1998 was a special year for the choir with their first visits to Paris and Dublin, as well as appearing in Stonewall’s Equality Show at the Royal Albert Hall and at the Hackney Empire with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, making their first visit to London. It was also our 15th Anniversary, which we celebrated with a special concert “Happy Together” at The Royal Academy of Music. It went something like this…
Janet: Hallo and welcome! We are the Pink Singers, London’s lesbian and gay community choir and this is “Happy Together”, our fifteenth anniversary concert. Philip: That’s right, we’ve been going almost as long as the Allied Carpets’ sale! Now, I should explain that some of us are lesbians, some of us are gay men. Janet: And the rest help out when we are busy. Philip: You see, even the jokes are 15 years old (pause) at least.
Philip: Now, let’s look at our audience. Aren’t they lovely? Janet: Yes, Madame Tussaud’s must be empty tonight! Philip: There’s a man here with jump leads around his neck. I hope he doesn’t start anything. Janet: Talking of which we had better get on. Now the first half of our show is the educational section. Philip: We want you to leave tonight saying “Well that certainly taught me a lesson!”.
Philip: They say that it’s best to quit when you’re ahead but as we can’t stay all night we’re going to finish now. Janet: Yes, we’ve got another show to do. Philip: In February.Have you enjoyed our 15th anniversary concert? Janet: It’s been great. Here’s to the next!
Janet: What do you hope to be doing in 15 year’s time? Philip: Oh, I’ll still be celebrating my 21st birthday. That’s in cat years. And you? Janet: I hope to be celebrating freedom and equality for all of us. Philip: What a lovely thought to end on. We’ll all be happy together. Janet: Here’s wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a wonderful new year.
A Serbian music teacher, Mladen Stankovic had previously conducted the Yugoslav National Opera and the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra. He is the longest-serving Musical Director to date, staying with the choir for 13 years.
Under Mladen’s direction, the Pink Singers developed enormously. The size of the choir doubled within this period to around 80 singers, requiring us to seek out larger rehearsal space to accommodate us all. As a result of this growth and a more rigorous audition process, the standard of our singing and performances improved considerably. We moved concert venues several times as our audiences grew (including the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music) before we settled on our now familiar home of Cadogan Hall.
Mladen consistently programmed classical music and established the balance of classical and popular music that we have today. It was also during this period that we produced our first ever CDs – Hand in Hand and Pink Singers Livewhich are still selling strong and available to buy today.
Many people in the choir remain today who have fond memories of Mladen’s time with us. Everyone no doubt has a favourite memory from his 13 years as Musical Director, although perhaps the best evidence of his achievements is the second place the Pink Singers achieved in the Manchester Amateur Choral Competition in 2009.
On Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th July 1993 the Pink Singers celebrated their 10th Anniversary with two concerts at London Lighthouse, a residential and support centre for people affected by HIV and AIDS in Ladbroke Grove. At the time the importance of safe sex to prevent the spread of HIV was very much in the news. The Pink Singers contributed this song to the campaign to encourage safe sex practices.
All proceeds went to London Lighthouse and two members of the choir John and Stephen Riethmuller composed a song especially for the occasion called “Love’s Not a Light We Can Switch On and Off. The Pink Singers also performed the song at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 18th July 1996 at the service of Thanksgiving and Rededication to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Founding of London Lighthouse.
In 1993, the London Lighthouse centre was used by 2000 people a week for services ranging from home support to terminal care. It’s also where the Pink Singers used to rehearse. The centre closed in 2015, following dramatic improvements in the treatment available for HIV, although the memorial garden, where the ashes of many people who died at the Lighthouse were scattered, has been preserved.
You can find the complete set of clips from the concert here.
In October 1990 the Pink Singers became the first European Lesbian and Gay chorus to perform in America when we sang in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. Two years later we returned to the US for our first appearance at a Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) Festival which on this occasion was in Denver, Colorado.
But our first port of call was Seattle where on June 26th/27th we sang at the Seattle Opera House with the Seattle Men’s Chorus, Seattle Women’s Ensemble, Seattle Lesbian & gay Chorus and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in two special Pride concerts. The concerts climaxed with a joint rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. During this a member of the Seattle Men’s Chorus dressed as Glinda the Good Witch flew across the stage over the heads of the choruses, waved a wand and rainbow glitter fell on all of us. A coup de theatre!
We then flew to Denver to perform at the 4th GALA Festival of Song (June 28th – July 4th). Every four years around 60 choruses from the US and Canada gather and for the first time two European Choirs were invited (the Pinkies and Schola Cantorosa from Hamburg).
These were difficult times with anti-gay legislation and the impact of AIDS hitting us hard both here and in America. Many of the people who sang at this Festival did not survive the impact of the HIV pandemic. That was reflected in the choice of most choir’s repertoire and the joint song was appropriately called “In This Moment”. The Pinkies songs included “We Shall Not Give Up The Fight” (a South African Protest Song) and Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay”. Our opening number was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Keep It Gay” complete with large pink balloons. At the end of the number we burst the balloons. Inside was rainbow glitter which lit up the stage.
In times of stress and of joy a bit of glitter is always welcome!
Paul joined the choir as part of a personal odyssey of moving to London and coming to terms with his sexuality. As someone with some musical training (a classical background as a cathedral chorister), he was asked to stand in when Michael Derrick was away, and within six months, took over.
I came very much through that traditional music route. I wouldn’t have known Hello Dolly! from the chorus line if you had slapped it across my face with a wet fish. So for me it was really interesting having this world opened up to me…
I’d often arrange sometimes American political protest songs, and we would sing those in new arrangements. We would challenge people’s sense of their own abilities. We would challenge them with the harmonic language that they sang in, how they blended in with other voices…
I wrote original repertoire for the choir, introduced some other more traditional music as well. At the time we also had a non-religious music policy as well, so we wouldn’t sing anything that had a religious context, which for me was challenging having come from a Catholic cathedral music background.
Under Paul, the choir became a four part – soprano, alto, tenor and bass– choir and again widened the range of music it sang. Paul left to focus on his journalistic career, although he remained a singing member for the first year.