Johnny Kirkman on Joining the Pinkies

In the second of our newbie blog posts, tenor Johnny talks about how music has been with him throughout his life and the newly found importance of Handel and Grace Kelly…

I don’t think I realised quite how important singing and making music was to me before I joined the Pink Singers just two months ago.

Since I was a teenager, choirs, orchestras and musical theatre have been a central feature in my social life, but I left my last choir in 2015 because of work and personal commitments. Apart from the odd tinkering on the piano and tipsy karaoke attempt, music was absent from my world and I thought I didn’t really need it.

It was not until I was standing amongst the tenors a couple of weeks ago – the top Es of ‘Grace Kelly’ screeching out of us – that I realised how much I had missed it. But more than that, I missed being part of a group of people making music.

And this is what is probably most special about the Pink Singers. There is a sense of community, fun, friendship and acceptance woven throughout this music making.

So, a week later, I was in my new section (the tenors), learning Handel. The following week, a newbies party to welcome everyone was laid on. Now, two months in, I have a few songs nailed, a lot of learning still to do and am getting my head around choreography – as well as getting to know some fantastic people and hopefully making some lasting friendships.

That’s not to say that the music isn’t important – the choir make glorious sound that I am relishing helping to be part of – it’s just that this doesn’t feel like an ordinary choir: it feels like a community and that’s special, and why I am enjoying myself so much.

All of a sudden I feel like a Pinkie and I can’t quite believe I’m a convert so quickly. I am looking forward popping my Pinkie cherry – as we call it – in July, as well as the opportunities to sing, socialise, meet new people from all walks of life. I’m also looking forward to connecting with other choirs from around the world,  as I continue on my pink hued journey. 🙂

Tickets for our next concert, ‘From Queer to Eternity’ are now ON SALE! 


From Queer to Eternity – tickets now on sale!

This summer, we are returning to Cadogan Hall for a sizzling evening of choral music to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Our repertoire will be drawn from LGBT composers and performers as well as music that has been meaningful to these communities.

Entitled ‘From Queer to Eternity’Songs of Struggle and Celebration, the evening will cover music from a rich variety of styles and genres including artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Dusty Springfield, Queen, Erasure, Joan Armatrading, Mika, Radiohead, George Michael, Lady Gaga and Christine and the Queens. Classical numbers will include a rousing chorus by Handel and a moving spiritual by Michael Tippett.

Special guests

We are delighted to be sharing the stage with two special guests choirs: Out Aloud from Sheffield, and – to highlight the work being done around the world on legalising homosexuality, as part of a year-long exchange project – we will also be joined by Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir.

Prepare to come on a musical journey with the Pink Singers: from hidden to visible… from shame to pride… from Queer to Eternity.

Click here to book tickets! 


Hackney’d harmonies – joining the Pink Singers

Our lovely newbies are settling in to the new season, and getting to grips with memorising music scores and learning choreography! We asked two of them to reflect on their first few weeks: first up is alto Eléonore who tells us about singing out proud and what made her decide to join the Pinkie family. 

Moving to London from Reading in 2015 was without a doubt the best decision of my late twenties, but the experience of a newfound freedom and the access to the ever-trendifying mecca that was Hackney came with an insurmountable caveat – flat-sharing.

Wonderful people though my flatmates turned out to be, the proximity of our bedrooms unfortunately required the indiscriminate use of headphones for anything that might not necessarily be appreciated by everyone through the paper-thin apartment walls at 11pm on a Tuesday night. It also meant – my own rule, equal parts consideration and self-consciousness – no singing OUT LOUD.

Sopranos and altos – old and new – at the newbie party!

The last time I had sung properly in any capacity was in my university choir, but that was a good many years ago; every passing year making it seem like one of those nostalgically-remembered things you used to do in your youth and would probably never do again, like drinking in skateparks or wearing bondage trousers from Camden Market in public.

Enter the year 2017, and in the general atmosphere of political upheaval and social unease left to us by 2016’s Brexit-and-Trump maelstrom, it suddenly seemed more important than ever to get around to all those things on that vague Life Goals Or Something list I made every year. It was time to turn at least one of those bullet-points, the hesitant “join choir y/n?”, into a reality.

