With just over a month until our next concert, A Night At The Movies – The Sequel, we thought we’d find out how Chris Chambers, one of our home-grown arrangers, goes about his craft.
The Pink Singers’ concert repertoire comprises a superb collection of songs from movies, in a variety of styles. Although we acquire some rights for existing arrangements, we are lucky enough to have several talented Pinkies who arrange beautiful songs especially for us. Chris has been doing this for several years, so we thought we’d quiz him on how the magic happens. Here it is in his own words:
STEP 1: THE SONG
The announcement of the concert theme is succeeded by a lengthy trawling of internet ‘top 100’ lists. I also see if I can sneakily find a tenuous link between my favourite pieces of music and the theme in question. The list of suggested repertoire is released for the Music Team’s consideration which is also a good time to sway opinion. And drink wine. Then I wait to see what the Artistic Team would like to offer me.
STEP 2: THE ARRANGEMENT
As a teacher this is normally done in my holiday repose after a certain amount of dread and much procrastination. In the final 2 days of my six week holiday I set up the laptop, turn the telly on in the background (somehow this makes it seem like less of a formal commitment to hours of work) and place the first of a multipack of Diet Coke on the digital piano. I then spend hours playing the same chords over and over again, much to the delight of my husband, until I stumble accidentally on something I like.
Four hours later this is all securely entered into the music notation software. The play button is pressed and the afternoon’s work is duly deleted. When eventually completed the score is emailed to the Artistic Team 4-7 times to rectify numerous omissions, errors and changes of heart. Sadly the hours spent listening to and playing my favourite songs over and over again render me insensitive to the reasons I liked them in the first place.
STEP 3: REALISATION
The rights have been successfully obtained and it is the exciting first rehearsal with the choir. Some parts of the arrangement instantly come to fruition. There is a certain degree of disappointment with some of my decisions and my unreasonable expectation that everyone should sing it perfectly from the first read through. These hugely narcissistic thoughts fed by an extreme fear of inadequacy are usually allayed by the second rehearsal. The ensuing sense of achievement and satisfaction is punctuated with occasional trips from my rehearsal chair to the musical director to highlight yet more omissions, errors and changes of heart.
STEP 4: POST-CONCERT
Of course, everything works out well in the end. I vow not to do any more arrangements due to the emotional turmoil. The theme of the next concert is revealed. I remember that I am incredibly lucky to be an amateur having their work performed by such a vast and able choir and repeat Step 1. A Night At The Movies – The Sequel will be performed by The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall on Saturday 20th January. Tickets are on sale here.
Friday 1st December marks World Aids Day, and The Pink Singers are singing to raise money for the National Aids Trust. Our thoughtful Communities Rep Jezza writes about his awareness of Aids – both close to home and in Africa and other developing nations, where it is sadly so prevalent today: (For information about the concert see here.) As a creative freelancer, I have spent many years delivering drama workshops around the issue of sexual health. Whilst not medically qualified myself, it is good for me to know as much as I can about the state of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment in the UK, since you never know what questions they might ask! Since 2002, when I started teaching, we have seen so many enormous changes. Recent groups of teenagers I have worked with have been surprised to hear the sort of things I told them about HIV and AIDS back at the turn of the century, let alone hearing about what happened when I was a child in the 1980s. So many amazing and life-changing discoveries have been made since then. We live in an age where some people are celebrating a decade of the virus being undetectable in their bloodstream, and joyfully expecting to live to a good old age. These are joyful changes, but of course, even in this country, some people still struggle to receive the kind of help that makes this kind of life and future possible. For those in other countries, the story can be even bleaker. Some of the pupils say to me ‘Oh, you just take one pill a day and that’s it…who cares?’. Whilst they have a point (to a certain extent) I still don’t think it’s that simple, and certainly it shouldn’t be seen as something that is no longer worth thinking about. Yes, some people remark at how little their HIV positive status impacts upon their life, and that’s wonderful, but many more feel its effects keenly every day. This does not necessarily stop them thriving, but the fight against HIV and AIDS is far from over. Sadly, many people still struggle to thrive at all, and that is still profoundly wrong.
