[vimeo width=”700″ height=”393″]https://vimeo.com/147644031[/vimeo] We’re crowdfunding to raise money to record a new album, and we need your help. At our upcoming concert By Special Arrangement on Saturday January 9th, we’ll be performing arrangements of well-known songs that have been tailor-made for our choir, by our talented choir members and others. We want to record these for everyone to enjoy by making an album. And that’s not all – we want to give £1.20 for every CD we sell to each of two fantastic charities we’re proud to support: the Albert Kennedy Trust and Diversity Role Models. To find out more and pledge, visit our crowdfunder page right now!
Following our recent visit from Rainbow Singers Across Borders, Pinkie alto Sarah tells us a bit more about the day, why the choir exists, and the shocking reality of Hate Crime both at home and further afield – and how, together, we can work for a brighter future. If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between, My brothers and my sisters, All over this land. If you’d have been passing the Pink Singers rehearsal several weeks ago, these are the words you’d have heard ringing out on to the street from the studio below. I’ve been singing with the Pink Singers for five years now, clocking up about 200 rehearsals (gulp); of all those occasions this was definitely one of my favourites. We invited the Rainbow Singers Across Borders to come and sing with us: a choir made up of members of a voluntary self-help group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers who are fleeing from the persecution of oppressive homophobic and transphobic regimes. We kicked off with a fantastic performance from our guests of some traditional African songs. Later Herbert Bulindi, musical director of the Rainbow Singers, led us all in singing the beautiful Swahili song Malaika. You can hear a previous performance here (spot Sally-Anne from the Pink Singers moonlighting in the video!). To finish we sang a song together that was familiar to us both – If I Had a Hammer. Great fun, great music and most importantly, some great people. To end the day we all piled into our local haunt of choice, the New Bloomsbury Set – where it must be said the bar staff did a sterling job of dealing with our larger than usual number of drink orders! As they said goodbye we were generously treated to a parting gift from the Rainbow Singers of another of their favourite songs: a perfect end to a lovely afternoon and evening.
Many of the Rainbow Singers Across Borders have come to the UK from Uganda, where in 2014 the widely supported Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act – which originally included a death sentence for certain acts – was only dropped on a technicality. Hate crimes and abuse apparently soared around the time of introduction and under the act those who reported any attacks or discrimination based on their sexuality could, instead of finding protection, find themselves arrested. Whilst this law was overturned, a new proposed piece of legislation has been accused of seeking to make any form of LGBT organization illegal, potentially cutting off community support for those who desperately need it. In the face of this, the fact that the LGBT+ community of Uganda has managed to celebrate Pride in the last few years feels, to me, nothing short of remarkable. In contrast, in the UK today – due to the incredible campaigning efforts of our community heroes – we now receive public funding towards Pride, celebrated the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013 and have had legal protection from discrimination and harassment from the Equality Act since 2010. From 2005 any attack on an individual motivated by their sexuality was legally defined as a hate crime, allowing for tougher sentencing. We chose October to join the two choirs in order to mark Hate Crime Awareness Week – hate crime being an issue we felt united both of our choirs. Whether our laws define it as a crime or not, hate is something the LGBT community sadly sometimes finds itself faced with. Tracey Button, from the Pink Singers shared her experience with us: “In July 2008 I was on a night out with friends at a bar in London and I ended up kissing one of my female friends. Another person in the bar began hurling homophobic abuse at us. A friend told us we should stop what we were doing because not everyone agreed with it. My friend and I just laughed it off. At closing time I remember the door staff holding us back; they advised we wait until she left before we did. Once she had gone we began walking to the bus stop. Unfortunately, our abuser reappeared and following an attempt to snatch my friend’s phone, I was called a disgusting lesbian and then she attacked me. I don’t recall a huge amount of what happened next, but I ended up on the ground being punched and kicked in the ribs and head. I remember a man walking by during the assault and I begged for help, but he told me he “didn’t want to get involved.” My attacker eventually left and shortly after the police arrived. She was arrested and charged with ABH but only given a Caution. Thankfully I only suffered cuts and the fairly substantial bruising healed in a few weeks, but the psychological damage has taken a lot longer to recover from. I was offered counselling by a LGBT liaison officer from The Met, but I turned it down. I felt so ashamed by what had happened and wanted to forget the whole incident. I went into denial about my sexuality and it was another five years until I finally accepted that I was gay.”
