It was warm. The streets were old and welcoming. There was a buzz in the air. We were sitting directly under the magnificent, ancient Acropolis, having dinner at the beginning of our weekend in Athens. The food was amazing. We are the Pink Singers, and we were there to perform in Athens’ 7th Gay Pride Festival.
As it turned out, the weekend couldn’t have gotten much better (or having gone much more smoothly). From the moment we arrived at at the main site for a sound-check on the Saturday afternoon, the organisers were genial, welcoming and inclusive. As we warmed up on stage, the public milled around, smiling and clapping. This was just a sign of things to come.
Back on that stage at sunset, as the opening act for Athens Pride 2011, we were welcomed by thousands of Grecians (and their international friends!) who cheered, clapped, wolf-whistled and swayed as we ripped out repertoire from Sondheim to Madonna; from Sunday to Proud Mary; from Hairspray to West Side Story. We felt special; that we were there for more of a purpose than to simply entertain. We were helping celebrate the cause closest to our hearts and sharing that support with an ancient city.
We ignored the (unimpressive) anti-gay protesters on the side of the road and sang (and danced) as loud and proud as our voices (and our almighty Leader/MD, Murray) would let us.
Upon finishing our set we were escorted through the crowd to the back of a float. We scrambled on, cranked Beyonce, Pink and Lady Gaga on the affixed loud-speaker, and sang and danced as the crowd (allegedly 10,000-odd strong) followed us around the city streets. It was incredible!
Thousands of people smiled, cheered and waved as we cruised along with the other Pride floats. There was brass bands and drummer-girls and costumes and craziness. While Alice (support conductor and singer) leaned off the side of the float, painting the smiling faces of the ancient city with her iconic gay-flag-coloured crayon, Jerome (tour organiser and singer) lead the rest of us in a Pride dance-off. It was mad: if you punched the air (and we did), the crowd followed suit. If you were Rachel (choreographer and singer), they even wanted to kiss you! The feeling of support and oneness with those around us was unprecedented.
Back at the main festival site, we spent the rest of the evening watching the other acts and enjoying the incredible hospitality of the organisers and volunteers of Athens Pride 2011. The love and support shown was definitely in keeping with the festival’s slogan for the year, “Kiss Me Everywhere”. A big, big ‘thank you’ to all involved and for inviting us to be a part. It was a weekend that the Pinkies will never forget.
As a seasoned Pinkie — eight years and counting — you would have thought that concerts were a walk in the park for me. Not so. I still feel the nervous excitement before performances. Our concert ‘A Burst of Song’ at Cadogan Hall on 8 January was no exception.
We arrived at 1 pm fresh and well hydrated — a tip from the top to help us sing — ready for an afternoon of technical rehearsals and preparation for our concert. Our new Musical Director Murray, the choir’s artistic team and Poppy our Stage Manager made sure that the Pinkies and our guest choir from Manchester both sounded and looked our absolute best. Everyone wanted to put on a pinktastic show.
There was a short break after rehearsals — time to get dressed, ready and psyched up. This was the first concert for some choir members. They were understandably nervous of going on stage in front of family, friends and guests.Established members of the choir tried to put newbies’ fears to rest before we climbed the stairs for our first number.
We opened with a lively rendition of Proud Mary complete with an energetic dance routine which celebrated many of Tina Turner’s distinctive moves and shakes. This was followed by John Rutter’s soft and subtle setting of Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, the jazz classic Lullaby of Birdland, a traditional Swedish hymn Härlig är Jorden and the tongue-twisting With a Lily in your Hand by Eric Whitacre to close the Pinkies’ first half contribution. Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus then performed until the interval.
We had a few minutes to mingle with friends and family before the second half began, which was successfully opened by our Manchester friends. The Pink Singers then returned to perform the thoughtful and melancholy Deep River followed by Gershwin’s up tempo I’ve got Rhythm. The mood changed again for Send in the Clowns from the musical A Little Night Music. Next came Billy Joel’s touching ballad And so it Goes. A brilliant arrangement of Madonna’s Like a Prayer from the hit TV show Glee closed the show.
Some choir members shone as soloists while the rest of us danced and pranced gospel style. Following a resounding show of appreciation from the audience, we performed With a Lily in Your Hand and Proud Mary again for our encore. To say that we brought the house down is an understatement! Everyone in the audience seemed to be on their feet clapping enthusiastically. It was a brilliant and jubilant feeling.
We’d had a challenging season for a number of reasons and to achieve that level of appreciation made all the hard work and dedication worthwhile. It will be a night that I will always remember and I am proud as punch of the Pinkie crew for pulling off such an amazing show.
I am still buzzing and eagerly await what’s in store for the Pinkies next season!
‘In the Pink(ies)‘ is a blog on the life and times of a Pink Singer, known only as the ‘Pink Insider’. This is their account of our concert “The Big Pink Chill” in 2010.
Every concert is a special event, not only because we have been rehearsing for the twelve or so weeks prior to it, but because every single one is different. The Pinkies’ last concert – the Big Pink Chill – was no exception, but for me, there were a number of changes this time round which made this particular experience more memorable.
