In the light of the Covid-19 crisis, we Pink Singers have stopped our regular Sunday afternoon rehearsals for the first time in 37 years, and had our first virtual meet-up this Sunday.
It was emotional! We sang, we laughed, we offered support to each other, we shared stories.
We also danced, laughed, and shared stories of our crazy weeks. We welcomed our new members, applauded our public servants (in particular our healthcare workers) and celebrated recent birthdays. We met each others’ pets. We finished by singing ‘Together In Electric Dreams’ from our most recent concert – which has suddenly taken on a new and deeper meaning for us as we adapt to our new virtual existence, for the foreseeable.
In future weeks we have plans for quizzes, break-out rooms where we can start to learn new music in small groups, sharing solo performances with each other, and more. We will also perhaps look at making some multi-track recordings.
Here’s a quick summary of what we did in our first one, and what we learned. We:
Used zoom as the platform, on a regular plan. It allows up to 100 participants and worked well for us, with 56 participants.
Set the call to start 30 minutes before the actual start time, to allow plenty of time for tech setup.
Made everyone be muted by default, and had one MC (host) who called on people to share by raising their hands first to speak or sing.
Kept it short – an hour or so. Spending time conversing on video chat feels more mentally taxing than being face to face.
Did not sing ‘live’ together. There were 56 of us on the call and it would have been impossible. The varying latency of internet connections makes it very hard to hear each other in sync without special hardware.
Muted ourselves most of the time and sang along with some tracks.
Sang warm-ups (all muted) with our MD at the piano
Shared some audio that everyone could sing along to, using Zoom’s share screen feature (use the advanced tab: share computer audio)
Kept the meeting open for a few people who wanted to hang around a chat for longer
The Pink Singers ran a year-long project to highlight LGBT rights in India, in partnership with India’s first ever LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai.
What were our goals?
In 2015, we made contact with a brand new choir in India, Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). We heard about their passion for making music, how they work together and support each other, and their struggles in a hostile environment for LGBT people. We were inspired to reach out the hand of friendship.
As a charity the Pink Singers has worked with many LGBT choirs in the UK and around the world to support their work, to march together in Pride and to sing a shared message when words alone are not enough.
In India, section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises homosexuality, with a version of the same law which existed in the UK until 1967. It was introduced under British rule in 1862 and to this day carries the threat of a decade in prison, and daily fear and discrimination. Individuals are blackmailed by the police so that, in exchange for money, their secret will be kept.
“This space, as a bisexual woman is a safe space for me. When we’re singing, it’s the only moment we feel ourselves.” – Manasie Manoj, member of RVM
So together with RVM, we planned a project to raise awareness about the reality of being queer in India; sharing music and culture by performing together in both our home cities. We aimed to:
Raise awareness about the status of LGBT rights both in India and the UK, encouraging communities from both countries to support equal rights and status for LGBT people.
Share music and culture of the Pink Singers with RVM, and vice versa, encouraging the choirs to develop and grow, to give LGBT people a space and a strong community to support vulnerable people at risk of isolation and harm.
Present joint concerts to generate positive press coverage in India and the UK, raising RVM’s profile, helping to establish their music as a vital part of the city’s cultural offer.
What we did
Part 1: Queer India Today Seminar
We organised a seminar featuring three academics from the School of African and Oriental Studies in London and members of the Pink Singers and RVM (by Skype!).
This helped us understand the similarities and differences between us, the language used, the history of section 377 being repealed and then re-introduced 4 years later. In the early stages of this work, this was important, to know just what the situation was in India, and how, if, we could help.
Part 2: Visit to perform and march in Mumbai
In January 2017, 39 Pink Singers visited Mumbai and finally met RVM in person. They welcomed us to their city, we shared stories and experienced Pride in a city without acceptance, where the participants were celebrating, but bystanders looked on, seemingly not understanding why we were there.
