Hand in Hand, Asia

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?

Proud Voices choir at Various Voices 2014, Dublin
 Proud Voices choir at Various Voices 2014, Dublin

Well, last year the Pink Singers attended Various Voices 2014 – Europe’s LGBT choral festival, then in its 13th iteration. We wrote about that trip really rather a lot. Present that year at the festival were delegates from two asian choirs – the Beijing Queer Chorus and G-Major, Taipei – who joined forces into a scratch choir organised by Proud Voices.

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

Pink Singers and G-Major chorus at the British Council in Taipei
 Pink Singers and G-Major chorus at the British Council in Taipei

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

Dancing at the welcome party (Photo: Hsien Chew)
 Dancing at the welcome party (Photo: Hsien Chew)

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…

Sharing the moves at Funky nightclub
 Sharing the moves at Funky nightclub (Photo: Hsien Chew)

Music and dance – an international language, indeed.

Standing together with pride

Pink Singers in central Taipei on the march
 Pink Singers and friends in central Taipei on the march

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.

Jerome shows off his heels with the fabulous Unnie choir from Korea
 Jerome shows off his heels with the fabulous Unnie choir from Korea

Hand in Hand – the festival

 G-Voice from Seoul

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”.

Unnie choir
 Unnie choir

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!

Proud Voices choir (Photo by 터울)
 Proud Voices choir (Photo by 터울)

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 chorus dancing in rehearsal
 G-Major chorus dancing in rehearsal

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.

 Wen Wu temple at Sun Moon Lake

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!

Timeline datestamp: 30 October 2015

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