I’d heard about the Pink Singers before, had seen them marching at Pride and watched some of their concert footage online, and it seemed to me they’d be a great bunch of people to join. I sent an email enquiring about auditions – just in the nick of time, as it turns out, as I got an email straight back from Zoe telling me auditions were to be that weekend!

Cocktails at one of our favourite post-rehearsal bars in town

My first pre-audition rehearsal was a whirl of new faces and varying vocal ranges around me. We did some singing – and were beautifully serenaded – and my ability to remember names was thoroughly tested as everyone happily introduced themselves. There seemed to be so much friendliness shared around the room that despite the stern reminder I had given myself to keep my expectations low in case I mucked up the audition, I started getting my hopes up.

Luckily, I didn’t muck up the audition – mostly thanks to the encouraging and not-so-scary-after-all faces of Murray and John peering at me over the piano, and the support and kindness of the current Pinkies who assuaged all our newbie nerves with bracing words (and a pint in the pub beforehand…).

Being given the opportunity to sing again after all this time, and in the company of such a welcoming group of people, who all sing out proudly – as the saying goes – from the same song-sheet, has been an enormously invigorating experience these last few months. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season will bring.

If you would like to see Eléonore and the rest of the choir perform on stage, then come along to Cadogan Hall on Saturday 15 July, as we present, ‘From Queer to Eternity’. Further details coming very soon!

Pink Singers performing at Cadogan Hall in January 2017!


Mumbai Musings: part 4

Our fourth and final India blog comes to you from another Pinkie. Tenor Hsien put in MANY hours to make this trip happen, from organising seminars, liaising with the Rainbow Voices Mumbai team, and branding the whole project to handling the vast majority of the logistics! (We think he must have made a clone of himself to have achieved all that he did…). Anyway, this is what the experience meant to him. 

We live in a time where forces are trying to separate us, where difference is something to be feared rather than celebrated, and where populism has thrown up barriers between communities both within and without national borders. When, two years ago, the Pink Singers first started planning our trip to India to sing with Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir, we had no idea that the world would change as much as it has, nor could we have predicted that the need for our collaboration would have been as great.

It is a truism that music brings people together, and an international choir collaboration is nothing new, but when two choirs identify as LGBT and perform jointly in a country where being gay is still criminalized, the added dimension creates the opportunity to not only learn about how culture, society and history affect each other’s LGBT experience, but also explore common ground.

The first formal event of the week sought to both analyse this and serve as an ice-breaker, and was a seminar at the American Consulate General in Mumbai. The topic of discussion, “LGBT representation in the arts”, was timely given the partial coming out in the recently published memoirs of Karan Johar, a famous Bollywood actor. While much of the discussion naturally focused on community arts and, in particular, choirs, we had the privilege to be joined by the director Onir whose ground-breaking film “My Brother Nikhil” continues to have ramifications on the film industry today. He gave us a candid insight into the tension between his own coming out and the challenge of carving a career without labels for himself.

Panelists included representatives from the Pink Singers and Rainbow Voices, as well as director, Onir (seated fourth from left).

It served as a springboard for members of both choirs to discuss their own experiences. Indeed, what the two choirs shared with each other – our stories of coming out, of family pressures, of first dates, of singing in choirs – showed that our similarities were far greater than any differences between us. Judging by how the conversations flowed into dinner and a late night karaoke, there is a strength in the knowledge that we are not alone, and that out there, there is a community of singers just like us.

The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert at the prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts Mumbai was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us precisely because of this: in the context of these personal testimonies, every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When, as our finale, we sang an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” together in English and Hindi, it was a moving show of defiance and solidarity from which I could not hold back my tears.

My personal highlight of the whole weekend, however, was marching side-by-side with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Queer Azaadi Mumbai (Mumbai Pride). It was a raucous, colourful march full of energetic dancing, the sound of drums and singing, but at its core it was also a protest with hand drawn placards and strident chants of Azaadi! (Freedom!), reminding curious onlookers that this was very much a demonstration.