Our joint concert “We Shall Overcome” at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts was sold out, including emotional joint renditions of the title song, and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. The songs took on new significance in the context of our project. This was the first time RVM had organised a concert of their very own. Ashish told us:
“it brought out leadership qualities, creative and administrative abilities of choir members. We were struck that almost no families came to support the concert. One RVM member told how his parents planned to come, until they knew their son was singing with an LGBT group.
Below is a short video of our joint concert at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai.
We also joined hand in hand with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Mumbai Pride, Queer Azaadi Mumbai.
“The Pinkies crossed the ocean to high-five and greet us like visiting family. They reminded us of the sublime words of John Mayer and Katy Perry, ‘You love who you love who you love’.” Read more on what RVM’s Siddhy had to say after reflecting on his experience following the Pinkies’ visit to Mumbai…
“Singing with and listening to the members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai was truly uplifting. Being able to spend time singing, listening, talking, and sharing stories and experiences made me realise that although we live many miles apart, we can still find common ground”. Click here to read Pinkie Claire’s blog.
“We felt accepted as we declared to the world, “I was born this way and I am not ashamed”. RVM member Aniruddha tells us about meeting the Pinkies for the first time, and feeling uplifted in the battle against Section 377, the law which criminalises homosexuality in India. Read more…
“The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us: every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When we sang an a capella version of “We Shall Overcome” together in English and Hindi, it was a moving show of defiance and solidarity from which I could not hold back my tears”. Pinkie Hsien shares his experience.
Part 3: Performing on stage at Pride in London, 2017
The final part of the project was the most complex, but in many ways the most important. After all the fundraising efforts, Skype meetings and long conversations with the UK visa office in Mumbai, we succeeded in bringing 11 members of RVM to London. Most of the group had never left India before so every aspect of the visit was new and exciting.
We hosted the choir in our homes, showed them the sights of London and shared Pride week together, in our city full of rainbows.
“The first time ever I flew across oceans and lands so far beyond my reach to explore freedom and equality”
It was a pleasure to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the Pride in London stage in Trafalgar Square: where all of London fell in love with them too.
As a finale to the project, Rainbow Voices Mumbai also joined us for our summer concert at Cadogan Hall and performed to a packed audience of 800, receiving multiple standing ovations.
What was achieved through this work?
The UK partially decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, and since then we’ve come a long way in gaining acceptance, most recently with legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.
In London, RVM members could see how life could be, with freedom; it gave them hope to see same-sex partners living openly together. They gained renewed determination to improve the situation for their community in India. Two singers, Anand and Mak, sat in a restaurant in Covent Garden holding hands and talked about how in India they could only do this at home when nobody is around, for fear of being seen.
They saw the support shown across the city for our Pride celebration, with businesses and tube stations emblazoned with rainbows in support of our freedom.
“It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them” – Siddhy
Working alongside the Pink Singers was a learning experience for RVM, in rehearsals and preparation for our summer concert.
“It made the singing more effective and everyone leaned towards getting better to share the stage with you all”. – RVM member
They have returned to India with new ambition: planning to grow the numbers in the choir, to perform at queer events and to be known for their music, to inspire others to use music as a tool to spread awareness and join in the fight against section 377. They want to do more to highlight LGBT rights and visibility in India, to make their country more diverse and inclusive of all.
Interviews with members of both choirs during London Pride, on New Delhi TV
We achieved our goal of raising awareness of this issue, with TV, radio and print pieces as well as online articles and blogs in both countries. Talking about the issues and their experiences boosted the confidence of choir members to advocate for their rights and hopes for the future.
“It has made me stronger; a firm believer and an optimist with regards to the support we can achieve. Despite all the hurdles we’re determined to be what we are and make a difference to the world in every possible way we can.” – Ashish, member of RVM
Reflecting on the project
The challenges we faced We aimed to bring every member of RVM to London although we encountered issues with visas, which meant that unfortunately not all members could join us. We countered this by including members left in Mumbai through a social group on Facebook and asking them to contribute to blog posts and media articles for the project.
