It isn’t very often that the Pinkies are at an event both organized by and for us, but that was the slightly odd situation we found ourselves in on Saturday, the 13th of September. We were attending the Various Voices volunteer rally, a chance for the choirs organizing the festival to get a feel for what it’s all about and how members can help.
Of course, I’ve been involved in planning Various Voices for just over a year now, but with a little under 8 months to go, things really are starting to loom large on the horizon. I deal very much with my own little website niche, so I am grateful for opportunities like this to see the bigger picture. And ‘big’ really is the operative word. There are over 60 choirs registered already with over 1,000 delegates so far, and the numbers are only going to go up. What’s more, the venues are large – we have the whole of the Royal Festival Hall booked up for four days – and to fill the space we are expecting another 2,000 or so members of the public to come along and listen to the various choirs perform and participate in many other activities.
Events of this scale make me feel slightly queasy, but the organizing committee, led by Martin Brophy of the LGMC, have a clear vision of what is to come. Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre and arguably the most important figure in Britain’s arts scene at the moment, gave the opening talk: she spoke of the history of the Southbank Centre as an emblem of modernism, and the post-war hope for a better, more inclusive world, as manifested by the architecture of the building. This dovetails perfectly with Various Voices, an encapsulation of that dream. It is very reassuring indeed to have the Southbank Centre behind us, and is quite the coup for Team London, the group made up of our city’s 3 largest LGBT choirs.
Other presentations followed, including one on recognition of volunteers by Robert Dufton of the LGMC and one on the overall artistic vision by Andrea Brown of Diversity. What impressed me the most, however, were two impromptu speeches by our very own Philip R and Martin Bartsch from the LGMC. Philip can always be depended on to be both witty and entertaining, and this he was, but his talk was peppered with anecdotes of his experience of the equivalent festival in London 20 years ago. It was a different time then, with a more oppressive atmosphere, but perform these LGBT choirs did, and with pride, at the Hackney Empire. Now we are on all four stages of possibly one of the greatest performance venues in the world. Oh how far we have come!
Martin gave a wonderfully heartfelt speech which served as a perfect counterpoint to the slightly more formal presentations we had heard earlier. He talked about what it meant to him to be in a choir, about the kinds of experiences and growth he had had just being a member of a singing group, and how he was looking forward, not only to adding his voice to thousands of other LGBT singers, but also giving a little bit back to the choir and the community. It certainly got me thinking about what Various Voices means to me.
My first Various Voices was the last one, under four years ago, in Paris; I had been in the Pinkies for just three seasons and so was still feeling a little wet behind the ears. Besides, it was my first ‘gay’ group. I had already heard all these stories of Various Voices past, but you really have to be part of it to see just how amazing an experience it is. From a musical perspective you have hundreds of different singing styles, different levels of theatricality and two dozen languages, but at the heart of it is the network of LGBT singers from all around Europe getting together to have a good time. It was just wonderful to be a part of that.
We took over the 18e arrondissement with non-stop song and celebration, and I think London can put on an even bigger show, in an even grander venue. Achieving that means supporting delegates, providing information, catering to the front of house, running the backstage and accommodating visitors. The mind boggles! That’s why I’ve signed up as a volunteer, and why I saw many other Pinkies like Hester and Mel, who were not previously involved, filling in the volunteer forms at the end. The volunteer rally was inspiring, but it is the volunteers themselves who will make our festival great.