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.
Newbie soprano Sunny, takes us on her journey from frightened to (almost) fearless and describes what her first – ‘cherry popping’ – performance with the Pinkies was like following our recent concert at Cadogan Hall, ‘Sing!’.
Last year, I realised I was frightened. What a sorry state of affairs! Frightened of everything (except the things that scare normal people, like perilous heights, jumping into roaring oceans, spiders, and letting people down by being late). Frightened mostly of life and whether it was stuck rotating like a scratched record of Edith Piaf growling a lowish note to a sad song.
Today, I’m feeling mildly (but not very) self-congratulatory, because Frightened isn’t my word any more. I don’t know what is. Blank-page? Expectant? (not in a mother-type way, mind), Wondering? Bumbling? Silly? Fun-loving‘s back on the menu. But not on its own. I feel lifey again though.
I bloody did it. I stood on a big stage with my lovely big gay choir, and sung the heck out of some big gay songs. And it didn’t even feel monumental, it just felt like performing’s what I do, and this was a lovely new community to be part of, and here I was and it was good.
My Pinkies journey began a few years ago when I sat in a lovely comfy seat in the beautiful Cadogan Hall, and watched my friend Alex sing with them. At the time I was struck by the quality of the performance, and also keenly aware that I was not yet comfortable with labelling myself as LGBT+ by joining.
But, my journey continued, and the time became right, and I auditioned. It was still a big step for me, and I was really nervous and pretending really hard that I wasn’t overwhelmed. In many ways, I was on familiar ground – I’m used to joining musical groups and getting on with new people and learning songs. But I was stepping out into new territory from a cultural perspective, and learning as I went.
I have been really impressed by many things, but I’ll mention two in particular. Firstly, the concerted effort that the choir and committee made to welcome new members – clearly thought had gone into it, and we were made to feel a valued part of the community so quickly. (It helps that there’s a big crew that go to the pub after rehearsal too.) We were given bits and pieces to do in the songs, stood in prominent positions, and welcomed warmly. Secondly, the number of people that volunteer their time and talents to make the Pinkies function so well, in so many different ways. This really is a community.
The build up to the concert was massively exciting, but the day itself was amazing. And long! I was hosting a lovely French chanteuse called Martine who was part of our guest choir Equivox, and somehow we arrived at The Cadogan on time, in spite of my propensity for being late, and eating Pain au Chocolat for breakfast (just trying to make her feel at home…. ).
Then there was a very smooth tech run – I’m used to the theatre where people always end up shouting at each other, but there was no hint of that here. And then about 90 minutes of crazy mayhem with about 60 Sopranos and Altos from two choirs squidged into a dressing room, and much flailing of hair-curling tongs and requests to borrow the liquid eye-liner, and “where’s my flower?” yelled across the morass. Then some bizarre ceremony for us newbies involving cherries and photographs and we were off!
The concert itself. I didn’t think I was nervous as I’m used to going on stage. But then I forgot the words in the second song for a few seconds and realised I was. Unsurprising – I think I was internalising what the occasion was. I had my parents in the audience, many friends who’ve held my hand on my journey, and my church group, yelling and waving like the crazy loons that they are. And I just went for it – hit the moves, hold your head up high, concentrate on Murray and let rip! It was brilliant – the audience reaction at the end like nothing I’ve experienced before. Woohooooo!
Then there was a very sedate after show party….. Oh ok, perhaps the truth is that at one point I accidently twirled an Equivox choir member violently onto the floor in a dance-off to Hairspray’s You Can’t Stop The Beat. Oops. Je suis desolee.
We start rehearsals for the next Pinkies season in two weeks. I can’t wait to get back. I’ve found this brilliant group of people, remembered how much joy singing brings, and I’m excited to be a part of it. To quote a Christian song I like: The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again.
According to the Oxford dictionary (and thesaurus) there are 2,730 positive adjectives beginning with A and honestly I could use pretty much every one to describe the Pinkies latest jaunt to Amsterdam for the AmaSing festival.