I have now returned to the UK with fantastic memories, newfound friends, a much deeper understanding of the challenges the LGBT community faces there, and a strong desire to help Rainbow Voices Mumbai in their twin fights against Section 377 and for social acceptance. It has also made me appreciate that I cannot take any of my liberties for granted: were it not for the quirk of fate which led me to be born in the right place at the right time, my life could have been very different. It makes all the divisions we seen being artificially created around us, all the more irrelevant. I can’t wait to see Rainbow Voices Mumbai again when they come to London this summer for Pride in London.

We’re still fundraising to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the UK, to see what it’s like to march in a Pride parade where everyone can be themselves and live without fear. We’ve raised over £5,000 already, thanks to our supporters’ generosity. We need to double this to bring every member of RVM here in July. Can you help us reach our goal? Donate via our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017 or email chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.


Mumbai Musings: part 3

In the third of our blog posts about the Pink Singers’ India project, Rainbow Voices Mumbai member Aniruddha tells us about meeting the Pink Singers for the first time, making friends and feeling uplifted in the battle against Section 377, the law which criminalises homosexuality in India.

At the Kashish Film Festival 2016, during the closing ceremony Rainbow Voices Mumbai were on stage, performing with lots of energy and beautiful songs. After the performance Vinodh Philip announced that the Pink Singers from London would be coming to India to perform with the choir. Sitting in the audience I was jealously thinking, ‘how lucky they are to be able to perform with the Pink Singers’. Little did I know what destiny had planned for me…

Two months down the line there I was sitting at the RVM’s audition session and by the end of the day I was a part of the choir! Every Sunday, we rehearse and our teacher David Williamson makes sure each one of us hits the right note, at the right time, and in the right pitch. Every night, I’ve been watching YouTube videos of the Pink Singers and thinking “they are really good!”

So 2016 ended and with the beginning of 2017, the month of our concert arrived, called “We Shall Overcome”, referring to the battle every queer person in India faces to be accepted. Rehearsals were in full swing with all the other arrangements going on around it; organising the venue, licences, costumes, the programme and lots of fundraising!

We finally got to meet the Pinkies on the 25 January 2017. It was 5.30pm at the American Consulate library when the door opened and the Pink Singers entered. Our eyes saw the colours of a rainbow, every handshake felt like a promise to support us in this battle for freedom, every hello and hi was saying ‘I am here for you’.

As I looked around the room the Pink Singers and RVM sat with each other. No barriers, no walls, no difference of colour, caste, religion and language. Suddenly from you and me, we became us.

RVM planned a Karaoke night for the Pinkies and what a night it turned out to be! Every trace of tiredness, jet-lag and fatigue was gone. We sang, we danced, we ate, we drank and raised our glasses to toast the beginning of a new friendship and collaboration.

Getting to know you.. RVM were fantastic hosts and became firm friends during the trip. 🙂

Next day, rehearsals began and we learned the choreography for our joint song, “Born This Way”, by Lady Gaga. We performed in front of the Pinkies and they performed for us. We were learning so much from them. Later we went for dinner together to eat delicious Indian food. We spoke to each other about our lives, loves, careers, hobbies and of course, lots of gossip! It made us feel that although we are from different countries we’re all so similar. We have so many of the same dreams, hopes and aspirations.

Then D-day arrived at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. The Pinkies were a stunning vision in all black and each wearing a pink rose. RVM wore black pants, Nehru jackets and rainbow coloured shirts.

RVM took to the stage with a huge round of applause. Standing there we saw an auditorium full of people known and unknown to us. Each song was followed by thunderous applause and it just made us more confident and happy as the night went on. We sang songs of hope, happiness, traditional songs, and a fun Bollywood number.

Next the Pinkies took to the stage and took everyone’s attention. Every song and every move they made was flawless and it was sheer magic to watch them perform. I felt like I was listening to a movie soundtrack. Truly inspiring. 🙂

Then for the grand finale, the Pinkies and RVM collaborated to sing “Jai Ho”, “Born This Way” and “We Shall Overcome”. It was no longer two choirs, it was one community, singing in one voice and spreading the message “all for one and one for all”.  We felt united in that moment.

