcestershire secondary schools also included the participation of Worcester Cathedral Youth Choir, The RSCM Millenium Youth Choir and two high schools from Vermont, USA.

The concert was presented by Guest Artist, saxophone superstar and BBC R3 broadcaster, Jess Gillam MBE who, earlier in the day gave a Masterclass in Henry Sandon Hall, Royal Porcelain Works to talented local students.


Ella, a flute player and student at The Chase, “ It was a truly amazing experience. We each had around15-20 minutes working on a piece of our choice with Jess giving us professional advice and support. In front of a small audience, we each played our pieces through before she focused on a few particular aspects of our playing style to help improve our playing. She also allowed us to ask any questions before moving on to the next person. She was extremely friendly and supportive, and the atmosphere in the room was very natural with minimal pressure which was very calming. A few of the pieces of advice she gave me were: practise dynamics by doing my favourite scale and on each note, crescendo and then diminuendo, which will make me more familiar with the note; do some stretches and breathing beforehand and practise long notes to warm up to the feeling and help decide what and how to practice. It was a wonderful experience and I took on lots of really helpful advice. I would jump at the oppurtunity to do it again and thank everyone very much for a brilliant time.

Hannah:, a saxophonist and student at The Chase: “It was great to meet Jess Gillam and get advice from her: apparently I have “the most expressive elbow in the world”! It was particularly useful to get advice on a piece that she had played, and amazing to finish the workshop by playing a section of it along with her!” ]

Introducing the first half of the concert, Gillam’s vibrant stage presence and magnetic personality immediately created an air of excitement at this much anticipated concert.

Vocalist and composer Aga Serugo-Lugo, who worked with students in the early stages of this ambitious project, opened the concert with a composition of his own that involved the chorus and audience in semi-improvised participation. The chorus sang Todd’s beautiful arrangement of Amazing Grace that included a specially composed saxophone solo for Jess Gillam.

Gillam’s own set included pieces by Telemann, Barbara Thompson and Harle and was performed brilliantly by the dynamic trio that included pianist Zeynep Özsuca and double bassist Sam Becker. The world-leading exponent of the saxophone drew gasps from the spellbound audience with her dazzling and virtuosic performance.

Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a 40-minute jazz setting of the Latin Mass, was performed after the interval. With Will Todd at the piano, his 12-piece Ensemble, and conductor Neil Ferris (Director of the BBC Symphony Chorus) at the helm, the student chorus rose magnificently to deliver a stunning performance of Todd’s high energy work.

Soprano soloist Lorna James thrilled with her powerful voice resonating around the building while the choir, on fire under Ferris’s exuberant direction, never let up the energy. This exciting concert came to a thrilling end with the emphatic final chords of the Mass bringing the capacity audience to their feet in a full standing ovation.


Project producer Anne Renshaw said, “This was an ambitious project following the years of the pandemic when students’ education was disrupted, and music and the performing arts were at a standstill. We wanted to encourage young people to sing again, to raise aspirations, build back confidence and support students’ mental health and well-being. Will Todd’s  Mass in Blue was the piece to do it! We have started from scratch, with some students singing in a choir for the first time, and we have gone from that to performing a complex, enthralling and demanding musical work  to a high standard with world-class professional musicians. It just goes to show what can be achieved when young people are given access to high quality opportunity. The multiple benefits gained from taking part in Mass in Blue will be with them for life.


Quotes from students and teachers singing in Mass in Blue

Helen Davis music teacher at Dyson Perrins Academy: “It has been a real privilege introducing our students to the transcending experience of singing in a massed choir, alongside professionals at the peak of their careers ,and to see the “exhausted elation” on their faces as they came off stage having sung their hearts out and given it their all.  A totally new opportunity for each of them, and I know that this is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They’re already eager to get involved in future opportunities.  I’m so grateful to all those involved with bringing this spectacular project together without whom our students would not have been able to enjoy the “awe and wonder” of performing in such an event.”

Vasilisa Year 11, Dyson Perrins – “It was an incredible opportunity to be a part of an amazing project and to experience the incredible power and strength of the voices together. The emotions I experienced were unforgettable and will remain my precious/treasured memory.”

Vasilisa a Year 11 student at Dyson Perrins Academy: – “It was an incredible opportunity to be a part of an amazing project and to experience the incredible power and strength of the voices together. The emotions I experienced were unforgettable and will remain my precious treasured memory.”



  1. Witherick music teacher providing support to two schools: It has been a very special experience working with the young people and watching their love of the music grow. We laughed over the very fast Latin and cheered when we got it right! We loved the rhythms and feel of the Benedictus and worked hard at the Amens!
    Loved it!

RGS student Callum, Year 10: Saturday was a really fun day. I loved hearing the band play with us and the soprano soloist was amazing. Jess Gillam was great to hear too and the whole concert was fantastic.

RGS student Anna Year 13: ‘When I was in the Cathedral on Saturday singing Mass in Blue with the full band, I was just amazed by the standard we achieved and the sense of community as we all sang together. I enjoyed meeting the American choir and learning such a challenging and inspiring piece.’

Pupil from MSJ: The music was fun to learn as it was so different to the other Masses I am familiar with. The project was a great way to meet new people not only from Worcester Schools but also from across the world. I enjoyed Saturday night’s performance so much  – it was an amazing atmosphere and the chorus made an incredible sound. Thank you for giving us this opportunity!

From L. Miller, Director of Music, MSJ:

Yet again it has been an absolute privilege to be part of a massed schools choral project with Neil Ferris at the helm. Giving our pupils the opportunity to work with a world class choral conductor and musicians alongside their peers is something that we cannot offer them as a school alone. These projects are absolutely key to keeping music-making of the highest standards alive amongst young people in our communities.

Teacher MSJ -This has been a fantastic experience for our pupils to engage with such a thrilling work, quite different in style to what they usually sing. To have the chance to work with leading professional musicians and to perform in such a wonderful setting was really a once in a lifetime opportunity for our girls.

Christopher Whitehead Language College

Jane Segar -teacher: Singing with Youth Choral Worcs was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. I am a chemistry teacher but have always enjoyed singing. Mass in Blue was an amazing challenge, which the students from Christopher Whitehead Language College took on with gusto. Our conductor Neil Ferris inspired us to sing with passion. Aga Serugo-Lugo and his music was incredible and exhilarating. The sound in the cathedral, with all the other schools and Will Todd and his band, was truly amazing and an experience I will never forget.

Caleb Pillsbury, Director USA choir

“The performance of Mass in Blue at Worcester Cathedral Saturday night was nothing less then electrifying. My students worked all year to sing this major work and the performance delivered a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience that they will cherish forever! Thank you to all who put this performance together!” CP

“Everything about the performance was exciting, the soloist, the bassist in the ensemble, Will Todd and Neil Ferris. It was so cool to hear the sound in the Cathedral – I loved every second!”

Emmeline Dodd, MMU High School USA 12 Grade Student

The Bransford Trust:

‘The concert was a truly uplifting experience; an evening of wonderful entertainment with the added joy of hearing young singers being transported by the exhilarating music they performed so well.” Colin Kinnear, The Bransford Trust