This Magic that We Call Pinkies

Soprano Sophie relives the ‘magic’ of her first Pinkie weekend away… 

When you join the Pinkies you immediately know what you’re getting yourself into. This is a group of people who are so instantaneously warm and loving that they automatically become family. There’s a reason we joke about it being a cult, because this is a team that, even after only eight months of membership, I know will forever be a massive part of my life.

There are many in-jokes and terminologies bandied about in the Pinkies: we all know by now how to ‘dolly’ up our voices, and cherry-popping is a well-loved rite of passage for all Pinkie newbies, but there’s one phrase that you overhear a lot when you first join that no-one ever truly explains – Pinkie Magic.

Up until a few days ago, I thought I knew what Pinkie Magic was. Because there truly is something so beautiful in voices joining together to express something through music – and when the Pinkies get it right, boy do they get it right. You only need to look at the reaction to ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ at our January concert. I’m (arguably) a performer professionally, but never have I felt as much warmth and happiness following anything I’d done onstage as I did in that moment. Everything came together and we delivered a message to our audience of community, of strength, of love; and I believe that everyone in that room felt it and will remember it for a very long time. That is Pinkie Magic.
But there’s another side to the magic that I think can only be truly appreciated after an extended period of time with the Pink Singers (namely dancing the night away and then still facing a warm up the following morning…). And that is what I had the incredible honour of experiencing this weekend.

I was the kid who grew up on musical theatre summer camps, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a packed timetable where I spend my time doing nothing but singing, dancing, eating and sleeping. But no matter how well-scheduled, how good the music or the calibre of the teaching – though as everyone will attest, this was all outstanding this weekend – what truly makes a residential is the people.
This weekend was a trip that I already find impossible to put into words, but at the same time something I want to talk about for weeks, to the point I’ve written this blog post just as an excuse to reminisce even more. I took so many photographs, just to attempt to capture any of the stardust that seemed to be all around us, so that in years to come I could look back and remember – this was good.
Anyone could tell you the incredible things we achieved this weekend during the planned sessions. Learning the ‘All That Jazz’ choreography with the fabulous Emily was a massive highlight. Finally feeling like we were nailing down some of those tricky sections of score! And, even on a hangover, the noises that Andrea got us making during Handel’s ‘Happy’, it felt truly incredible.
But like I say; a residential is made by the people. And these Pinkies are the people who have my back (and have had it through some really hard times over the last few months), and they are the people who created my true highlights of the weekend – every moment we just got to spend time together.
Some of my highlights: running full speed onto a stage to not miss a second of the Steps ‘Tragedy’ choreo; Aoife playing her guitar as people blew massive bubbles and I sat making daisy chains in the sun; trying to decide which shade of lipstick would best enhance Jerome’s 90s aesthetic; the astonishing versatility, beauty, and humour of everyone onstage during the open mic; learning which of the Pinkies actually like teacakes;  discovering that Eléonore can not only sing, rap in French, cook, draw, and be exceptionally tall, but apparently now she plays guitar too?!
And more! Belting out ‘Born This Way’ opposite two pretty-in-Pink Pinkie cheerleaders for a canteen filled with French schoolchildren; being secretly happy that there was so much traffic on the way back into London because, even though I was exhausted and very excited about the prospect of bed, it was one more minute I got to spend with some of the most stunning, golden-hearted, magical people I know. Thank you, thank you Pinkies, for counting me as one of you and for letting me share the best weekend I’ve had in years.
So, it’s now Monday lunchtime. I’ve finally caught up on sleep, I’ve dusted the last of the 90s glitter from my face, and I have just one question I’d like to ask – can we go back now please?
If you would like to experience some ‘Pinkie Magic’, we’ll try and provide some at our next concert this summer! Book tickets now for our ‘From Queer to Eternity’ Show on Saturday 15 July at Cadogan Hall! 

Mumbai Musings: part 4

Our fourth and final India blog comes to you from another Pinkie. Tenor Hsien put in MANY hours to make this trip happen, from organising seminars, liaising with the Rainbow Voices Mumbai team, and branding the whole project to handling the vast majority of the logistics! (We think he must have made a clone of himself to have achieved all that he did…). Anyway, this is what the experience meant to him. 