The concert ended with seemingly non-stop applause and cheering echoed around the theatre. We met the audience, took so many photographs and felt just like celebrities! We felt accepted as we declared to the world, “I was born this way and I am not ashamed”.

The following day was our Pride March – “Queer Azaadi” – which means Queer Freedom. The choirs marched together with heads held high and singing as we went. Pride in India is a protest against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality. This is not just a legal battle; we are up against a very strong and deep rooted social, religious, political and personal prejudice. It’s a tough battle and we are ready. This magical, musical pink touch of the Pink Singers gave us a new boost, a new momentum and new courage to fight.

So now that we are back in our daily lives, we at least know we have a new group of friends in a far off land silently praying, wishing and cheering for us. We shall overcome.

We love you all Pinkies and see you soon! 

Aniruddha xoxo

We’re still fundraising to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the UK, to see what it’s like to march in a Pride parade where everyone can be themselves and live without fear. We’ve raised over £5,000 already, thanks to our supporters’ generosity. We need to double this to bring every member of RVM here in July. Can you help us reach our goal? Donate via our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017 or email chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.


I did it!

Newbie soprano Sunny, takes us on her journey from frightened to (almost) fearless and describes what her first – ‘cherry popping’ – performance with the Pinkies was like following our recent concert at Cadogan Hall, ‘Sing!’. 

Last year, I realised I was frightened. What a sorry state of affairs! Frightened of everything (except the things that scare normal people, like perilous heights, jumping into roaring oceans, spiders, and letting people down by being late). Frightened mostly of life and whether it was stuck rotating like a scratched record of Edith Piaf growling a lowish note to a sad song.

Today, I’m feeling mildly (but not very) self-congratulatory, because Frightened isn’t my word any more. I don’t know what is. Blank-page? Expectant? (not in a mother-type way, mind), Wondering? Bumbling? Silly? Fun-loving‘s back on the menu. But not on its own. I feel lifey again though.

I bloody did it. I stood on a big stage with my lovely big gay choir, and sung the heck out of some big gay songs. And it didn’t even feel monumental, it just felt like performing’s what I do, and this was a lovely new community to be part of, and here I was and it was good.

[Photo credit: Jess Rowbottom]

My Pinkies journey began a few years ago when I sat in a lovely comfy seat in the beautiful Cadogan Hall, and watched my friend Alex sing with them. At the time I was struck by the quality of the performance, and also keenly aware that I was not yet comfortable with labelling myself as LGBT+ by joining.

But, my journey continued, and the time became right, and I auditioned. It was still a big step for me, and I was really nervous and pretending really hard that I wasn’t overwhelmed. In many ways, I was on familiar ground – I’m used to joining musical groups and getting on with new people and learning songs.  But I was stepping out into new territory from a cultural perspective, and learning as I went.

[Photo credit: Neil Cordell]

I have been really impressed by many things, but I’ll mention two in particular. Firstly, the concerted effort that the choir and committee made to welcome new members – clearly thought had gone into it, and we were made to feel a valued part of the community so quickly. (It helps that there’s a big crew that go to the pub after rehearsal too.) We were given bits and pieces to do in the songs, stood in prominent positions, and welcomed warmly. Secondly, the number of people that volunteer their time and talents to make the Pinkies function so well, in so many different ways. This really is a community.

The build up to the concert was massively exciting, but the day itself was amazing. And long! I was hosting a lovely French chanteuse called Martine who was part of our guest choir Equivox, and somehow we arrived at The Cadogan on time, in spite of my propensity for being late, and eating Pain au Chocolat for breakfast (just trying to make her feel at home…. ).

This season’s crop of newbies, about to ‘pop their cherries’ and walk on stage for the first time as a Pinkie!