What is the future of the project? After this experience, RVM are more well known in India and have been featured in a number of news pieces about section 377. They continue their fight to effect change for LGBT communities in India, with the Pink Singers’ support from the UK. On a local level, they plan to grow the number of people in the choir significantly over the next three years, to build their community and profile. They aim to inspire others through their music to fight alongside them for equality.
The Pink Singers will stay in touch with RVM, supporting when we can with the development of their community, and in their plans to achieve equality.
On behalf of the Pink Singers and Rainbow Voices Mumbai, THANK YOU for your support in making this project happen. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Want to support us financially on an ongoing basis? Please take a look at joining our Friends scheme.
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!
The choir perform the first anthem ever commissioned for London’s Pride festival, ‘Together’ by Seán Doherty and Duncan Day, on the main stage in Trafalgar Square. Sopranos Abigail and Clare have taken part in London Pride before, but not with the Pinkies. Here are their accounts of what it meant to them.
I don’t often start my Saturdays at 7am, but on the 25 June I made an exception. With a 9:45am call time for the Pinkies’ sound check on the stage in Trafalgar Square, I could barely sleep the night before!
There was something very surreal about the whole day. It was my third Pride, but my first with the Pink Singers, and I was right to be excited. The day began with singing 90 seconds of Pride in London’s 2016 anthem on stage whilst wondering if it was really happening, and it only got better.
As for many in the LGBT+ community, Pride is one of the highlights of my year. Apart from the fact that it gives me a chance to wear a sequined corset, neon fishnets and a rainbow tutu in public without feeling out of place, it’s the one day of the year that the whole city is out of force, singing, chanting, marching and even just standing in solidarity with the ‘controversial’ idea that everyone should have the right to be themselves and love who they love. And my goodness was I ready to sing.
The singing started long before the marching for us! As we gathered near the head of the parade waiting to start off, we couldn’t help doing a few performances for our neighbours – including a particularly special rendition of Blow Gabriel Blow accompanied by the London Gay Symphonic Winds.
The thing which really stood out to me about the parade itself (apart from the fact that I was part of a 90-voice LGBT+ choir singing as we marched through central London, of course) was that we were right behind the US Embassy’s bus.
At Pride 2015, I marched with Keshet UK, is a Jewish LGBT charity, and we found ourselves near the US Embassy bus as well, but the circumstances felt very different. Last year, Pride was happening the day after the US Supreme Court ruling on equalising marriage, and the air was full of celebration. This year, we were marching in the shadow of 49 of our family being murdered in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando fewer than two weeks before.
It’s amazing, though, the show of strength everyone experienced. Orlando was in everyone’s minds, but showing that everything continues as normal was, for me, the most important thing for our community to do.
It was a powerful statement for us as a choir, then, when we stepped up on the Trafalgar Square stage later that afternoon to sing the specially-commissioned anthem Together. The song speaks of honouring those before us who fought (and sometimes died) for our freedoms, but also of looking to the future with hope for what’s to come. There could never be a more important message to send out in light of recent events:
Together we have the chance to be who we are,
Together we are stronger,
Together we are Pride.
For me personally, I am so grateful that I got to spend so much of Pride with the Pinkies. June, which began with our summer concert and also had the impromptu #SingForOrlando benefit concert, ended with us singing in front of thousands in central London. Pride took me full circle, as I first heard of the Pinkies two years ago when I saw them perform at Pride 2014, my first Pride. Now I get to stand with them, Together.
I’ve gone to London Pride before but only as a spectator. Since coming out I’ve always wanted to march in the parade but never had the opportunity till now. Since Joining the Pink Singers last season I’ve been involved with many gigs and concerts but this was different. I had the chance to march in the parade to be a part of something truly amazing. from beginning to end. It certainly lived up to its expectation plus the weather held out to.
I decided to march at the front of the parade; I wanted to stand tall be proud of who I was and what I was part of. I felt famous waving to the crowds that have gathered to witness this special day. It felt great reliving some of the concert songs plus having the audience join in was really special.
Everyone was really supportive and I couldn’t help but take lots of selfies! The Pink Singers made Pride a very special day for me and I will look forward to what’s ahead.