I was born in 1982, and as such, mostly ‘missed’ the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. My forebears were not so lucky. Many remember all too well the pain and horror of losing so many beloved friends. Some members of the Pink Singers have been generous enough to open up to me about that time, and tell me how joining the choir was, sometimes, because they needed that safety of a loving community that understood what they had been through. We cannot underestimate the effect of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder upon our whole community. Even now, when we take a bow at the end of our shows, I know there are a few Pinkies who look to the sky at that moment, and send boundless love to the many friends they lost to AIDS thinking ‘This is for you’. As their hearts swell and their eyes tear up, often, so do mine. Of course the AIDS crisis wasn’t just confined to our global LGBTQ+ family, but it is fair to say that, in the UK at least, we took the brunt of it. We were robbed of a generation of thinkers, doers, lovers, friends, people who may have changed the world for the better if only they had had a chance. Recently, many of us chose to wear red poppies to commemorate the war dead. How many people will wear the iconic Red Ribbon to commemorate approximately 35 million people lost to HIV and AIDS? I know the Pinkies will.
We are being joined at our World AIDS Day Concert by the wonderful ‘Rainbow Singers Across Borders’, from the organisation ‘Rainbows Across Borders’. They are LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers, many from African countries. The continent of Africa has suffered so much from the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS, with Sub-Saharan Africa remaining the most severely affected. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 1 in every 25 adults are living with HIV and account for nearly two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide. At a time when people with HIV and AIDS are still struggling to access the health care they so desperately need (particularly in African countries) at a time when the LGBTQ+ population is under attack from many sides (particularly the trans population currently), we think now is a good time to come together in song. We will be using this event to raise money for the National Aids Trust.
To remember those we lost, to help those who are , thankfully, still here, and to keep fighting on. Keep fighting for justice and truth, for the health and well-being of those we love so much. Keep fighting for those who are no longer able to. We will do it for them, we will do it for us, and we will do it for those who will come next. Our wonderful global family. We really hope you can join us for this very special day. The concert is at 7:30pm on World Aids Day Friday 1st December, at St Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA. Tickets are by suggested donation, and can be found here.
Tina, our newbie Soprano for this season, tells us how she survived the craziness that is a Pinkies weekend away!
I am a newbie to the Pink Singers having joined them in October 2017. During this time I have begun to get to know a vast number of diverse friendly faces who all share a real commitment and passion for music. Recently there was a planned weekend away for the choir, based at Newland Park in Chalfont St Giles. As a new member I felt very nervous attending this event but also felt excited at the prospect of being involved in a real fun packed weekend of activities all themed around developing our voices, our breathing techniques and more importantly how to work together as a team to produce the professional sound that the Pink Singers have achieved. The weekend began with an evening campfire sing song (given that we were near to November the 5th). All of us huddled around a fire, on a cold dark night, yet the night was lit up with pitch perfect songs that the group spontaneously performed from memory without sheet music. I was really moved by the camaraderie, humour and sense of belonging evoked from this experience.
Saturday had a busy schedule, very well organised with important rehearsals and the chance to gain valuable knowledge about controlling our breathing and hitting high notes from Patrick Jeremy, a professional singer. After a busy day of choir rehearsals, we had a fun-packed evening themed “a night at the movies” with an open-mic night. All Pinkies dressed up for the occasion, we had Smurfs, Cruella Deville, The Joker and Julius Caesar to name but a few. There were some amazing solos, duets and even a performance of the cup song. To finish off the night we had fireworks which seemed to sum up again the sense of belonging to something truly special and memorable.
On Sunday there was more rehearsals and choreography which included a fun dance routine themed on Footlose, this gave us a chance to practice choreographed music and burn a few calories whilst getting valuable feedback on how this music could be interpreted through movement. There were options to attend a quiz or some improvisation classes which I really enjoyed. By the end of the weekend I felt I had developed more connections to other Pinkies, I felt included, had so much fun and felt a real sense of achievement although somewhat tired….., but what a weekend of fun !!!! This choir has a real sense of its own identity and feels more like belonging to a large family and I feel very privileged to be a part of something so energetic, committed and creative. Save
Fresh off the back of our latest weekend away, which was rehearsal packed, choreography tight and party’tastic, newbie alto Eleonore sums up what it meant to her…
I was a little nervous on Friday morning as I trammelled my luggage with me to work, carrying what I hoped were all the essentials you might need for a Pinkie Weekend Away: sheet music, bottles of wine, tea-time snacks and more costume changes than you’d expect for a two-night retreat.