Then there was a very smooth tech run – I’m used to the theatre where people always end up shouting at each other, but there was no hint of that here. And then about 90 minutes of crazy mayhem with about 60 Sopranos and Altos from two choirs squidged into a dressing room, and much flailing of hair-curling tongs and requests to borrow the liquid eye-liner, and “where’s my flower?” yelled across the morass.  Then some bizarre ceremony for us newbies involving cherries and photographs and we were off!

The concert itself. I didn’t think I was nervous as I’m used to going on stage. But then I forgot the words in the second song for a few seconds and realised I was. Unsurprising – I think I was internalising what the occasion was. I had my parents in the audience, many friends who’ve held my hand on my journey, and my church group, yelling and waving like the crazy loons that they are. And I just went for it – hit the moves, hold your head up high, concentrate on Murray and let rip!  It was brilliant – the audience reaction at the end like nothing I’ve experienced before. Woohooooo!

On stage at Cadogan Hall, Jan 2017. [Photo credit: Jess Rowbottom]

Then there was a very sedate after show party….. Oh ok, perhaps the truth is that at one point I accidently twirled an Equivox choir member violently onto the floor in a dance-off to Hairspray’s You Can’t Stop The Beat. Oops. Je suis desolee.

We start rehearsals for the next Pinkies season in two weeks. I can’t wait to get back. I’ve found this brilliant group of people, remembered how much joy singing brings, and I’m excited to be a part of it.  To quote a Christian song I like: The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again.

If you’d like to join the Pink Singers, you’re in luck as we still have a few spaces open to audition for our upcoming season that runs from February to July.  Auditions will be held the last weekend in February and first week in March. Fill out this form with your details to register your interest and we will send you all the details! 

To see more photos from our concert, please click here. 🙂


Mumbai Musings: part 2

‘There’s a first time for…. more than one thing.’

Joining the Pinkies on our recent trip to India was a whirlwind experience of ‘firsts’ for newbie Claire – from taking to the mic in front of a large crowd to marching en masse in her first ever Pride. Here she shares these adventures and more… 

At the end of January, a group of over 40 members of the Pink Singers arrived in Mumbai to show support to Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir. For me this was an adventure of a lifetime: I’m in my late 40s (ok, I’m 50 this year) and this trip was the first time I had left the UK in over 18 years. Also, as someone who – due to a whole series of circumstances – was late coming out, Mumbai Pride would be my very first Pride March!

I cannot say what I was expecting, other than possible heat stroke and the need for Imodium! I found myself in a busy city of contrasts: beautiful buildings alongside slum areas; colours and flavours seemed brighter and more intense; people were curious, but friendly (eye contact in a city…). After living so long in London, this was so refreshing. I learned that to cross a road, you had to treat it as a champion’s quest, and that bartering was not only expected, but fun to do. 

Taking part in the Queer Azaadi Mumbai March was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was a privilege to be able to walk alongside people from the Indian LGBTQ+ community who cannot openly live the lives they wish to, and to show solidarity and support in their fight to overturn Section 377. I am now looking forward to taking part in London Pride, where I hope some of our friends from Rainbow Voices Mumbai will be marching alongside us. 

I am an introvert. I find it hard to show it when I’m happy; smiles I feel on the inside rarely show on my face. I also find crowds difficult, I’m not good at small talk, although I’m a great listener. I have social anxiety and being the centre of attention can be a real problem.

So… when Simon, our Chair, said, ‘Claire, I’d like to ask you something but it’s ok to say no’, and then went on to ask whether I would speak at the concert in between songs, my brain screamed, ‘NO!’, but I heard myself calmly agree. And so, the next evening, I found myself speaking in front of a crowd for the first time. 🙂

Claire making her moving speech during the ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert

Singing with and listening to the members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai was truly uplifting. Being able to spend time singing, listening, talking, eating and drinking together, as well as sharing stories and experiences made me realise that although we live many miles apart, we can still find common ground.  

Being part of a choir gives us a shared understanding. When we sing together, that’s when the magic happens. Not only is singing therapeutic, joining together as a group provides a sense of belonging. This is something I shared during the concert: the knowledge that members of the choir have become friends and more than that, my family and support group. A wise man once said, “We are living in divisive times, where forces seek to drive wedges between us. Long may music and these experiences we share bring us together.” (Tenor, Hsien Chew, Facebook posting, 2017). 

