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.
In October 1990 the Pink Singers became the first European LGBT+ choir to sing in the USA when 18 of us visited Florida. We had been invited by the 70 strong Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida to perform with them at a concert called “International Harmonies” in West Palm Beach. To celebrate our visit the Mayor of West Palm Beach named Friday October 26th 1990 “Pink Singers Day”.
The venue for the concert was a huge converted cinema and we were so good even the back row stopped what they were doing! Our repertoire included “London Is London”, “Always On My Mind” and a medley of songs by George Gershwin. We also introduced the audience to Tom Robinson’s “Glad To Be Gay” with new lyrics for the occasion.
As well as doing the concert, we also did a special fundraiser in aid of the Health Crisis Network in Miami, who continue to support people with HIV and AIDs. At that time, the pandemic had impacted heavily on the local Hispanic community and their children, so we had a very mixed audience who cheered us on our way. The highlight of the event came as we sang the song “Somewhere Out There”, when a typically noisy Miami thunderstorm erupted outside. The song never sounded more impressive.
With the performances over, the Pinkies were also able to enjoy the many delights of South Florida (some pictured here, some not!). A few holiday romances took place and some lasting friendships were made. We were to meet up with the Florida chorus again two years later at the Festival of Gay and Lesbian Choruses in Denver.
On Saturday June 24th 1989 the Pink Singers appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Ned Sherrin’s Loose Ends as part of a special show for LGBT London Pride Day. It was broadcast from the roof of BBC Broadcasting House and among the other guests were writer Julie Burchill, art critic Brian Sewell and magician Fay Presto. Here’s a transcript of the Pink Singers’ contribution to the recording.
Ned: Here we have the Pink Singers, a group of gay and lesbian choristers, who are going to send the music of Rogers and Hammestein into orbit, and to give a special send-off to international gay pride weekend.
Ned: You’ve already heard the Pink Singers this morning. They’re a much-travelled English gay and lesbian group, who’ve been singing for 6 years. They include teachers, computer people, civil servants, a banker and a biologist. Together they’ve sung for various charities – not all gay – they’re at the Green Room, Manchester next Saturday; the Tithe Hall Farm, Harrow the week after. And I think they’re going to start this little section by showing us how they sing Spread a Little Happiness.
Ned: You’ve got about 12 people here, you could do with more I suppose?
Sandy: We can always do with more men and women singers. But we would like some more lesbians to join us. Our three lesbian singers that were with us at the festival have left to go to New Zealand, round Europe and stay in Germany. So we are looking for more women.
Ned: Philip Rescorla, how much do you travel around the world? Where does it get you?
Philip: Well we’ve been to Stockholm. Last year we were at Berlin. Of course next week we’re at Manchester, so it’s Budleigh Salterton here we come!
The next MD to take up the pink baton was Michael Derrick, who had been accompanist under Robert Hugill. Michael (born 1946) was a Mathematics lecturer and active in the scene as a member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and a volunteer for the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard.
He did not seek out the choir; the choir found him:
One Saturday night in October 1986, I was drinking in my favourite pub. A complete stranger came up to me and introduced himself as Robert Hugill, the director of the Pink Singers. I had never heard of them. Robert was looking for an accompanist, and one of his drinking companions had pointed me out. He asked me to come to the rehearsal the next day – which I did.
Michael continued the structure that had been established by Robert Hugill and built on the work he had done.
[Robert had] turned them into a choir which gave regular concerts, rehearsed for concerts, had a standard repertoire, a rolling repertoire. He chose the repertoire, he wrote arrangement to suit the choir. And so every rehearsal was part of a build-up to a concert: a performance and then a new set of repertoire and so on. So I knew it was that sort of choir. And at every rehearsal there was the aim of putting on the next concert. So there was a very well defined set of objectives for each rehearsal. That was the choir that I joined and it’s more or less the structure that has survived to this day.
In 2013, Michael was asked about his contribution to the choir (he’s still a singing member today) and his response focused on the development of the membership:
Before I was the conductor it was a men-only choir. But when women came along to ask if they could join I always said yes, welcomed them, sat them down and gave them some music. And by the next week there was some specific things for them to do. I’d rewrite the arrangements to involve women. And then they brought friends and slowly the number of women increased. The first concert I conducted was the first concert the Pink Singers gave with women and men in the concert. Before that there were women and men together on the marches, but it was the first concert. And for every single concert since then there have been women and men in the choir. And that’s something I’m extremely proud of.