Tales of the Pinkie – Andy Quan


“I had tried out another choir. Their rehearsal space was in a basement, the tea break chaotic, and we were required to stand for the entire practice. When I wandered into the Pink Singers, into a room with light streaming through the windows, there were chairs to sit down, and we had our break in the Drill Hall cafeteria with tasty snacks!
But of course, those were minor pleasures. The greater ones were found in the people there who welcomed me warmly, the songs we sang (if I remember correctly, we sang No One Is Alone and Big Spender on my first day), and who was this east European fellow at the front of the room directing with such humour and skill? I joined the Pink Sisters and sang with them for over a year, from 1998 to 1999. It was not a large group of people and I liked it that way. With only a few tenors, it was important for me to be there for rehearsals and performances and I felt needed! I loved the mix of people, women and men, from many countries. Most important was that London was the largest city I’d ever lived in, and I’d found it tough to make friends, and if succeeding in that, arranging to match up our busy schedules. After a while in the choir, I realised that the Pinkies were giving me connection and community. I felt a satisfying glow to see the same people every week and to do something together that we loved.
I had a small group of friends that would gather to belt out show tunes on occasional Sundays, and I had the idea to try out a song on them that was also, in my mind, a possibility for the Pink Singers. It worked okay so I wrote it out and presented it to Mladen, who was encouraging and happy to have me present it to the choir. I still remember playing out the parts for the choir, how warm and supportive everyone was, and knowing we’d work on it together. The song Big City was my love song to London and my friends there. “The way that hope grows there, any dream could come true. I love a big city, ’cause a big city is where I met you.” That first concert that we sang it, I could have burst with joy.
It was great for me to feel part of a group and to contribute to it, but I also felt that the group was bringing out the best in me. There were solo spots for the concert at the London Lighthouse and I wrote a new song. Mladen, with cheerful exasperation, agreed to me singing it, but made comments on how epic and complicated my songs tended to be. I decided to ask Michael Derrick, whose arrangements of When You Tell Me That You Love Me and Always On My Mind I loved, for his advice – and we spent some time together on it. Key changes! What a good idea. Songwriting had mostly been a private affair for me. I’d never really had anyone give me advice on it before, and one doesn’t run into people often who have expertise to offer. At the concert, when it was my turn, I sat down to play, and partway through the song, it started to fall apart! I’d put in too many key changes for my limited piano abilities! I stumbled to the end of it! I wasn’t too upset. I’d challenged myself. Mladen had been right about trying to keep things a little more basic. Now, I manage to write songs which are simpler and have key changes. And I feel warmth and gratitude thinking about both Michael and Mladen for their contribution to my music.
My last concerts with the Pink Singers were in July 1998, first a joint concert with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir and the London Gay Men’s Chorus. It was great to meet the Sydney choir as I knew I’d be moving to Sydney at the start of 1999. From Hackney to Paris: we then all headed to Paris together where we sang with the Sydney Choir and the Melomen. I can’t remember a lot of details actually: the striped shirts of the French choir for their sailor number, the full theatre, that we sang well. I do remember a last dinner though, on a cobblestone street, the summer night air was full and warm. It was time for me to leave, not only Paris, but London as well. I started saying goodbyes, but various people stood up from their dinner tables and then moved us out onto the street. There, they formed a circle, pushed me into the centre of it and started singing Hand In Hand. They took turns hugging me goodbye. The tears in my eyes glistened with the great affection I felt for my wonderful, dear, and irreplaceable Pink Singers.”
Andy Quan
Tenor & composer/arranger
Pinkie since 1998

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