On 27 June 2018 the Science Museum, in collaboration with Pride in London, opened it’s doors for an evening of LGBTQ+-inspired Lates. This colourful evening featured live performance, talks, music, activities and even a silent disco. The Pink Singers followed on from queer cabaret act Rhys’s Pieces and performed a short set of songs from the June concert to an audience which filled the exhibition room.
Gay Star News said ‘Europe’s longest-running LGBTI choir Pink Singers stole the show on the ground floor with their repertoire of anthems, including What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes’. We had a fantastic time and hope to be back next year!
The 14th Various Voices was held in Munich and 92 choirs took part, from 23 countries. For the “pinkies” it was a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones, and for some it was their first chance to experience the wider LGBT choral world. As the oldest LGBT choir in Europe, the Pinkies’ performances are always well attended and receive a great reception. However, it does mean we put a certain amount of pressure on ourselves to give an outstanding performance for everyone!
Our repertoire in Munich gave us the opportunity to perform songs from a diverse range of musical styles, from the wondrous “Oh Radiant Dawn” for which we received many, many compliments, to Old Pinkie Favourites “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Proud Mary” with full choreography. For me one of the highlights was to see 3 members of the choir perform solos at their first Various Voices.
It was also exciting to see the range of performances from other choirs: from the sheer polish of the established American choirs, to the enthusiasm and joy of the choirs who were attending the festival for the first time. I can only imagine how the choir members from Ukraine, Poland & Turkey felt being part of such an inspiring and emotional 4 days.
Prior to joining the Pink Singers in September 2012, I had always wondered “Why join an LGBT choir?”. Having attended the last two Various Voices, I see that although the countries we live in may all be at different stages in terms of equality and justice for LGBT+ people, we are all travelling on the same journey. The one thing we all know is that singing as part of a group is something very special, and being supportive of other choirs in whatever way we can is a privilege.
Wahooo! Newbie Mark relives the excitement of our recent concert, A Night At The Movies, the sequel. Which was epic.
I’d been waiting for this day to arrive since I joined the Pink Singers in the Autumn of 2017. With my outfits packed and a bubbling sense of excitement in my belly, I treated myself to an Uber that drove me through Chelsea to Cadogan hall. I thought it quite rare and fortunate that this particular driver was playing a classical compilation CD in his car, which set my anxious and excited mind somewhat to rest as I absorbed the lovely architecture on the way to the hall.
I arrived, and eagerly ran to the door because I was, as always, fashionably late. At the door I was greeted by Penny, elegantly puffing the last embers of a fag before our call, and she directed me down through the somewhat arcane stairways of the former Church of Christian Science to the basement changing rooms. Once downstairs, I was able to greet a few of my chorister comrades before the pre-concert work would begin.
The day was long and hard. We spent it practicing entries and ironing out creases, and I tried my best not to annoy an anxious Murray and poorly Jerome. Our lovely hostess’s sass kept me entertained as we ran through the numbers and the various steps we’d have to take in, out, and about the stage. Seeing the video accompaniment for the first time, I’m once again impressed with the talent that this choir endlessly seems capable of deploying.
At last, a coffee break. A cigarette (or two). And then running through the second half. By now the excitement was welling within me. We had our pre-concert dinner break and I wolfed down the squashed yellow sticker sandwich I’d bought on the way in. Night had fallen and some people were arriving at the hall. I couldn’t wait to see the rows of seats full of our Pinkie friends.
We’ve worked hard on this one. All those Sunday afternoons’ labours were about to come to fruition. I’m lined up on the stairs, taking deep breathes to calm my nerves. Simon informs me that I’ve been referred to as the one with the Tarzan hair. I ruffle my mane in response. Basses and Tenors are joshing about in hushed (not always) voices as we wait for a cue to walk on stage. These moments of pre-performance excitement are my favourite. In this moment, the potential for beauty is almost palpable. I dwell momentarily upon the collective intention, logistcal efforts, thought, planning, practice, talent, and no small measure of love too, is about to collide into a musical explosion.
This is it. My first Pinkie’s concert. I think it was somewhere in the middle of the Indiana Jones theme that I’ve taken my position. I’m scanning the crowd for my brother, but can’t seem to see much past the lights. Of course, I notice a few cute faces in the crowd. There’s so many people! It’s basically a full house! And then there’s the banner of Richard’s face hanging from the balcony. Legendary. Cue the Universal theme, and we’re off!
