As part of #LGBTHistoryMonth, tenor Hsien explains why choral infidelity is ok and reflects on what he sees as the common threads running through LGBT choirs: music, community and Pride (with a capital P)…
I have a confession to make. I am having an affair. And it is okay.
In 2001 I met my first love, the Pink Singers. I was new to the London scene, the Pinkies offered me wine (lots of it), song and companionship. I will always remember our first visit to the pub, our first time on stage, our first late night house party, our first holiday together; but time ticked on and the itch for something different grew, and so I sought an experience with another choir.
My new mistress, the Barberfellas, gives me a different kind of choral satisfaction – in the form of barbershop and close harmony acapella – and now where once I prudishly thought one choir was enough for anyone, I’m surprised as anyone to say that I’m actually okay with playing away.
To me, at their heart all LGBT choirs are about three things: one, the music which brings us together in the first place; two, the community and friendships which develop around singing with each other week in and week out; and three, Pride with a capital ‘P’ and the desire to express it publicly.
The Pink Singers’ exhibition ‘Singing the Changes’ makes it quite clear that the early choir was about giving the LGBT movement a voice, and Pride was arguably its focus at its inception in 1983. 11 years later, according to the documentary ‘A Vocal Minority’ (mentioned in last week’s blog post) there were at least two additional LGBT choirs in the capital: Diversity Choir and Vocal Minority. Reading between the lines, these newer choirs aimed to differentiate themselves in terms of repertoire and musical ambition. Clearly, one choir was not enough to scratch every itch.
Fast forward to 2015 and in the UK we are almost spoiled for choice. London now has eight, and the UK and Ireland as a whole have over 40 LGBT choirs. That trinity of music, community and Pride still connects them all, but each choir is shaped by the desires of its members and the environment in which it operates, meaning that all kinds of musical tastes, performance styles and choral identities are catered to.
In Norwich, for example, the wonderful Sing With Pride choir sings music which, like the choir itself, is relaxed, accessible and focuses on LGBT issues. Their ‘Out 140’ songs, a series of tweets about LGBT life in and around East Anglia set to music, has been a success both locally and nationally. In Manchester the open-access Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus has an innovative programme which helps LGBT asylum seekers find a social outlet, and recently mounted a high-profile campaign against homophobia on its city’s trams. In London, the Fourth Choir aims to bring LGBT choral performance to the world of semi-professional music. This challenges people’s prejudices in a different way, and necessitates a degree of selectivity not found in other choirs.
Every LGBT choir may seem superficially very different, but they all form part of that greater story of the growing complexity in the relationship between music, community and Pride with time, geography and changing social mores. This is where I imagine the Pink Singers is a present – a choir which is proud of its contemporary LGBT identity, but which tries to perform music which is moving rather than didactic.
My first love and I will always share something special, but I think what I am truly in love with is LGBT choirs in general. I am in love with meeting other people who are like me, in love with singing and hearing voices blend in harmony, and so proud of what we can do together.
I am having an affair. And it is totally okay.