New MD – Murray Hipkin


Being a newbie Pinkie is an exciting experience: you are welcomed into a new community, full of people who want to know more about you. Imagine how much more exciting it is when you join, not as a singer, but as our conductor! Here some of the Pink Singers put Murray Hipkin, who joins us this season as our musical director, under the spotlight:

Photo credit Oskar Marchock

Frances asks, “How did you find out about the Pink Singers?”

I was at my friend Martin’s 40th birthday party at Kettners a couple of months ago when a small group of Pinkies sang — I was playing the piano for Janie Dee — afterwards I found a slightly upset tenor on the pavement outside the club and gathered that there was a MD-shaped hole in the choir….so the next day I wrote to the chair, offering my services, initially as temporary cover while the search began. In fact, I ended up auditioning for the post.

Max asks, “What appealed to you about conducting the Pink Singers?”

Well, I was already working Monday to Saturday, so I thought I’d collect the full set — for a while I have been quite aware that although I have a lot of gay friends, I’ve never really had a chance to get involved in the wider gay community — and although I spend most of my time working with professional musicians and singers at a very high level (at English National Opera) I love bringing my musical experience and teaching skills as an enabler and motivator into my work with amateur and community groups. (By the way, do remember that the word “professional” should never be used as a measure of standards — all it means is that the musicians were paid…)

Andrew asks, “Now that you’ve been with the Pinkies for a couple of months, what do you like about the choir?”

I love the rule that says that the length of time spent at the pub must exceed the length of time spent rehearsing, but I have also enjoyed making friends with the sopranos and altos — it just happened before that I didn’t know very many gay women — if I’m honest, they used to scare me somewhat, especially in large numbers, but now I’m realising that most of them are not at all frightening…

Photo credit Ben Park

Eve asks, “What do you think the difference is between a regular choir and one that identifies as LGBT?”

Er… what they do in bed, and to whom. (It also has to be said that it is a truth universally acknowledged that in most choirs the altos fancy the conductor.)

Gerry asks, “How are the Pink Singers different from other choirs you’ve conducted in the past?”

I have never worked with a choir that does everything from memory. I’ve always been a sightreader rather than a memoriser and if I had a hat on I would remove it and bow in your general direction as I think you are all amazing learning all those notes. The fact that they usually seem to come out in the right order is particularly impressive.

Jerome (bass) asks, “If you had to pick a favourite section, which one would it be?”

Why, Jerome, the basses, without any doubt at all. (That is, until I’m asked the same question by an alto, because as people keep telling me, I need to keep them sweet…)

Nathalina asks, “What did you want to be when you grew up – have you always wanted to conduct?”

No, I recall wanting to be a forensic pathologist (I was for a while fascinated by dead bodies), then a missionary (God knows why). Eventually I settled on being a piano accompanist (recitals and chamber music), but even that didn’t quite work out and I ended up as a sort of maid-of-all-work in an opera house – apart from a couple of things at school, I didn’t start conducting until I was about 40.

Ben asks, “Could you summarize your professional music experience?”

Er ok; I was the first Trainee Répétiteur at ENO, leading to a permanent job on the Music Staff there — I now coach opera singers, play for rehearsals, act as Assistant Conductor and occasionally conduct performances; otherwise I have had stints of piano–teaching and teaching in a Stage School (Kate Winslet was in my class); among my various freelance operatic and concert contracts in the UK and Europe I can include two projects with Björk, 8 months as Musical Director of “The Sound of Music” at the Palladium, and the Musical Director–ship of the North London Chorus. I have also directed student opera productions and translated two operas for performance in English. (Sorry if this seems very long, but I am very old.)

Photo credit Oskar Marchock

Simon asks, “What kinds of music — opera, classical, musical theatre, contemporary, etc. — do you prefer conducting?”

I’m definitely most at home with vocal music — choral or operatic — I think I am probably what is known in the profession as a “singers’ conductor”, but I had a brilliant time conducting “The Sound of Music” and would love to do another West End show (and my bank manager would support me in this).

Penny asks, “What’s your favourite piece in this season’s repertoire?”

Whichever one we are singing at the time. It’s the only way. Sorry if that’s a bit of a clever-clever answer but there is truth in it; perhaps I should admit to my Sondheim habit now. I once spent a fortnight working with him and one day found an anagram of his name that even he (a crossword fanatic) had never worked out. “Send home the nips” sounds a bit racist but we were doing “Pacific Overtures” which is set in Japan so it was kind of funny at the time. I hope he remembers me for more than that… Oh yes, where were we, it’s “Send in the Clowns”.

Sue asks, “What music — genres, specific pieces — would you like to see the Pink Singers performing?”

As wide a variety as possible. But it‘s clearly important that people are singing what they want to sing and that we try and accommodate all tastes. Whether I like it or not mine are secondary and in any case I‘ve always thought of myself a bit of a musical chameleon and I‘m very versatile (Hsien mentioned that someone had asked about that too — presumably not an alto). But it’s early days and I haven‘t really had time to research all the available arrangements yet. Watch this space.

Jules asks, “Where do you see the choir going under your direction in the future?”

I haven’t come here to try and change the personality of the choir — and the more important question is: where does the choir see itself going? I do want to introduce mentoring for the Assistants Conductors and Accompanists as well as regular vocal workshops for the whole choir with visiting teachers, and maybe sightreading or music theory classes (it’s not rocket science) but let’s get 8 January over with first. Ask me again in 6 months.

Photo credit Ben Park

Michael asks, “If you had to take one opera with you to a desert island, which one would it be?”

This is cheating a bit as it’s really four operas, but can I have Wagner’s “Ring” please… hang on Michael, what’s all this about a desert island…?

Chris asks, “What non-music-related activities do you do in your free time?”

What free time would that be?

Sarah asks, “What are you most looking forward to about your first Pink Singers concert, ‘A Burst of Song’?”

Wearing my new dress shirt (courtesy of Dylon — flamingo pink). And seeing the choir start a new era with a stonking great performance.

And the $64,000 question… Chris asks, “What is your favourite colour?”

Don’t be ridiculous. Chris! (although if you ever visit my bathroom you might notice a similarity between the walls and the afore–mentioned dress shirt).

Timeline datestamp: 08 January 2011

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