Seoul Survivor

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!

Hand in Hand Seoul 2017

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.

Socializing over BBQ, beer and soju

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.

Impromptou choreo rehearsal

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.

Celebrating Marriage Equality in Taiwan

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!

Proud Voices choir

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.

Timeline datestamp: 04 July 2017

Hand In Hand with Pride

Philip
Philip

Following a wonderful weekend in Brighton at the Hand in Hand Festival, tenor Philip reflects on the song that gave the festival its name, and looks forward to Pride in London on the 27th June, with its theme of Pride Heroes.
As of April I have been with the Pink Singers for 28 years, which is about 70 in gay years. In that time I have sung many different pieces, from the classical to the camp, from the profound to the political, often in the same song!  Some continue to have a very special meaning for me. This is the story of one of them, Hand in Hand; a song which has become almost an anthem for the Pink Singers.
Hand In Hand was written by American composers Dawn Walker & Tricia Rodgers in 1987. I first heard it when the Pink Singers sang in Denver, Colorado in 1992 at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Festival. Around 60 choruses from the US and Canada attended with the Pinkies representing Europe (alongside Schola Cantorosa from Hamburg). Those were difficult days both at home and in America with anti-gay legislation and the impact of AIDS hitting us hard.  In this context the words of the song struck a chord with us and we brought it back to London. It soon became a favourite with our audiences and the title of our first CD. The live version on that recording still brings a lump to my throat.
Hand in Hand 2013Hand 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. 
A particularly poignant performance took place at the memorial service in St Anne’s Churchyard, Soho, for the people who were killed and injured in a nail-bomb attack in the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho on 30 April 1999. The bar in Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s LGBT+ community, was packed with drinkers at the start of the bank holiday weekend. Two people were killed and over 30 injured. The Soho community gathered together a week later and the choir led the singing with Hand in Hand.
In 2004 Pride London was founded. And over 30,000 people were tempted to central London for a parade and rally in Trafalgar Square. Pride gives the LGBT+ community the chance each year to celebrate, demonstrate and show visibility and support to people still coming out. By 2004 some felt the event had lost focus with overblown ticketed pop festivals undermining the purpose of Pride and alienating many groups in the community. The first London March was in August 1971 organised by the Gay Liberation Front and we ended up then in Trafalgar Square where I took part in a piece of street theatre called “Choosing the Chicken”(!) about the age of consent.
PridePride 2004 was an attempt to return to grass roots and as such the Pink Singers were asked to open the afternoon’s events in the Square by singing “Hand in Hand”, the perfect song for the occasion. We sang it again in 2005, this time closing the rally with the words on the big screen for everyone in the square to sing along. Seeing the crowds in the Square from the stage under Nelson’s Column is very thrilling, a forest of raised joined hands in a real display of the song’s message.
In July 2013 we invited LGBT+ choirs from around the UK and Ireland to help us celebrate our thirtieth anniversary with a festival of song which we called Hand in Hand. We were joined by 17 LGBT+ choirs and individual members of other choirs at the Troxy in East London for a memorable evening of choral togetherness. Never did the words of the song seem more relevant.
We are delighted that the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus and Rainbow Chorus have carried on the festival and successfully hosted a wonderful weekend – see Ben’s reflections below for more! #HandinHand

Hand in Hand Hits Brighton

Ben P

The Pink Singers went to Brighton to join 17 other LGBT choirs from all over the UK and Ireland at the second bi-annual choir festival, Hand in Hand. Bass Ben give us the low down…

The Pink Singers hosted the first festival back in 2013 at the Troxy, London and we’d been looking forward to the next one for months, so I was really excited to be escaping from work early on Friday afternoon to head down to the coast for a great weekend of singing with friends old and new.

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Hand in Hand is like a bubble of workshops, concerts and socialising. There’s lots of singing and not a lot of sleep. Our Friday evening started at the Old Ship on the seafront where we met some of our fellow choirs, nearly all of whom we’ve performed with in the past. In the 9 years I’ve spent in the choir I’ve been privileged to meet some amazing people all over the country and it’s always brilliant to see familiar faces coming together.