The Pink Singers and the London Gay Men’s Chorus take part in a vigil in Old Compton Street, standing in solidarity with the Florida LGBT community the day after the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando. Alto Jeremy’s moving piece which reflects on the horrifying massacre in Orlando and the subsequent vigil, which saw thousands of Londoners – and a strong contingent of Pinkies – gather in Soho on Monday evening to pay tribute to the victims.
Our Pinkie hearts are heavy. Like most of you, most of us are still in shock at the horror of it all, but when we came together at London’s vigil in Old Compton Street on Monday night, we found it in us to sing, and so began the process of healing.
We were so honoured to be present at such an important event for our community. As soon as we knew the vigil was going ahead we knew that the Pink Singers would be there, in full voice and full heart.
Most of us heard about the news via Twitter and other social media whilst we sat in the Alban Arena in St. Albans on Sunday morning. A large contingent of the choir had travelled to compete in the first round of the ‘Choir of the Year 2016‘ competition. We had been the first choir on stage to perform in the morning session, which saw 12 choirs doing their thing on stage. We sang our hearts out, raised the roof, and sat down to enjoy the other performances.
The compères had encouraged everyone to live-tweet the occasion, so we did, and word passed round of the violent attack in Orlando. We wondered, ‘should we say anything?’ But as it was still unclear what was actually happening we kept quietly mindful and carried on. As the day wore on we left the arena, went back to London and many of us joined together for food and company. As it turned out, the gruesome figure was said to be ‘about 50’.
It was about 50 Pinkies that had made it to the competition. As we 50 sang, 50 of our brethren were being slaughtered. The people in Orlando had gone out for joy and community, love and life, and to dance with freedom. The second song we sang for the judges was our Pinkie classic, an arrangement of Whitney Houston’s hit, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. An eerily prescient coincidence. We had gotten together that Sunday morning to achieve the same things that those lost souls had.
What if we had gone out that day but never come back? It was the question we were all thinking but not many of us were asking. We knew it could just as easily have been us.
Monday dawned with little joy in it. Overnight there had of course been the infamous Sky News Interview with Owen Jones that left people exasperated, angry and sad. Some very deluded and clearly disturbed people had a new ‘hero’ and were singing his praises online. LGBTQI people woke up everywhere, feeling lucky to be alive. And we were lucky, it’s just that we should be alive anyway, not relying on luck. Most of us have found solace and sanctuary in LGBTQI venues, our first trip to one often being a seminal moment in our understanding and acceptance of who and what we are. I always remember a creative writing tutor once telling me that the most distressing stories of horror and pain take place where one usually feels safest. She was right.
LGBTQI spaces are not always perfect: they can be beset with intersectional prejudices, from a person’s perceived attractiveness, to their gender and/or gender expression, to judging a person by the colour of their skin. It’s worth naming and remembering that the majority of the people in the club, and those killed, were members of the Latinx and Trans* communities. (For clarity, Latinx is a gender neutral term used by the LGBTQI Latin community in place of the masculine ‘Latino’ and the feminine ‘Latina’. It’s an effective inclusive term that we are wise to be more aware of and consider emulating). Thankfully of course, for many, they were that place of sanctuary, and they will be again.
Hopefully now, we understand clearer than ever before that we are stronger and better when we stand together. I hope sincerely that the Latinx community felt as much love and compassion in the aftermath as we Pinkies did.
But of course, we did all feel the horror, how could we not? They were in that club because they were like us. Something most of us have always feared had happened to our family, and we weren’t going to let them go without solidarity, love, and a lot of noise. There are many flags that represent different groups within the LGBTQI world, and they tend to be bright and colourful. Certainly not one of them is plain white.
The call out to the Pinkies came early in the day, we were to meet early in Soho to warm up. I spent the day getting hold of flags, candles, sheet music and whatever else would be useful. As we discovered, so did thousands of others. As I arrived in Old Compton Street about an hour before the planned silence at 7:05pm, it was already full of people. Flags were out in force, every LGBTQI sign or emblem you could think of was there.
