Behind the Scenes of ‘Chosen Family’

Our latest video project was Rina Sawayama’s beautiful and poignant Chosen Family. Tenor Paul talks us through the day we recorded the video and why the message in the song means so much to him, the choir and the wider LGBT+ community. 

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Paul, Tenor

I woke to the sounds of a cow mooing, in what felt like 30 degree heat and 100% humidity, with a mildly hazy head and an aching spine from having slept on a roll mat in a tent in the depths of Buckinghamshire.  The realisation hit me that it was video recording day. I bolted upright, and in the space of what felt like three and a half minutes, had packed the tent, and enough camping chairs to comfortably seat a large choir, into the boot of the Peugot.

Even though the sun had been up for 4 hours, my boyfriend and I realised that it wasn’t even nine am, and the A40 stretched ahead of us, and the Sunday driver traffic had already started to accumulate, so we made it to London at a reasonable pace. On our approach into the city, the blood drained out of my face, into my boots and panic took over me when I realised I hadn’t gotten those white trousers I flippantly assumed without due consideration, would probably be on sale in most mini mart outlets in rural Buckinghamshire.  

“I can’t be the only one in blue jeans” I shrieked at my weary but appropriately sympathetic partner, who’s response of a gentle nod and a furrow of the brow indicated that he actually was listening and did care just enough to not make the situation worse. In a blind panic I started WhatsApping other choir members I rapidly identified as likely to have as close to a 30″ waist and a spare pair of white bottoms AND who hadn’t yet left for the shoot.  Frankly, I’d have been more successful in finding a needle in a gaystack, however I persevered and fortunately our ever ready Events Manager Rachel, happened to have a spare pair for just this exact eventuality.  I almost vomited with relief.  (it may have been last night’s rum at the campfire, but we’ll never know) and so i eventually pulled up to the Voces8 centre in St Pauls, seven minutes late, running with a breathlessness not dissimilar to a mild asthma attack, carrying random bits of camping paraphernalia, trying to sing the tenor harmony line on loop as a final memorisation effort.  Like something from a hybrid of at least three Carry On films.

The process of stopping, catching my breath, relaxing the tension in my shoulders and finally taking in the cool air of the old church into my lungs was soothing.  As my respiratory rate came back to normal, I thought, Paul, settle down, put your bags down.  I looked around the darkness of the old building to see a cluster of ghostly figures all in white, collectively looking nervous, excited, bewildered, and occasionally glancing up with relief that lightning had not yet smited anyone for being an LGBT+ in a holy space.  

And a religious experience it was.  The acoustics lightly bounced the vocals back off the marble pillars as we began to sing, and I swear the air became clearer.  The video director directed us in various groups defined voice part, or random cluster, or if you were born in January, (or something like that) and as i trotted between groups between takes, holding up my unbelted size 38″ waist white jeans (beggars can’t be choosers) I fully began to appreciate the slick well oiled machine that put this project together.  The few times we did takes of the ‘money note’, I can’t lie, I wiped a little tear of joy.

Scene from the video

I was having a great time. I was surrounded by some of my best friends in the world, doing the thing I love most. Best friends who didn’t care that I smelled like I had just spent three days in a field without a shower. Best friends who bizarrely resembled a bizarre cult, or extras in SClub7 christmas music video!   Now, that’s why they are my chosen family.  As a group, we celebrate our unique differences and also celebrate the things that are the same.  Both unite us.   Sometimes the similarities to my biological family are creepily echoed.  Sometimes there’s tension.  Sometimes there are moments of beautiful harmony.  When we have a party there’s a LOT of singing, and when we’re done we’re glad to go back to our respective domiciles, whilst simultaneously relieved it’s over but secretly aching to be back with them.  This wonderful project, after two lockdown virtual videos, felt liberating and exciting.  We were finally able to work on projects together, and bounce off each other and give hugs. I had missed those the most and it felt like home. 

The original artist, Rina Sawayarma’s lyrics encourage us to tell each other our stories, and with a diverse choir, the stories are vividly abundant. (and that’s just our beloved Soprano, Sally-Anne).  There are many interesting, slightly risque, defiant, often sad, or joyful stories that educate us and inspire us, and that define us as individuals.  

Today we made another one. 

The moral of this story?  For me, it’s to take time to listen.  Don’t just wait for someone to stop talking so that you can relay your version of the discussion.   The details are important, and it’s how we connect.  But we’re so preoccupied with a million other things swimming around our brains, it’s easy to realise it’s been nearly a month since you called your mum or haven’t seen your bestie in weeks.    This song relays the comfort and security that connections bring.  Have a listen, spend some time thinking about who your chosen family might be, and how you might be able to maintain and strengthen those ties.  When those ties are laid out they form the fabric of a community. 

If you don’t have a community but do have a longing, then the first step may be easier than you think.  Reach out.  It’s a journey, and it requires effort, but it’s worth it.  It might change your life.  It might just be ‘quite nice’ and not half as melodramatic or barf inducingly romanticised as I’m making it out to be.  As cheesy and twee as this all sounds, you might even end up making beautiful music together. 

If you need someone to reach out to, then try our friends at LGBT Switchboard.

Paul, Tenor