We live in a time where forces are trying to separate us, where difference is something to be feared rather than celebrated, and where populism has thrown up barriers between communities both within and without national borders. When, two years ago, the Pink Singers first started planning our trip to India to sing with Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir, we had no idea that the world would change as much as it has, nor could we have predicted that the need for our collaboration would have been as great.

It is a truism that music brings people together, and an international choir collaboration is nothing new, but when two choirs identify as LGBT and perform jointly in a country where being gay is still criminalized, the added dimension creates the opportunity to not only learn about how culture, society and history affect each other’s LGBT experience, but also explore common ground.

The first formal event of the week sought to both analyse this and serve as an ice-breaker, and was a seminar at the American Consulate General in Mumbai. The topic of discussion, “LGBT representation in the arts”, was timely given the partial coming out in the recently published memoirs of Karan Johar, a famous Bollywood actor. While much of the discussion naturally focused on community arts and, in particular, choirs, we had the privilege to be joined by the director Onir whose ground-breaking film “My Brother Nikhil” continues to have ramifications on the film industry today. He gave us a candid insight into the tension between his own coming out and the challenge of carving a career without labels for himself.

 Panelists included representatives from the Pink Singers and Rainbow Voices, as well as director, Onir (seated fourth from left).

It served as a springboard for members of both choirs to discuss their own experiences. Indeed, what the two choirs shared with each other – our stories of coming out, of family pressures, of first dates, of singing in choirs – showed that our similarities were far greater than any differences between us. Judging by how the conversations flowed into dinner and a late night karaoke, there is a strength in the knowledge that we are not alone, and that out there, there is a community of singers just like us.

The joint ”We Shall Overcome” concert at the prestigious National Centre for the Performing Arts Mumbai was an emotional rollercoaster for many of us precisely because of this: in the context of these personal testimonies, every song sung by both choirs took on an added significance. When, as our finale, 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.

My personal highlight of the whole weekend, however, was marching side-by-side with Rainbow Voices Mumbai at Queer Azaadi Mumbai (Mumbai Pride). It was a raucous, colourful march full of energetic dancing, the sound of drums and singing, but at its core it was also a protest with hand drawn placards and strident chants of Azaadi! (Freedom!), reminding curious onlookers that this was very much a demonstration.

I have now returned to the UK with fantastic memories, newfound friends, a much deeper understanding of the challenges the LGBT community faces there, and a strong desire to help Rainbow Voices Mumbai in their twin fights against Section 377 and for social acceptance. It has also made me appreciate that I cannot take any of my liberties for granted: were it not for the quirk of fate which led me to be born in the right place at the right time, my life could have been very different. It makes all the divisions we seen being artificially created around us, all the more irrelevant. I can’t wait to see Rainbow Voices Mumbai again when they come to London this summer for Pride in London.

We’re still fundraising to bring Rainbow Voices Mumbai to the UK, to see what it’s like to march in a Pride parade where everyone can be themselves and live without fear. We’ve raised over £5,000 already, thanks to our supporters’ generosity. We need to double this to bring every member of RVM here in July. Can you help us reach our goal? Donate via our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017 or email chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.

Mumbai Musings: part 1

Following the Pink Singers’ recent trip to India, we’re bringing you not one, not two, but LOADS of blogs to tell you all about the amazing time we had – both from our perspective and Rainbow Voices Mumbai (RVM). First up, here’s a piece from RVM’s  Siddhy, reflecting on his experience with the Pinkies.

“The first time I saw the Pink Singers, four of us from Rainbow Voices were carrying a piano, for our first event together at the American Consulate. We waved at them and then met each other mutedly as the event was about to begin. The Pinkies took to stage and joyously sang Nat King Cole’s ‘L-O-V-E’. I was stunned into happy tears. The playful, innocent choreography coming through the most age-diverse white crowd I’ve ever seen – and immediately fell for – pushed me to serious indie-movie sobbing.

Siddhy with Tracey & Louise

One person from Rainbow Voices was in each taxi we took to reach the next place, to ensure our guests got there safely. It was an hour-long ride and by the time we reached the restaurant, Louise, Tracey, Giancarlo and I had traded coming-out stories and shared our professional lives. Giancarlo had switched vocations; Tracey recently quit her job to go travelling; Louise is freelancing fancy. All friends now, we went in, karaoke’d, bought each other drinks and danced.