The first half goes so quickly. It feels like being in an altered state of consciousness, where the music flows our of me without deliberate effort. My whole attention rests on integrating my memory of the music, the auditory information from around me, and the motions of Murray’s hand guiding our collective voice. And the dancing. I’m proud of myself for changing my attitude to choreography. My confidence has grown. I’ve found a new way to express myself.
It’s interval. I should quit smoking… Maybe not just yet. Time for a quick wardrobe change. Gods! This is a damn good looking choir! Adorned in all the colours of the rainbow, these beautiful bodies, voices, and souls stand proud and ready. We’re back, and looking fabulous! My feet hurt, my eyes feel strained, but the adrenaline is coarsing through my veins. I’m giving it my all, playing the congas, shouting about your mum in the tube hole, focusing on keeping time and sensitive dynamics, and not bashing my neighbour when we Flashdance for our final number.
When I was later to see the videos my brother took of some of the performance, I learned that I look so happy when I let myself go and just do the moves without self-doubt. And you know what? I realise how lucky I am to have this space to be my gay self with pride. Being part of this choir has helped me accept myself more as a gay man; an ongoing process for many if not all LGBTQ+ folks. I’ve grown in a way I could never have done otherwise than being a part of this choir. I am grateful for this unique opportunity.
The concert is done, and we’re milling about Cadogan before heading off to the afterparty. I say a few hellos, and all I hear from everyone is about how they absolutely loved it. My brother is impressed, and finally understands why I disappear for hours every Sunday. He can’t believe how professional it was. Born Slippy and O Fortuna were his favourites. I have a last puff on my post concert fag (this really has to stop soon though!) before heading back in to lend a hand setting down the stage. After lugging bits of stage and poles to the van, one of the stage crew asks if I’d like an old confetti cannon that the theatre was throwing out. I jumped at the opportunity, stroking my new one-use toy. I have a plan.
I rush off to the afterparty. Good cheer abides! And what an epic venue – Kirsten is a genius. I can’t quite remember how I got the drinks I did, but they were hardly necessary given the elation one feels post-concert. The bodies are moving. Colours are everywhere. Smiles, joy, new faces and familiar ones, young, and old, and all shapes and sizes. I’m waiting for my moment. The DJ plays Born Slippy. I wait for the wall of sound, poised on the balcony above the dance floor. The beat stops and the moment arrives. I unleash the confetti and it feels like time slows down. Colours flitter in the air. It’s one of those pure and rare peak moments in time. I am happy.
See you next season!
The original performance of ‘A Night At The Movies’ was on 20 January 2018 at Cadogan Hall, London
This summer, we returned to Cadogan Hall for a sizzling evening of choral music to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Our repertoire was drawn from LGBT composers and performers as well as music that has been meaningful to these communities.
Entitled ‘From Queer to Eternity’ – Songs of Struggle and Celebration, the evening covered music from a rich variety of styles and genres including artists such as Leonard Bernstein, Dusty Springfield, Queen, Erasure, Joan Armatrading, Mika, Radiohead, George Michael, Lady Gaga and Christine and the Queens. Classical numbers included a rousing chorus by Handel and a moving spiritual by Michael Tippett.
We were delighted to be sharing the stage with two special guests choirs: Out Aloud from Sheffield, and – to highlight the work being done around the world on legalising homosexuality, as part of a year-long exchange project – we were also joined by Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir.
Tenor Hsien talks about his experience at Hand in Hand Asia, the region’s biennial Queer Choral Festival…
A word of advice to the person on the sound desk. Playing the reprise to ‘Born This Way’ is probably not the best way to clear the stage at the end of a wildly successful choral festival in Seoul, South Korea. And it is a terrible idea if the stage is already packed with over 200 LGBT choristers from across Asia. After all, we’re all born superstars! Yes, in what has now become a bit of a tradition, a small band of Pinkies took part in the second incarnation of Asia’s LGBT choral festival Hand In Hand Seoul 2017. The inaugural iteration of this biennial event took place in Taipei, Taiwan in 2015. We had such a blast then it was hard to imagine how a trip to Korea could top that, but Hand In Hand Seoul was all that and more!