Despite the excellent, colour-coded schedule and very thorough brief, I really didn’t know what to expect from the upcoming trip. The choir itself may have been celebrating its 34th birthday, but I was still brand new. Being a newbie always feels a little tricky, even in such kind and welcoming company as the Pink Singers – you’re still playing catch-up, trying to insinuate yourself into conversations that are already underway, and hoping the in-jokes don’t fly too far over your head.
Little did I know, over the next two days, the warmth, kindness and inclusivity of everyone in the choir would turn these anxieties into unfounded nonsense.
The flats, when we arrived into Newlands Park, were basic but cosy, surrounded by real greenery and the kind of oxygen you get to breathe once you’ve ventured out of central London. The place had been sprinkled with little welcoming touches; our names on the doors and festive bunting in a communal kitchen that brought back strong memories of evening pre-drinks before a night out in the Student Union.
Dinner during our stay felt like a similarly school-like affair, with canteen-style trays and an assembly line of courses complete with fluorescent-coloured tubs of jelly. Simple, but perfectly tasty stuff (or as Simon announced, in typically British understatement, really not unpleasant!)
Over the next two days I got a real crash-course in choir life, alternating between serious rehearsals, informal singalongs, intense vocal workshops, educational choreography sessions, organised down-time activities (including Jeremy’s yoga and improv theatre class, and Sunny’s outdoor sports-day) and, inevitably, a whole lot of drinking and dancing.
Both Saturday and Sunday morning were, naturally, slightly groggy starts following the previous nights’ festivities, but bleary-eyed though we were, it was frankly inspiring to see – even amidst the light-hearted grumblings from the tired and hungover – how much effort was put in by everybody to show up and sing out. Special thanks should go to John and Murray especially for managing to keep us alert and in tune despite the croaky voices and droopy eyelids (… ours, not theirs.)
During the afternoon sessions over the Saturday and Sunday, we were lucky enough to have two experts giving their time and knowledge to help us. Emily, a choreographer and dance teacher, led us in a Bob Fosse workshop in which we were taught basic moves like the waft-walk, the flamingo, and the boxing kangaroo (note: probably not the real names). After that, we were let loose on the full choreography to Chicago’s ‘All That Jazz’, an opportunity which was met with great enthusiasm, if not always perfect results. I imagine even the least seasoned dancers would agree that this whole session was hugely fun, informative, and really gave us an expert’s insight into how to move our bodies – all lessons learnt to be applied in the next choreo rehearsal, of course…
Sunday’s session was with Andrea, a singing teacher, who worked with us on timing, projection, tone, and expression – all the nitty-gritty details that fine-tune a performance. It was fascinating to hear her take on what needed working on and why, and it gave us a chance, too, to really show what we could do. I think everyone stood a little straighter and sang out a little prouder that afternoon, to prove Andrea’s attention to us worthwhile.
Andrea also led individual workshops that day with Claire and Jeremy, who both stunned us with their beautiful renditions of chosen songs – Claire reduced half our row to tears with her piece, while Jeremy’s Hugh Jackman-esque tenor sailed impressively through the room. It takes a lot to stand up and perform, and even more to be critiqued in front of everyone while doing it, so special thanks has to go to the pair for allowing us to watch and learn through their session.
And speaking of performing – Saturday night’s fun kicked off with an open-mic session in the festively-decorated hall that was to play host to our much-anticipated 90s disco, complete with glow-sticks and multicoloured balloons.
We were treated to an incredible range of performances – from beautiful acoustic three-part harmonies, to a singalong 90s medley, and even a Pinkie-spin on gangster rap, the length and breadth of the Pinkies’ talents were showcased that evening in brilliant fun, good humour and with a whole lot of love.
A special performance of The Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way from the newbies (and a fumbled turn accompanying on guitar by yours truly) went down a storm and rounded off the set of performances that evening that were all met with rousing applause. If I had any lingering doubts that there was anything to be unsure or nervous about as a newbie in the choir, this was the moment it was done with.
The rest of the night was given to dancing – the choreography to Steps and S Club 7 was broken out, and we naturally found ourselves harmonising to classic 90s boy bands with increasing enthusiasm (and corresponding tunelessness) as the night went on and the drinks were drunk.
There’s a moment that comes during the evening, when you step back and look at yourself, sweaty and covered in glitter, jumping up and down in five-inch platform heels, yelling out the lyrics to D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better and you think – well. Things are pretty damn good now, too.