During the pre-concert rehearsal the next evening, the Pinkies sang – among other lovely songs – Ryan Amador’s ‘Define Me’: a song about celebrating who you are and being free to love who you want. I’ve seen them perform it twice and each time I smile, feeling comforted.

Afterwards, over cheese garlic naans, we gabbed all through the night. I saw gay-gay and les-b-honest lesbian couples all around me like exquisite people that just stepped out from a novel. Tanya was showing me pictures of her gay daughter and nephew. Alessandro was gushing over his daughter while we cooed and aaw-ed, and for a moment I felt like my dreams were plausible and my hopes valid.

Finale of the We Shall Overcome concert

Our ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert was moving, and tinged with flashes of disbelief that we were performing at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts! Manasie, our ‘Ms Bisexuale’, turned 24 that night and the entire bar witnessed spontaneous performances from the Pinkies, all at their respective tables, some standing cheering, some holding Manasie’s hand. Like Aditya said, “it was so Pitch Perfect”. The bar management begged us to finally leave and everybody hugged everyone goodnight.

We walked together in the Pride March the next day, beaming at the crowds, dancing to drums and taking pictures. At the farewell party, we confessed gratitude, marvel and a million other things.

It is soothing to imagine those who’re free, liberating to meet them.

Sunday rehearsals with Rainbow Voices really help me – I can turn off autopilot and be my real self. I’ve made good friends who’re all colourful, compassionate people. We can breathe out.

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’.

Next up, the Pinkies plan to bring Rainbow Voices to London! We can’t wait to perform with them again and plan for them to join us at our next concert at Cadogan Hall on 15th July. But we need funds to help make this dream a reality! If you can help bring this wonderful choir to London (you can even come to watch them perform!) you can donate through our website www.pinksingers.co.uk/india2017  or contact chair@pinksingers.co.uk for more information.

Harmonics from Hong Kong

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This summer, the Pink Singers hosted Hong Kong based choir, Harmonics. One of its members, Alex, describes the opportunities the global LGBT+ choir community have opened up for him – and how his Pinkie experiences in London and Dublin have made him feel part of the family! 

August marked the Harmonics choir’s first birthday. My choir and the LGBT choir culture here in Hong Kong is very young, and of course, I am very new to the choir scene. I am not trained in music and I joined the Harmonics just for fun.

Our first gig was a fundraising event for a local charity, AIDS Concern. The song we performed was Truly Brave, a mash-up of Cindi Lauper’s True Colours and Sara Bareilles’ Brave. I had only few rehearsals before the performance as I joined late. Boy, I was so nervous that night! Our music director Matthew Gillespie encouraged us by reminding us that the song had a message and it was up to us to share the importance of being true, heard and seen. I imagined the message being delivered to someone who really needed to hear it in the audience. So I gathered my courage and sang. The message was indeed delivered, and it turned out that the person who needed to hear that message was me. From that night on, I felt that our choir is about more than just singing.

Soon after the gig, I got more involved with the Harmonics and started to manage the choir, but it was not until Hsien from the Pink Singers in London reached out to us on social media, and Richard from the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus visited us, that I realised that there was a huge international LGBT choral community out there. They showed us what we could become.

It was exciting to be invited to visit Dublin and London. I had always wanted to see Ireland and had always loved London. I couldn’t wait to finally meet Hsien, a self-proclaimed choir geek with a collection of weird yet fashionable glasses and his short-shorts and heels-wearing, rather handsome, “dance-y” friends from the Barberfellas. I was also excited to say “hello” to the well-dressed, charming theatrical trio from Dublin’s the Homonics, but, I knew that I was on a mission. I was to meet with the choirs and to learn how they were run.

In order to stick with the oldest LGBT choir in Europe, the Pink Singers, during the trip to Dublin, I had to make myself useful. I was given the nerve-wracking job of page turner, images of me messing up the pages and accidentally elbowing the accompanist flashing in and out my brain. John, who later bonded with me over wine after a stage malfunction, is an experienced pianist. He is pale, calm and always has a subtle friendly smile on his face. He spotted the anxiety in my sweat at the rehearsal and said, “The worst thing a page turner can do is to hold the bottom right corner when they turn. I will nod when the page needs turning. You will be okay.”