Next up, the Pinkies plan to bring Rainbow Voices to London! We can’t wait to perform with them again and plan for them to join us at our next concert at Cadogan Hall on 15th July. But we need funds to help make this dream a reality! If you can help bring this wonderful choir to London (you can even come to watch them perform!) you can donate through our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017  or contact chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.


Mumbai Musings: part 1

Following the Pink Singers’ recent trip to India, we’re bringing you not one, not two, but LOADS of blogs to tell you all about the amazing time we had – both from our perspective and Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). First up, here’s a piece from RVM’s  Siddhy, reflecting on his experience with the Pinkies.

“The first time I saw the Pink Singers, four of us from Rainbow Voices were carrying a piano, for our first event together at the American Consulate. We waved at them and then met each other mutedly as the event was about to begin. The Pinkies took to stage and joyously sang Nat King Cole’s ‘L-O-V-E’. I was stunned into happy tears. The playful, innocent choreography coming through the most age-diverse white crowd I’ve ever seen – and immediately fell for – pushed me to serious indie-movie sobbing.

Siddhy with Tracey & Louise

One person from Rainbow Voices was in each taxi we took to reach the next place, to ensure our guests got there safely. It was an hour-long ride and by the time we reached the restaurant, Louise, Tracey, Giancarlo and I had traded coming-out stories and shared our professional lives. Giancarlo had switched vocations; Tracey recently quit her job to go travelling; Louise is freelancing fancy. All friends now, we went in, karaoke’d, bought each other drinks and danced.

During the pre-concert rehearsal the next evening, the Pinkies sang – among other lovely songs – Ryan Amador’s ‘Define Me’: a song about celebrating who you are and being free to love who you want. I’ve seen them perform it twice and each time I smile, feeling comforted.

Afterwards, over cheese garlic naans, we gabbed all through the night. I saw gay-gay and les-b-honest lesbian couples all around me like exquisite people that just stepped out from a novel. Tanya was showing me pictures of her gay daughter and nephew. Alessandro was gushing over his daughter while we cooed and aaw-ed, and for a moment I felt like my dreams were plausible and my hopes valid.

Finale of the We Shall Overcome concert

Our ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert was moving, and tinged with flashes of disbelief that we were performing at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts! Manasie, our ‘Ms Bisexuale’, turned 24 that night and the entire bar witnessed spontaneous performances from the Pinkies, all at their respective tables, some standing cheering, some holding Manasie’s hand. Like Aditya said, “it was so Pitch Perfect”. The bar management begged us to finally leave and everybody hugged everyone goodnight.

We walked together in the Pride March the next day, beaming at the crowds, dancing to drums and taking pictures. At the farewell party, we confessed gratitude, marvel and a million other things.

It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them.

Sunday rehearsals with Rainbow Voices really help me – I can turn off autopilot and be my real self. I’ve made good friends who’re all colourful, compassionate people. We can breathe out.

The Pinkies crossed the ocean to high-five and greet us like visiting family. They reminded us of the sublime words of John Mayer and Katy Perry, ‘You love who you love who you love’.

Next up, the Pinkies plan to bring Rainbow Voices to London! We can’t wait to perform with them again and plan for them to join us at our next concert at Cadogan Hall on 15th July. But we need funds to help make this dream a reality! If you can help bring this wonderful choir to London (you can even come to watch them perform!) you can donate through our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017  or contact chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.


Rainbow Voices Mumbai – Making Music in 377 India

Philip VinodhThis year the Pink Singers are working to support LGBT rights in India with a series of joint concerts with Rainbow Voices Mumbai, in both our home cities, sharing music and raising awareness of LGBT issues.

Forty-two intrepid Pinkies will visit Mumbai this January, to join Rainbow Voices for a joint concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai and to march in the Pride parade, Queer Azaadi, alongside our Indian friends. We plan to follow this with RVM members making a return trip to London this summer to join us for our next concert and to march alongside us at London Pride.