As an Aussie, it is very exciting to travel interstate to perform. Travelling internationally to do so is always a dream, and – as a part of the Pinkies – I’ve been fortunate enough to do that twice now. Firstly, Dublin and more recently, to Amsterdam – not just to sing anywhere but in one of the best concert halls in the world, the Concertgebouw.
The trip officially started off with registration at Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) where a few pinkies started to congregate. I don’t think you really appreciate your friends until you haven’t seen them in a while, so there were lots of hugs all round. The organisers then put us on a great canal cruise which allowed us to see Amsterdam from the water and helped get our bearings in this horseshoe city.
The cruise dropped us off at Het Amsterdam Museum for our official meet-and-greet which really gave us a great feeling for what was to come. With all the recent hate crime in the world, it was incredible to get together with 600 of our LGBT+ family to chat and to sing.
After a great afternoon, most of the Pinkies retired early to prepare for our big day of performances (which turned out to be of epic proportions).
Friday saw the first of our performances: a 15 minute outdoor set and a beautiful set inside the Conservatorium Hotel. Both were greatly received with a request for more from the patrons of the hotel; however, these gigs were just the warm up for the night to come. Later that day, we had a quick sound check inside the Concertgebouw, which reduced a chorister from another choir to tears. He said, “Our opening of ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ gave him shivers and made his eyes well up”. (Wow, we only sang 16 bars)!
The pinnacle of the festival was the main concert in the spectacular Concertgebouw. The acoustics of this hall are world renowned (it has a reverberation time of 2.2 seconds, for those playing at home) and was certainly a spectacle to behold – for a full 6.5 hours (!!), as the concert inevitably over-ran… It’s definitely the first time I have finished a concert the day after it started.
The organisers of AmaSing had hired a park on the banks of the canal where all the choirs could leisurely watch the parade from. They even provided lunch (!) and we all sat around chatting with our new choral friends and enjoyed the stunning day that celebrated everything we believe in (and of course there were impromptu performances from various choirs as well…).
Amsterdam is synonymous with taking mind altering substances 😉 and the Pinkies’ excursion to this wonderful city certainly left us on a high.
A huge thanks must go to the AmaSing team for a brilliant Europride event and to basses Gary and Paul for organising the trip from our end!
Long-standing soprano, Sally-Anne, joined the Pink Singers for a weekend of song in Dublin as part of the Dublin “GAZE” LGBT film festival. Here’s her ‘gloria’ous’ account.
The Pinkies spent the weekend of 18 – 19 June as guests of our wonderful friends “Gloria”, and had the opportunity to sing at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, along with the RTE Orchestra.
I am very proud to have been a part of that amazing experience. We have a very special relationship with Gloria – they have sung with us in London at one of our Cadogan Hall concerts and they are a lovely friendly, kind and generous bunch of people.
Whilst we were there, they organised an after show party, hosted a picnic (which unfortunately I missed as I had to get back to the UK to the cats -I would probably have drunk too much Pinot Grigio anyway…) and even gave us some of their CDs.
The National Concert Hall is a truly fabulous venue and it was an amazing experience to sing there, as well as having the privilege of performing with the RTE Orchestra. It was, as usual, an afternoon of hard work prior to the concert, but we were well looked after by the kind lady in the “Artist’s Bar” and topped up with tea and cakes.
It was really exciting to hear a full concert arrangement of two of one basses, Chris Chambers’ arrangements. They sounded incredible. The show was beautifully performed by the Pinkies and we had a really enthusiastic audience. Even better though, there was also an announcement of the forthcoming marriage of two women who were sitting in the balcony seats from a delighted compère!
It was an evening of fun, inclusiveness – and quality music – which I was proud to be a part of. I am delighted that we were invited to be involved and it was a pleasure to be in Dublin again with my Pinkie family. Thank you to our special friends “Gloria” for making us so welcome. Dublin has a very special place in my heart – as do the Pink Singers. Can we go back soon please?!