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Bright and early on the Saturday morning we were off to Brighton Dome to register. A few hours later and after a couple of workshops (“Asian Jazz Improvisation”, anyone!?) it was time for the first of the main concerts which was preceded by the first ever Brian Kennedy Long Service Awards. As one of the two original founders of the Pink Singers, Brian did a huge amount of work for the gay community in London and created a place for people to come together and sing. Incredibly, his legacy lives on today in the Pink Singers that I am proud to be a part of and I’m incredibly grateful to him and Mark Bunyan for deciding to get a group of singers in a room and start note bashing. During the awards it was brilliant to see so many singers who have sung in their own choirs for ten and twenty years. I look forward to my bronze medal at the next Hand in Hand!

Hand in Hand June 2015

We were delighted to open the evening concert to a packed house full of friends, family, and participating choirs. I was really proud to sing two of my husband’s arrangements –’Smells like teen spirit’ and ‘Relax’. Our songs were incredibly well received and hearing the applause from an audience who really know what it’s like to be part of a choir and singing with your friends on stage was a brilliant moment, even for a cynic like me.

Hand in Hand June 2015

Our performance was over in just a few minutes and we were able to watch all of the other fabulous performances from the likes of our hosts Rainbow Chorus and Brighton GMC, Diversity, Sing out Bristol and the Deep C Divas. Whilst all the performances were brilliant, two really struck a chord for me: LGMC’s performance of ‘Through the Barricades’ accompanied by a video of the difficulties many thousands of LGBT people continue to face around the world was a stark reminder of how lucky we were to be sat in a concert hall packed full of people who have the liberty and freedom to be honest with the world about who they are, largely without any difficulty. In addition, formed as part of the campaign for a yes vote  at the Irish same-sex marriage referendum, Tá for Grá gave an equally moving (if a bit more lighthearted!) performance of ‘Sew on a sequin’ reminded us to be fabulous, even when the going is tough.

Hand in Hand June 2015

I left Brighton on Sunday knackered, hungover, sounding a little hoarse and ready for an early night. More than anything else, I left feeling happy and lucky to be part of such an amazing group of people. The next Hand in Hand takes place in Manchester but isn’t for two whole years! It seems like an eternity to wait, but we’re already looking forward to it.

The Pink Singers started the Hand in Hand series in 2013.

Timeline datestamp: 11 June 2015

Hand in Hand: guest choirs uniting to perform en masse!

Jerome, UK Concerts Director
Jerome, UK Concerts Director

This Saturday, when you come along to Hand in Hand – our 30th anniversary festival, you won’t just be watching us Pinkies! We’ll be joined by a whole host of other LGBT choirs from around the country. Not got your ticket yet? Buy yours now!
Joining us to sing along as part of the massed choir in Saturday’s evening concert, we welcome London Alternative Choir; Southampton Gay Men’s Chorus; Rainbow Voices, Birmingham; Liverpool LGBT Singers; Northern Proud Voices, Newcastle, and Many Voices, London!

London Alternative Choir

London Alternative Choir is a choir composed of capable amateur singers, created with the aim to entertain, meet like-minded people, and raise the visibility of people and collectives with alternative lifestyles. Continue reading “Hand in Hand: guest choirs uniting to perform en masse!”

Hand in Hand guest choir spotlight: Diversity

Michelle, New Members and Social Secretary
Michelle, New Members and Social Secretary

This Saturday, when you come along to Hand in Hand – our 30th anniversary festival, you won’t just be watching us Pinkies! We’ll be joined by a whole host of other LGBT choirs from around the country. Buy your ticket now!
Another local choir joining us on Saturday is the fabulous Diversity!

All about Diversity

Diversity is London’s LGBT community chamber choir. The choir was formed in 1992 with the aim to sing classical music, along with the best choral music from a diverse mix of other genres.

Diversity, London
Diversity, London

They have developed and grown over the years from a small group of friends to being 50-strong with recent performances at venues such as the Southbank Centre and St Martin-in-the-Fields. Beyond their concerts, they are also actively engaged, along with London’s other LGBT singing groups, in a wide variety of community festivals, events and projects. Continue reading “Hand in Hand guest choir spotlight: Diversity”