Many in our choir have experienced discrimination because of our sexuality, gender or gender identification; some have faced homophobic abuse and violence. We understand the need for community spaces where LGBT people can feel safe, understood and accepted. Our choir is that space for many of us and we feel stronger for being part of a supportive group who meet regularly and share music. We want to share that with others who don’t have a safe space, to encourage them to set up groups of their own.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was introduced in 1862 under British rule, banning same sex relationships, punishable by a 10-year prison sentence. This law was used in the UK to prosecute gay men with penalties including hard labour and chemical castration, given to Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing. This law remains long after Indian independence, and violence and discrimination against gay people in India prevails.

MumbaiVinodh Philip, Founder of India’s first LGBT choir tells us about their experience:

“I’ve lived through the times when the Delhi High Court decriminalised Section 377 in 2009 and then I’ve lived through the harrowing time when the Supreme Court reinstated Section 377. In 2009 after the High Court verdict, so many gay friends came out and started living together boldly. There was a sense of freedom. It also put an end to police harassment, throwing people in jail and extortion, which was so widespread. The police would stand around in cruising places and go to the extent of luring a gay man to him, then stop him and say, “I’m a cop and I’m booking you under 377”. The police who were supposed to be guardians of the people, were causing huge mental trauma for gay men just for being honest to their own instincts. Anyway, in 2009, all of this harassment stopped. And the years between 2009 and 2013 were the best – golden years! 

Then the worst happened. In 2013 the Supreme Court reinstated Section 377. So it all went back to square one – police extortion, couples being harassed, forced marriages. I was in the office when the ruling showed on TV, re-criminalising homosexuality. I felt sick in my stomach, because, to think that the country I was living in did not accept me for being honest and truthful about myself, made me feel sick! I lost all faith in the justice system.

Anyway, while this was happening, I had moved to Bombay. And around that time too, my mum who used to encourage me to sing as a child and made me join the church choir, kept on pestering me with this question – Have you joined a choir yet, have you joined a choir yet! I love to sing, of course, but I didn’t want to join a church choir and hide my sexuality. I wanted to find a gay-friendly choir in Bombay, but there wasn’t one. And that’s how Rainbow Voices Mumbai was born.

At the first audition we had about 28 people landing up on a rainy day. This was so encouraging to see all these people come and audition and just showed that there was a need for the choir in the community 🙂

MumbaiIn India, generally people think that a person who is gay is always camp and is on his way to becoming a hijra (or a trans-gender person). The hijra community in India is ostracised and don’t have access to education. They live in communities on the fringes of society and don’t really have any rights. And this is the stereotype we’d like to break.

So, that why as a choir we choose songs that are slutty and sometimes sung by women and we have all our beards and hair showing but, also wear makeup and sing as men do. We’d also like to make a statement that we’re men and we wear women’s clothes and makeup, but we’re still men. So deal with it…!

We’ve sung Bollywood songs and ‘Like a Virgin’ from Madonna; we don’t want to stick to the hetero-normative norms. Our choir members are free to wear whatever they like and there are no restrictions as to how they have to accessorise. We don’t have to conform to what the heterosexual world would want a man or a woman to dress or look like.

This is our fight for freedom to be ourselves and express ourselves freely. It’s also part of building awareness of the LGBT community and we hope it would reduce the sort of judgmental attitude Indian society has about us and others.

MumbaiWe provide a safe space for the choristers who join us and provide a support system. People share their coming out stories, discuss problems that they may face at work or college. We are lucky to have a safe space to rehearse every Sunday, We’ve got huge support from the Pink Singers and Proud Voices Asia through the social media platform and this has been a great source of encouragement for us all and has made us feel part of something global.”

The Pinkies are aiming to bring our friends in Rainbow Voices Mumbai to London to sing with us, so we can show them how we operate and how to grow and strengthen their flourishing community of singers. We know from our experience of over 30 years singing together and from many meetings with other choirs, what a positive impact singing has on the LGBT community. We’ve already raised £5,000 and we need to double that to bring every member of RVM here to London this summer.