Tracey’s experience was from 2008. LGBT rights in the UK have grown markedly stronger since then, yet hate crime reporting is on the increase according to Stop Hate UK; this may mark confidence in reporting or show something more sinister. Stop Hate UK still estimate that in the UK hate crime related to sexual orientation is a daily occurrence and are confident that gender identity hate crimes remain significantly under reported. Race, Ethnicity and Nationality related incidents were the most commonly reported Hate Crime strand this year. Hate Crime Awareness Week is over now, but it’s important that we always remain vigilant and challenge persecution, hate and oppression where we see it. It’s important that we carry on raising awareness and campaigning for the right support for those who become a victim. We must support those in our community who need it and welcome those who need a community. My life has changed dramatically since I joined the Pink Singers, having access to such a warm and supportive group, with countless strong role models mean that I’m now able to feel confident about my identity in a way that I don’t think I ever was before. I’m so pleased knowing that the Rainbow Singers Across Borders are able to offer that same sense of community to those newly arriving in the UK who have had to abandon their homes to escape persecution. I am pleased that we have been able to welcome them in our community and I hope we continue to make joyous music together.
Simon Harrison, Tenor, summed up what the experience meant for him: “It was such a pleasure to meet the Rainbow Singers Across Borders. It made me aware of something very important: that it takes an effort to reach out and welcome the stranger – our instinct might be to turn to the familiar and not risk a potentially awkward moment that comes when two worlds meet; but the risk is worth it! We are changed and enriched by our contact with what appears to be “different” and it stretches our sense of who we are. As Herbert led us in learning one of their songs with his warmth and generosity and the two choirs mixed together, I could feel hearts softening, smiles broadening, and souls opening. I hope we all find safe places where we are welcomed and in which to grow and prosper.” So, if the Pink Singers had a hammer what would we do? Building bridges and creating those safe spaces seems a great place to start.
Our weekends away have become a real highlight of the Pinkie calendar and this year’s was no exception. Alto Kirsten gives the low down on an epic weekend of singing, stretching, eating, human hungry hippo’ing, cavorting and bonding. Thanks to everyone for mucking in and making it magic… Well well well. What a weekend that was! We are still recovering from our annual residential, which took place this year in the aptly named Carroty Wood, in deepest darkest Kent. We arrived on Friday evening and settled into our rooms, slightly unsure at first if we were on a choir jaunt or geography school trip. Things swiftly got underway however with soup (carrot, of course), sparklers and singing around the bonfire. What a wonderful start! Bright and early on Saturday morning a breakfast feast greeted us – thanks to our incredible Mama Tanya, who slaved away in the kitchen all weekend to keep us going. We then got to work and were lucky to be led in workshops by accomplished soprano Andrea Brown who, amongst many things, taught us about vowel sounds, honing our oohs and aahs into perfection. I really enjoyed Andrea’s approach and know we will be certainly putting the techniques we learned to use in our upcoming concert! We also had a chance to brush up on choreography with our wonderful artistic team. I think the basses enjoyed these moves a little too much…?! Late afternoon came the highlight of the weekend for me – the masterclass. Two Pinkies bravely put themselves forward to sing under the watchful eye of Andrea, who gave tips and teaching in front of us all. Newbie soprano Clare was first up – what a voice! It was really interesting to hear even more come out of her performance with Andrea’s suggestions; her delivery of the song really changed as her engagement with the words developed. Next up was tenor Simon Harrison, who gave us all a beautiful rendition of West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’ – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after that one! Andrea also explained how to deal with last minute nerves and tension, and how to use emotion to make more of your performance. After enjoying another wonderful feast – thanks again to Tanya, her helpers Teddy and Simon W, and the rest of the intrepid cooking crew – the fun really started. The evening kicked off with the ‘open mic’ performances, opened and compered by the fabulous Simon H, Phil and Michelle. Several excellent performances followed – what a talented bunch! The party then got underway, with the theme “The Enchanted Wood” – what a sight to behold! We had gnomes on toadstools, red riding hoods, Robin Hoods, plenty of fairies – and of course a couple of carrots too! The revelry continued into the night, with plenty more singing, dancing and merriment. Sunday morning didn’t involve any singing – the team clearly knew better! Instead we had a choice of fun activities to choose from – from rope climbing (let’s not ask what happened to Simon H’s shorts in that one!), swimming, our very own Bake-Off, judged by the glamorous ‘Marky Berry’ and ‘Tanya Hollywood’, prop making for our winter concert – and human hungry hippos! With only four injuries, that one was definitely a resounding success! The day continued with rehearsals led by our Musical Director Murray Hipkin and fantastic music team, and some more choreography practice. As always this was interspersed with plenty more sustenance – we were certainly well looked after! After all pitching in with the final clean up, we then trundled into our chariots to make our way out of the enchanted forest and back into reality. Boooo….until next year! The whole weekend was put together by our fantastic events manager Mark – what an incredible job he did. We can’t thank him enough! Here he is with the wonderful Tanya, who I may have already mentioned worked really hard to keep us fed and watered all weekend. Thank you both! Click here to see more photos from the weekend!