If Taipei was all about new friendships, Seoul was about the reunion. In the intervening couple of years quite a few Pinkies have made new lives for themselves away from London, so Hand in Hand was the first time that we had all gathered in the same place. We reminisced, bitched and wondered why we don’t see each other more often. In that we were accompanied by our buddies from the host choirs G_Voice and Unnie Choir, as well as friends from Taiwan, Singapore, China and Japan who we met at the last festival, but this time were we also joined by the members of two new choirs from Hong Kong. Indeed, the increasing popularity of LGBT choral singing across Asia, and participation in this festival, has meant that the Pinkies could not have a set of our very own, but we were pleased to perform as part of the wider Proud Voices Asia from-scratch choir, itself made up of people from 11 countries and meeting in the South Korean capital for the first time. Converging on Seoul felt very much like a massive family gathering.
Hand in Hand Seoul took place over the weekend of 2-4 June 2017. It opened with a traditional welcome dinner – any buffet with mountains of fried chicken and mandoo (dumplings) is a winner! – and performances by a drag queen singing K-pop followed by a drag king performing a traditional Korean dance. To me that juxtaposition of modernity and tradition spoke a lot about some of the tensions of living in this metropolis. This theme continued the next day at a press conference held in central Seoul, followed by a mini-Pride parade down to City Hall. South Korea is actually quite an evangelical country, and the weekend of our festival also saw a large anti-gay conference in another part of town. Our rainbow-flag adorned arrival in Seoul Plaza, the political heart of the city, was met with double rows of policemen cordoning off crucifix-carrying bigots, hate in their eyes, snarling in rage and spewing spittle and insults. Like many of the Pinkies, I’ve never had to deal with such blatant homophobia in my life. It was an eye-opener to see that someone I had never met before could harbour so much un-grounded ill-feeling towards me – it was a sobering moment indeed.
It was a sobering moment too for participants from the many other choirs across Asia. The state of legal equality varies tremendously across this huge geographical area. Our arrival in Seoul was preceded by the announcement that the constitutional court in Taiwan had voted in favour of marriage equality, so there was a celebratory mood, but it was tempered by announcements of increased proscriptions on foreign participation and sponsorship at the Singaporean Pink Dot (Pride) gathering, a country where being gay is still criminalized. It may be argued, however, that regardless of legal status, social equality has a greater impact on the lives of LGBT people there, and it had to be noted that several members of the choir from Beijing – China does not criminalize homosexuality – still felt compelled to wear masks when performing. And yet for all the choirs, hanging out, sharing meals, participation in facilitated events like the film and women’s nights, and just telling each other stories – despite the language barriers – helped to crystalize their sense of purpose, not only in music, but also in social justice in their own countries.
The weekend culminated in a sold-out concert held at the Mapo Arts Centre: all participating choirs took to the stage to sing songs, largely in their own languages, with projected translations in Korean and English. Sitting up in the balcony and watching their succession of performances I was struck by how much the musicality of the choirs had developed since I had last seen them, and there was so much heart in their performances too. On a number of occasions I started to well up – the highlights for me being a deeply moving rendition of ‘Home’ by the Sing Men’s Chorus, Elements Choir’s joyous performance of ‘Sing!’ and Unnie Choir’s tearful version of ‘Into The New World’. In all three cases the occasionally cheesy lyrics took on an additional depth when viewed through a queer lens. Our own performance of ‘Fix You’ had a similar effect on the audience.
Charged up, we moved to the grand finale of the concert, with all the choirs gathering on stage to unite our voices. As we sang the final chord of the festival song “Hand in Hand”, arms held aloft, there was not a dry eye in the house. I can’t blame the audience for refusing to leave after that, and someone had the bright idea of playing ‘Born This Way’ to try to clear the auditorium. It is true that it did not have the desired effect, but there could not have been a better way to cap off the long weekend of celebration than with even more singing and dancing. What a rush! Taipei was the starting point, Seoul has given us a trajectory and I can safely say, “We’re on the right track baby!” Here’s to the Pink Singers at Hand in Hand Asia 2019!
Hsien is also the co-ordinator of Proud Voices Asia, the Asian LGBT choir network, which has oversight of the Hand in Hand Asia festivals.