May has its moments. In May 1983 when the Pink Singers formed I was ten years old and starting to work out that the crushes I had were on girls. How gorgeous it is to think that while I was growing up and discovering myself there was a choir, already formed, waiting for me to join it twenty five years later.
In May 1988, I was fifteen, and section 28 came into effect. Partly due to the climate of fear created around that particular piece of legislation, no one ever told me it was ok to be who I am when I was a kid. So of course I knew nothing about it when year later in May 1989 14 choirs gathered in Hackney for the fifth European Festival of Song. Zoom forward, twenty years this time, to the Southbank May 2009 and Various Voices. Now I’m grown up. I’m living the future of the kid who didn’t know who she was. But I feel like a kid again.
Ever since Various Voices finished I’ve wished I were back there so take my hand and I’ll attempt to transport you: I don’t know which way you want to come, but I reckon we should get off at Embankment and walk over the bridge. From the bridge you can see the Southbank, and the Thames, and St Paul’s in the distance. It’s sunny. Got your Pink Singers T-shirt on? No? Don’t worry you’ll get one later.
You’re a bit nervous. Will you remember the words to Dies Irae or the tune to Teardrop? You’re kind of a newbie and there are some people in the choir who have been singing for years and years. You start to see other gay people milling around. Cool. In fact, not just cool: oh my god, the Southbank is full of queers. Yes, that’s right the Southbank. As in the centre of London. As in one of the best music venues in the whole world. And guess what? You’re one of them. Take a deep breath. Put your delegate’s pass round your neck. Go in through the doors to the Royal Festival Hall. OK: on your left there’s a café. A few people aren’t here for the festival. They look at you curiously. Smile and blow them kisses.
Keep going. You can hear singing. Not just singing. Harmonies. Different languages. You see people in other choirs in their t-shirts. Yes, whoever that was just went past was checking you out. Think you could like it here? You find your way downstairs to your rehearsal. Get your t-shirt. Lots of other people from the choir have them on. OK, so you don’t normally get like it but now you feel proud to be part of the choir. Warm up. Ready? OK, line up for the technical rehearsal. Now it’s the real thing. Yes, you do have to get changed in a tiny room stuffed full of other lesbians. Glad you put your nice bra on? Good. Don’t forget your pink accessory. On stage. Sing. Off stage. Wait. Sing again. Evening performance. Same.
Tired yet? You’ve only just started. Tomorrow you’re going to make friends with people you’ve never met before over Melomen and a croissant, warm up by singing harmonies and waving your hands around your head, accept a rose from a cute woman from Amsterdam, spend quality time on some extra large beanbags, learn to flare your nostrils and pretend to laugh and yawn at the same time and then watch the choirs in the Royal Festival Hall. It’s not over yet: you’ve got cabaret stages, cocktails, more rehearsals, ballroom dancing, slow food, workshops, musical theatre, jazz, performances, master classes and you’re going to get to hear what seems like 100s of gay choirs from around the world sing. And you’re going to get to join in.
OK. Final performance. It’s about to start. Get in line. Got your note? 1-2-3-4 Now is the month of maying.
by Louise T