Home time on Sunday rolled around all too soon, though, and after tea in the sunshine on the lawn, with hefty wedges of delicious cake, contemplative and mellow and satisfyingly tired, it was time to get back on the coach and make our way back to London, a little sleepy, but still scrolling through phone snaps to hold onto the memories just a little longer.
One last memory that I’ll treasure in particular: Saturday night, going down to dinner with a group of spectacularly talented, warm, unique individuals, dressed to the nines in party gear – wigs, skirts, glitter, pom-poms, ties, suits, face-paint – a myriad of self-expression and peculiarities descending upon the cafeteria. Suddenly we find ourselves accosted by a group of schoolchildren on a foreign exchange, small faces upturned, curious, excited, open. Not a moment of judgment seems to cross their minds. A little girl asks where she can find boots that look like that. An excited-looking boy begs for a go on the cheerleader’s pom-poms.
Quietly at first, and then louder, a song starts up – my mama told me when I was young, we’re all born superstars. It’s a real-life Moment with a capital M as the song grows in volume and our voices join up in harmony. The schoolteachers smile and laugh and film us, and encourage the kids to clap and sing along, though they barely need telling, excited as they are.
Community outreach, Phillip called it afterwards, as he readjusted his wig and waved the kids goodbye. I felt incredibly moved. I’d never much felt like I was part of a community, before.
Thanks, Pink Singers, for making me feel like a part of yours.
A new season and a new wonderful group of newbie Pinkies set sail on our pink ship. We asked our new bass Francesco what music means to him and why he decided to become a Pinkie, after his world travels landed him in London. Singing. Just singing. I missed it so badly. I moved to London earlier this year, at the beginning of January. Of Italian origins – my name easily betrays me – I spent the last seven years of my life in Barcelona, where I finished my studies. By now a little piece of my hearth is Spanish and, to my utmost frustration, so is my accent when I speak Italian. Music has been a part of my life since I was little. As a kid I was forced into my village music school – I have a clear memory of my mother asking which instrument I wanted to play, and not whether I wanted to play one at all. In hindsight, I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I have so many great memories of playing the cello. I always enjoyed it the most when together: duets with the piano or with my sister on the violin, trios, quartets, orchestras, etc. When I finally turned into college material, I dropped the bow to focus on my studies – that was the plan at least. But, in fact, music always found his way to drag me into a new, unplanned, adventure. That is how, I ended up spending many Saturdays of my twenties in bars, with an indie-rock band, playing the electric cello (not quite the outcome my mother was hoping for, I believe). Also, as an exchange student in Portugal, I joined a tuna – a sort of university band voted to polyphonic mockery of college life [Editor – ha! Tuna!] . In Brazil (yet another exchange period) I joined a samba percussion group. In Barcelona I was back in an orchestra… Long story short, no matter how hard I would tell myself I was too busy, I have always the time to let music distract me. This is how, four years ago, I auditioned for the newly born Barcelona Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC). I sang with them as a bass ever since, never missed a concert. That was one of the best musical experiences of my life: the companionship among singers, the flow of adrenaline going back and forth with the public, the body resonating with the harmony of the ensemble. It makes me feel so alive and so happy, every single time. It’s a chemistry I do not understand and yet one of the biggest pleasures of my life. And in the process I gained friends, a real family of people that shared with me the alchemy of making music together. Finally, when I decided to move to the UK and I was kissing my BGMC friends goodbye, I remember Matteo’s advice – quoting verbatim he would say: “Francesco, once in London you should audition for the Pink Singers. They are very good. And they party very hard.”
So, time to unpack my luggage, settle in the new flat, find my balance at work… and I was already showing all the symptoms of vocal abstinence. I had to follow Matteo’s wise advice. So I reached out to the Pinkies for an audition. Next thing I know I was on a trial rehearsal, being so happy I could not help smiling like a loser all the way through it. It was such an energy booster. I didn’t actually realise how much I missed it since that moment. And fingers crossed, legs broken and a pretty lame audition later, I was actually embarked on a pink ship headed towards the next concert season! I am super excited about this new adventure and greatly thankful for the welcoming reception of the choir. I just need to apologise in advance to my new choir friends for all the times I ask everyone’s names again. Memory was never my strength. I really hope that in time I will have occasion to know the choir all a little better and eventually gain a little spot in their Pinkie heart. Even if @LaLaLondon it is always another day of rain, if feels very sunny to me each time we meet! Save Save Save Save