The most significant difference actually began a week or so before the concert itself when we had news that the tickets had sold out. I’m not sure of the ins and outs of it, but it looks like this was due to a combination of more tickets sold by members, combined with a trebling of the tickets we sold through the website. Now, usually we do, especially in the winter season, sell out, but to do so so far in advance certainly caused Simon W a bit of a headache and more than a few late, sleepless nights.
The Royal College of Music is fairly familiar to us now, given that this is our second time there, so there are fewer surprises in terms of the venue itself. Nevertheless, since this time we were performing with two other choirs, Purple Harmony and Sing Out Bristol, rather than by ourselves, it took significantly more organizational work to make sure everyone was in the right place at the right time.
None of this would have been possible without the volunteers like Kate D who kept Sing Out Bristol entertained and updated, but a great deal of credit goes to our UK Concerts director Ben P. I have no idea how he does it, but he manages to co-ordinate moving nearly 150 people in and around the theatre, set out instructions to the production crew, and act as the general lynch pin of the whole operation, while still keeping a calm exterior and still singing! The fact that, as a choir, we just have to concentrate on our own performance, and not worry about all the extraneous logistical issues is down in no small part to Ben’s hard work.
The Pink Singers are about singing, true, but the creation of the end product requires so much input from a huge number of people. It is salutary to observe that it is no longer just the people in the committee doing all the work; there is a whole phalanx of Pinkies helping out in other ways, from choreographing our moves, to making announcements, to performing solos, to arranging sectionals, to recording multimedia, to organizing social events. All of these things create a much richer experience for all the members. And all of these Pinkies are doing this as volunteers at that, so it is good that we now have a tradition of recognizing their efforts at the concert.
One of the big events this season has been our inclusion of religious music in our repertoire. To be correct we have, for a long time now, sung music with a sacred theme, but the songs have largely been in Latin or classical, or about Christmas. So if you really want to split hairs, this is the first time we have sung modern Christian songs which are not carols in English. Hopefully that just goes to show how arbitrary the classification is, but it would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge that this caused some consternation in the choir. We are an LGBT choir, and many of our members have an uneasy and occasionally fractious relationship with the Christian faith. So it is with some pride that the choir still stuck together to perform these songs well, despite any individual reservations.
The result was, for me, the most significant event of the evening, which was when Purple Harmony joined us on stage to perform. They are a children’s choir from Surrey, and the choir in which Cass used to sing when she was a little one. To me their being on stage with us was a profound statement of how far our society has progressed in terms of inclusiveness and equality. In rehearsal, our joint song Rutter’s Look At The World sounded beautiful, but with children’s voices it was sublime. I had to stop myself from choking with tears during the song itself it was so transcendent. The performance defied all stereotypes of what an LGBT choir is, and I certainly hope that the more conservative elements will at least have had some of their prejudices questioned.
I also want to highlight our other guest choir, Sing Out Bristol. They are one of the newest LGBT choirs in the UK, being just over two years old, but already they have over 60 members, 40 of whom came to London. I met them for the first time at Various Voices back in May 2009. Speaking to some of their members, they face the same problems we do – deciding on a direction for the choir, managing a large group of people and dealing with the right balance between the needs of the individual and needs of the choir as a whole. There is so much to learn, from each other, and it is wonderful what we can give each other the platform to perform at and support each other in the way we do. I can see our relationship growing from here on in.
All of this is wonderfully virtuous, but the best part is that the Pinkies really know how to have fun, so after the concert it was on to a raucous karaoke at the Imperial College bar, followed the next day by an understandably more subdued post-concert brunch at the Ku Bar in Lisle Street. Time to put away the pink accessory for another season; see you at the end of February for Summer 2010!
The collaboration between a British gay and lesbian choir and a Maltese Christian choir was always going to raise eyebrows, especially if they met in Malta, where Catholicism holds sway and the Gay Rights Movement is almost non-existent. In July 2009, however, the Pink Singers managed just that, taking their show to Malta to promote social equality through their music.
There were two immediate dilemmas; how would the fervently religious Maltese community react to a gay choir, and would it be possible to pair the Pinkies with another choir given these circumstances. “The gay scene in Malta is still quite backwards and limited”, Andrew says, “there are no gay choirs in Malta and they have no idea what a gay choir is…people were thinking it was going to be all feather boas and being camp”.
Under the leadership of Andrew Francalanza, a Maltese national, the Pinkies took the first small step towards a brighter future for Malta’s gay community, achieving the seemingly impossible for a minority without a voice. Andrew Francalanza became a Pinkie in 2007, and quickly learnt “how much fun it is to go abroad and sing with another choir”. In his capacity as International Concerts Co-ordinator, Andrew broached the idea of taking the choir to his native Malta.
At the Malta Gay Rights Movement’s suggestion, Andrew approached Symphonik, the choral branch of a Christian organisation that seeks to promote social equality through music and mirrors the Pinkies in intention and method. “It ended up growing from just a basic concert to being something really huge” Andrew recalls; “a gay and lesbian choir singing with a Christian choir underneath the Gay Rights Movement’s umbrella to promote equality”.