On the 30th of October 2015, some of the Pink Singers travelled to Taipei, Taiwan, for Asia’s first ever LGBT choral festival. Here, our chair Simon explains more.
32 years ago when The Pink Singers was started, I wonder if our founders Mark Bunyan and Brian Kennedy would have dared to imagine that in three decades’ time, we’d be singing on stage with a host of new and established Asian LGBT choirs, 6,000 miles away in Taipei?
The Pink Singers go East
Four weeks ago, ten intrepid pinkies crossed the globe to beautiful Taiwan, having been invited by the wonderful G-Major chorus to the inaugural LGBT choir festival in Asia, Hand in Hand. But how did this come about?
So inspired were our Asian visitors by their experience of Various Voices in Ireland (and with a little nudging from our very own Hsien Chew…), they decided to start a festival of their own, and Hand in Hand Asia was born.
Getting the party started with the British Council
Fast forward 15 months, and a gaggle of jet-lagged, starry-eyed pinkies were 26 floors up, singing some songs ourselves and alongside the G-Major chorus, in the British Council’s offices in downtown Taipei, kicking off the pride festivities.
A very warm welcome
A few hours later, we arrived at the Hand in Hand welcome party in a restaurant downtown. On arrival we are greeted by beaming faces of the G-Major, the hosts, as well as G-Voice & Unnie from Korea, Singapore Men’s Chorus, GAPA from California, choirs from Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai.
We were all treated to plate after plate of delicious Taiwanese food and tasty local beer. And of course there was lots of getting to know each other. And some rather energetic dancing. Later, we crossed town to a club where we danced the night away – with each choir spontaneously in succession teaching others their dance moves…
Music and dance – an international language, indeed.
Standing together with pride
The following day, through some canny scheduling, all the choirs were able to march in Taipei pride together – which was a real treat.
The rain held off and a humid, electric atmosphere ensued, with tens of thousands marching and more looking on. I think us Pinkies were taken back by the scale of the march, Asia’s largest, and how welcome we were made to feel as some of the only westerners around. After posing for lots of silly photos we were treated to yet more delicious food.
Hand in Hand – the festival
And then to the main event itself – Hand in Hand. Held at the beautiful concert hall in Taipei University of the Arts, it was very humbling to have the chance to see so many varied and talented choirs perform. First up was Men’s Voice Kansai from Japan, whose outfits revealed more than a little leg, who opened the afternoon concert with a wonderfully rich-sounding set of Japanese folk songs.
In quick succession this was followed by three more choirs from China, performing separately and combined, whose delicate sounds lifted the whole audience. I particularly enjoyed the soloist’s performance of ‘Can you feel the love tonight’.
Other stand-out performances came from Korean choir G-Voice – whose hip gyrations made most of the audience more than a little hot under the collar. Their set featured a lot of hilarious wordplay including ‘Gays are a girl’s best friend”.
And I can’t forget the sultry Unnie who made us all want their ‘Rainbow Feminist’ t-shirts by the time they finished their set which featured on-stage kissing and a wonderful arrangement of ‘Royals’ by Lorde.
We Pinkies took to the stage to perform a couple of our favourite songs, as did one of our subgroups the Barberfellas, before being joined by a few friends from Seattle, Paris, Vancouver and Dublin to form the Proud Voices scratch choir.
Together we sang a variety of songs including a local song, ‘Yi ren yi ban’, in Taiwanese dialect, hokkien. We did all this under the careful eye of our conductor, Frances Bowen, who did a marvellous job of getting us performance-ready in about three short rehearsals – one of which featured a pint-size keyboard for accompaniment!
And then to the main performance – G-Major chorus’ annual concert, and what a treat it was. The choir performed flawlessly and seamlessly switched genres effortlessly – led by the skilled Weylin Gabriel.
Their performance of ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ from Bizet’s Carmen was a real stand-out – with everyone on stage engaged to the full. But the performance of Labi Sire’s ‘Something inside so strong’ was the number that actually brought me to tears – such a solid sound, such passion and belief in the lyrics briefly overwhelmed me. It was stunning.
G-Major: if I could come to every concert of yours, I absolutely would.
And suddenly – it was all over! So many new friends, so many goodbyes. But pinkies being pinkies, we needed a nightcap, so we decamped to the trusty Goldfish bar in Zhongzheng – where we did a quick Skype call to our pinkie friends rehearsing back in London. Many other choir members joined us and celebrated into the small hours.
And what a way to visit Taiwan for the first time. Such a beautiful country with rich history and culture – with such brilliant local hosts we had the best time hiking, eating, adventuring across the country. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Watch the video
You can see Hsien’s video montage of the festival for Proud Voices below.
And what a way to round off a fabulous 2015 for the Pink Singers – having attended not one, but two brand new LGBT choral festivals in Spain and Taiwan. I look forward to more!