Find out more on our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017 where you can also contribute to our fundraising total to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai here to London this summer.


Why do we sing?

What do songs evoke in you? Why do we sing? Ahead of our next concert, ‘SING!’, we asked 10 Pinkies to describe what singing means to them: 

philip-rescorlaIt is easier for me to express my feelings in song than in speech. Singing lets me go through all the emotions; from joy to sadness. Singing with a choir (especially an LGBT one) is very special as you share those feelings with the rest of the choir and hopefully inspire and move our audiences. Philip Rescorla (tenor).

kate-nWhen Emelda and I got married the music we had chosen for the ceremony wouldn’t play, but luckily there were so many of the choir there that they sang us up the aisle with L.O.V.E. so it is lovely to sing it again this season! Kate Nicholroy (alto).

 

charly-miltonApparently, before I could speak I was singing. A Police song was my first. Singing has been a major part of my life since. It’s brought my family together, made me forget bad things and remember good things, made me cry and laugh. On the whole, it makes me very happy! Charly Milton (soprano).

Pride 2015I wouldn’t last without music; a restorative bathe in sound for me, restorative but also uplifting. Massive Attack’s ‘Protection’ came out in 1994. Since then its laconic spirit has seen me through love, loss, pain and growth. It’s about being strong and unique: two things I always strive to be. Jezza Donovan (alto).

jess-cheesemanSinging makes me feel better when I’m low and it’s firmly entrenched in my identity. I was sung to when I was little and, in turn, I’ve been singing all my life. I’ve always liked performing with other people as well, it’s a deep and unique form of connecting. I’m hooked. Jessica Cheeseman (soprano).

murray-hipkinMy work as a choral enabler is important to me because singing is physically, emotionally and socially therapeutic. It decreases stress levels, releases endorphins, benefits heart, lungs, posture, self-esteem, concentration and memory, brings people together, encourages a sense of purpose, touches souls, stirs emotions, broadens creativity and communication, crosses generations and cultures, helps to pay my mortgage and sounds quite nice when done properly. Murray Hipkin (Musical Director).

sophie-partridgeSinging has been something that’s always been there for me. It’s personal, emotive, and in the hardest times it makes me feel like I’m not alone. With music we can express so much, and I find singing helps me to tell the stories I’d otherwise be too scared to let out. Sophie Partridge (soprano).

 

ben-roetsWhen I think about music it’s the songs that evoke a memory that stand out for me. My favourite song is ‘Killing Me Softly’ by the Fugees; I heard it for the first time in 1999, in Covent Garden market. It was very early and people were just setting up their stalls. A musician began playing on the corner of the street, and as they did, it began to snow. It was absolutely magical for a South African like me who had never seen snow before! Even now, every time I hear those first few beats, my heart goes back to that day. Another song that’s engrained in my heart is McFly’s ‘All About You’. It was our wedding song and every time I hear it, my mind travels back to Thailand to our honeymoon. Music truly is the dance track to your soul. Ben Roets (tenor).

cilla-wrightI love ‘Aquarius’. This song was around when I was a child and became an unofficial anthem of the USA Apollo mission. It was a number 1 hit for 3 months before Apollo 11 made the first moon landing in July 1969. The first part – with the open jazz chords and unusual melody – evokes feelings of tentative optimism. We know love will steer the stars with harmony and understanding. I think this captures the mood of the USA in the 60’s. To me, the song captures the promise of progress. I do wonder if progress is really just another myth among the many myths we believe, but if it is, this is one of its best hymns. Cilla Wright (alto).

Paul TEarly in my career I was dubbed by my colleagues ‘the singing nurse’. It stems from a day when I was working in the neonatal unit and was caring for a tiny premature baby who wouldn’t go to sleep. I was singing ‘His eye is on the Sparrow’ from Sister Act 2 to the little mite. Little did I know, most of the ward staff had gathered behind me in the bay. A rather embarrassing moment but one which very much defines my relationship with music and singing.

Come and see us all ‘Sing!’ on 14 January at Cadogan Hall! Click here to book.

London's LGBT Community Choir