Eight months of frantic organisation later, the Pinkies headed to Valetta for a large scale concert in the City Theatre, with fifty choir members travelling to Malta’s capital for the event. Due to Andrew’s prior communication with the Maltese media and his own network of friends and contacts, the island was awaiting their arrival with a mixture of curiosity and wariness. As predicted, some called for the Church to take a stand against the choir’s promotion of homosexuality, but the majority of the community gave the Pinkies a warm welcome. “95% of feedback was really good” and the concert audience was very positive; “we blew them away!” Andrew says.
The joint concert was scheduled as the grand finale of Malta’s Pride week, which the majority of the Pinkies attended, having also sung at London’s Pride march two weeks previously. “London Pride and Malta Pride are two different concepts” Andrew explains. “London is in a place where it can celebrate being gay” with “a whole day and a big party in the streets where you can just have fun and be silly”. Malta Pride is “an hour…half an hour of marching, half an hour of speeches, and it was…quiet.” There was a feeling of silent anger amongst the marchers, whose banners displayed rage rather than celebration. “Even though it wasn’t said, [the silence] was a way of saying ‘we don’t have a voice’” Andrew says.
The Pride march had a great emotional impact on the Pinkies, with their Chair, Mark Winter, describing the scene as “London twenty years ago”. Their presence changed the atmosphere completely, bringing joy and fun to the event and doubling the number of marchers to almost a hundred. The Pinkies showed the Maltese gay community the way Pride should be; full of fun and, most importantly, pride in who you are. Their positive attitude, alongside their banners and rainbow flags, had an instant impact. The Maltese EU parliamentary representative stood up and professed his ignorance regarding the gay rights movement and his desire to work with the community towards a greater acceptance and social freedom.
Amazingly, the Maltese Prime Minister followed his lead and has now established a lobby group to promote gay rights on the island. Further to this, the Malta Gay Rights Movement has set the wheels in motion for the formation of a gay choir, an amazing development considering the current social ramifications of being openly homosexual in Malta.
The concert and Pride march were both an astounding success and provided the Pink Singers with a moving experience as well as new friends from Symphonik, who joined them at Malta’s only gay bar for the concert after party. The trip’s success demonstrates the impact small actions and a positive attitude can have. “For the choir the [trip] was a really powerful experience…it wasn’t just us singing and having fun, it was such a big political message” Andrew says, “they keep asking me when we’re going back.”
‘In the Pink(ies)‘ is a blog on the life and times of a Pink Singer, known only as the ‘Pink Insider’. They give us the inside scoop on our 25th Anniversary Concert.
Well it is now the day after the day after, but I am still riding high after our 25th anniversary concert. The past few months have been long and arduous, but it all paid off in the end – what an amazing concert we gave!
We gathered backstage as Mark Bunyan introduced the Pink Singers. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hear anything of what he said, but in his ten minute preamble he gave a little bit of the history of the Pink Singers, and apparently led the audience in song with I Am A Homosexual, the first song the choir ever sang at that Pride twenty-five years ago. I think it must have been quite a surprise then when we got onto stage and opened with Locus Iste!
I am always nervous on stage, and more so when I know I have to make an announcement or sing a solo piece. That said, from the moment we finished singing the Bruckner Motet, I knew that this was going to be an amazing concert. We have never sung that piece better, and there was a wonderful union of voices. It certainly set the tone for what was to follow. The final piece of the first half was Ave Maria, one of the songs we performed at the IndigO2 a couple of weeks ago, with Gari Glaysher returning his visit.
By the time we got to the second half things were much more relaxed and I think the whole choir really got into the performance aspect. America certainly gave us a chance to interact with each other, and a friend who came for the first time remarked how much it looked like we were having a good time as part of a team. I couldn’t agree more.
Of course, the lynch pin in all of this is our wonderful musical director Mladen. it is impossible to emphasize how important an MD is in tying together the various sections and music, and Mladen does it all with panache. Even if you have only been in the choir for one season, Mladen’s directions are like an open book: one gesture and you know when to really go for it, when to slow down, when to hush your voice, when to stop. The Pink Singers would definitely not be at the standard we are without him.
There are times when Mladen has to step aside, and that was certainly the case for the choreography-rich Forever Motown. And what a way to end the concert! The audience was clapping and singing along and we were having a whale of a time. This was followed by a standing ovation from the wonderful and enthusiastic crowd. I almost didn’t want it to end.
But end it eventually did, and I have to say that I was running on empty by the end of it. To me, it was the best concert I have ever been priveleged to have participated in, and an example of how far we have come. This season the choir has been pushed harder vocally than ever before and it was very rewarding to see it all come to fruition. At the same time it was so much fun and I’ve made many new friends this year.
We have just one more gig in Brighton in a fortnight and then it is the end of the summer season. Summer 2008 will definitely go down in my memory as one of my best ever Pink Singers experiences. Pinkies rock!