The Pinkies gathered upstairs at VILLAGE Bar, our lively chatter and camaraderie powered by equal amounts of love, anger, fear and familial comfort. There was a touch of bravado about it all, but how could there not be when the reason for being there was so grim. It could have been us. After a quick rehearsal of our most well-known songs we headed out to the packed (and I mean packed) Old Compton Street to take our place, ready to sing.
As the whistles blew at 7:05pm to mark the starting of the silence, every hair on my neck stood up. The silence was astoundingly thorough, flags fluttering in a virtually soundless breeze, quiet tears rolling down the cheeks of people with battered souls. Battered, but still alive, and using that moment of their one and precious life to think of the siblings they will now never have the chance to know.
After the silence 49 balloons were released to symbolise the 49 murdered in the coldest of blood. At this, a roaring cheer rolled along the crowd, the intensity of which stirred every cell in my body. A wall of sound and passionate humanity that, if only for a moment, blew away every memory I have of ever being yelled at, spat on, punched, kicked, beaten or bullied just for being myself. It lasted quite a while and turned into the chant ‘We’re here! We’re Queer! We will not live in fear!’ I have no words to describe what it felt like to swim in that song of defiance and pride.
Then the London Gay Men’s Chorus (LGMC) sang, and it was beautiful. It has been much documented, quite rightly, and they began a healing ritual of intense beauty. As they ended, the Pinkies started up. As we made our way through the crowds to regroup, we started singing an old Pinkie favourite ‘Hand in Hand’, which had been sung by the choir in 1996 in Tampa, Florida. Now of course the song had made a sort of tragic full circle, but the lyrics resonated with so many present there as tears flowed freely, and perfect strangers held onto each other for comfort.
Hand in Hand We’ll be the strongest we can be If we learn to stand by those in need With shoulder pressed to shoulder We will build a mighty wall And nothing in the world Can make us fall, If we stand hand in hand
We sang ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now‘ to an appreciative crowd, and then sang together with the LGMC – ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow‘ reverberated around the streets as hundreds of people joined in. After this we all decamped to the beautiful garden outside St Anne’s Church in Soho – coincidentally the new home of Diversity Role Models, a charity we have been proud to support with our recent CD project. The LGMC sang again, and then we joined in.
At our recent concert, one of the compères, Simon Harrison, quoted Armistead Maupin’s theory of having a ‘biological family’ and a ‘logical family’, the latter being one that you have chosen to support you through life. Like many Pinkies, I see the choir as my logical family, and I certainly don’t know how I would have fared in the last few days without them.
At the time of writing, it seems increasingly likely that the gunman was gay or bisexual himself, raised in an ideology that clearly set him on the worst path imaginable. If this turns out to be true, the human race will have reached a new low. People have since declared #lovewins in the time following the attack, but for that to work we must encourage everyone we know to extend it everywhere, and especially to our own LGBTQI community.
Release your anger, you must, otherwise it will fester within you, poisoning the unique beauty of you. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for a scapegoat, don’t let people talk you into bigotry based on falsehoods; we the Pinkies stand by our Muslim LGBTQI brethren. Whether you are a person of faith or not, swapping one bigotry for another will never solve anything.
Do be brave. Do be yourself. Do love and be loved.
If I said I wasn’t scared after this horror, I would be lying, but if we stand “Hand in Hand, we’ll be the strongest we can be”. Every act of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is fuel to an ugly fire, but there is hope. The day after the vigil I was working with Diversity Role Models in a school, where 40 children aged 9-11, voluntarily formed an ‘Equality Club’ as a response to a workshop on LGBTQI awareness. We had hoped that this generation would grow up feeling less of the fear we felt when we were younger, which may not happen now, but we and they still have the power to make things better, if we stand Hand in Hand.
Later in June, The Pink Singers, the Adam Street Singers, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, Diversity Choir and the NHS Choir put on a joint concert to commemorate those lost in the massacre and to raise money for the victims’ fund.
The Pinkies send our love to Orlando, and everyone else who needs it right now.