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In The Key of Blue


Our first collaborative piece took its title from an essay by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), a homosexual man of letters, poet, critic and cultural historian. Symond’s extraordinary lyric meditation on homoerotic colour was inspired by his love of Venice, and in particular of a gondolier he met there. We created a poem-song based on this essay, its chorus drawing words from one of Symond’s letters: ‘My heart burns within me to speak out’.


Together we worked with Amber Regis from the University of Sheffield, an expert on Symond’s life and writing, and the editor of his secret memoir, which she published in full for the first time in 2016. Symonds’ words were transformed into a poem by Nicky Hallett, a specialist in life-writing and archival research, (especially of undisclosed or overlooked material). In turn, the poem was further transformed into a choral piece by Val Regan, a community musician, instrumentalist and composer.


It was performed by Sheffield’s LGBTQ+ choir during the city’s Festival of the Mind in 2018. A recording of the song was played in the city centre Millennium Gallery throughout the Festival, alongside information about Symonds and our project. Members of the public were invited to listen and to write responses. An estimated 28,000 people heard the piece.


Writer - Nicky Hallett

Composer - Val Regan

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