It was a lovely evening with the Pinkies. They practiced about a dozen songs and sounded beautiful. John continued to calm and reassure me. Things got a little odd when they sang a song called Hand in Hand. People started to hold hands and some people began to tear up. “Oh my, these people are strange”, I thought. Later I found out that the Pinkies learned the song from the Orlando Gay Chorus 20 years ago. The Pinkies’ thoughts were with those who lost their lives in the recent shooting in Orlando. It was the most emotional rehearsal that I have ever been in.

My trip to Dublin was too short to say anything more than that the people were very proud and friendly, and the city gave a genuine vibe. They had the chattiest and friendliest taxi drivers in the world. I would love to go back to see Dublin and Ireland more.

The award winning Gloria is Dublin’s lesbian and gay choir and has about 60 singers. As I was listening to their chairman Richard telling the story of the choir, I learned that that homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, which was actually two years after Hong Kong. Gloria was founded in 1995, which was 20 years before us. On the verge of exploding with choir envy, I heard that the Irish President had invited Gloria to perform at a banquet he was hosting. Hong Kong has a long way to go for equality compared to Ireland: Ireland has a marriage equality bill while in contrast Hong Kong does not even have an anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT people. I wondered, “Is the success of an LGBT choir the cause or the product of equality? Let’s grow the Harmonics to find out!”

I was pretty good at memorising people’s names until the London Gay Men’s Chorus presented me with an impossible challenge. The LGMC is an entirely different beast from the other choirs. With over 200 men, it is raging on testosterone! They are unapologetically powerful when it comes to protest or marching songs and have a ridiculously long waiting list for new singers. It takes three years of waiting time for a baritone like me to join the chorus. This popular choir was featured at the Natural History Museum, one of my favourite places in London, on the historic day when the United Kingdom announced it was to leave the European Union. It was a sad day for many, but the LGMC left me rather positive. They sang Mister Blue Sky facing my favourite exhibit, the iconic Dippy, inside a magnificent building where nature was recorded and homosexuality was celebrated.

The highlight of my trip was getting to march with the Pink Singers at Pride in London. It was a beautiful sunny day. The Pinkies were in their pink or black t-shirts. Balloons, banners and happy faces painted with rainbows filled our parade. We sang as we marched and the crowd on both sides cheered and sang along, as though we were a group of marathon runners at the finishing line, the difference being that the ovation lasted for almost an hour. It was such an emotional experience and it was the first time I felt publicly celebrated for who I am. All I wished was that my choir could have been there with me to share that moment.

I was even given the chance to sing with the Pink Singers on the stage in Trafalgar Square after the march. The song was Together, the theme song of Pride in London this year.  It was about being true and about our community spirit, an echo of the experience of the night of my first performance in Hong Kong. Again, I felt nervous about singing after only few practices, but again I was empowered and nurtured. “We are a community choir, so while musicality is important, we just value inclusiveness a bit more”, Hsien once told me. The Pinkies do practice what they preach.

In the end, I learned what I anticipated I would learn, and then some. I went from being very eager to become like other established choirs to realising that each choir has its own unique stories and challenges, strengths and charms. I am extremely thankful for what my choir has given me and I am very proud of the community that we build and the passions that we share. Our music director always emphasises how music bridges the gaps. It is so true. Music has brought us all together and now I have a group of friends in Hong Kong, London and Dublin that I call family.

Timeline datestamp: 20 September 2016

#SingForOrlando concert – Mon 20 June

Please join us in solidarity on Monday night.
Five of the UK’s leading choirs come together for one evening in support of the LGBT community and to raise funds for the families mourning the loss of their loved ones.
All proceeds from the event will be distributed directly to the Orlando victims’ families in conjunction with Equality Florida’s ‘Pulse Victims Fund’.
Performances by:
The Adam Street Singers – https://twitter.com/AdamStSingers
Pink Singers – https://twitter.com/PinkSingers
Diversity Choir – https://twitter.com/DiversityChoir
Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir – https://twitter.com/Choir_NHS
London Gay Men’s Chorus – https://twitter.com/LDNGMC
Monday 20 June 7:30pm (doors 7pm)
St Pancras Church, Upper Woburn Place, near Euston
Tickets £10 available from: http://bit.do/SingForOrlando
#SingForOrlando - A Benefit Concert (Flyer)