Samantha Tan, Pinkie newbie for our 35th Birthday season, reflects on a season of love, joy, music and Pinkie Magic!
My contact with the Pink Singers started in January this year as an observer when my friend Phil (bass and extraordinary human being) asked if I’d volunteer as backstage crew for his LGBT choir’s concert. As I stood backstage observing the maelstrom of A Night at the Movies: The Sequel chaos and infectious excitement from the singers, a few sentiments distilled themselves. One: They’re all LGBT (news of the day!). Two: They’re having a whale of a time. Three: They’re stinkin’ good!
The notion of an LGBT choir is altogether foreign to me – I grew up in Singapore, where LGBT visibility exists primarily where you know to look for the signs and seek it out. I came out comfortably at 16 and never sought out the local LGBT community. I felt different from my circle of straight friends, but I was happy being an outlier.
At the same time, I had sung in amateur and professional choirs for 10 years up until I was 18. By that point, I had firmly fallen out of love with choral singing. So call it serendipity, or irony, but I call it “Pinkie Magic” I had certainly inhaled that I soon found myself nervously standing in line for my Pink Singers audition this season and wearing my desire to join the Pinkies blazenly on my sleeve.
This whirlwind of a season promised particular excitement as the choir was travelling to Munich for the Various Voices LGBT Choir Festival. My previous choral experience had sent me on similar overseas trips, so I knew what an experience it would be. Munich didn’t disappoint: Watching other choirs performing with such pride, looking around at the crowds knowing that everyone present was at least a strong LGBT ally, having John Flinders (our regular accompanist) conducting us in a concert so well-received we got 2 standing ovations. Lastly, making friends with choirs from politically dissenting countries. These experiences were humbling and inspiring; the latter reminding me that us singing together is a beautifully reckless act. Even as external forces threaten to crush us, we hold our arms open in love.
The concert was upon us in no time at all. Powering through a long tech, I soon found myself pinning on my pink rose, slicking on one last coat of lipstick and step-digging to our opening song Freedom (90). The pre-concert jitters melted away at the sight of the cheering audience. As we closed with a rousing arrangement of What’s Up with our guest choir, Spectrum, I could scarcely believe my first Pinkies concert was over.
I came into my first rehearsal with an inkling that there was something about The Pink Singers. As I bid this season goodbye, and put away crinkled sheet music, I am convinced: The Pink Singers truly are special. And I get to be a part of it.
Tina, our newbie Soprano for this season, tells us how she survived the craziness that is a Pinkies weekend away!
I am a newbie to the Pink Singers having joined them in October 2017. During this time I have begun to get to know a vast number of diverse friendly faces who all share a real commitment and passion for music. Recently there was a planned weekend away for the choir, based at Newland Park in Chalfont St Giles. As a new member I felt very nervous attending this event but also felt excited at the prospect of being involved in a real fun packed weekend of activities all themed around developing our voices, our breathing techniques and more importantly how to work together as a team to produce the professional sound that the Pink Singers have achieved. The weekend began with an evening campfire sing song (given that we were near to November the 5th). All of us huddled around a fire, on a cold dark night, yet the night was lit up with pitch perfect songs that the group spontaneously performed from memory without sheet music. I was really moved by the camaraderie, humour and sense of belonging evoked from this experience.
Saturday had a busy schedule, very well organised with important rehearsals and the chance to gain valuable knowledge about controlling our breathing and hitting high notes from Patrick Jeremy, a professional singer. After a busy day of choir rehearsals, we had a fun-packed evening themed “a night at the movies” with an open-mic night. All Pinkies dressed up for the occasion, we had Smurfs, Cruella Deville, The Joker and Julius Caesar to name but a few. There were some amazing solos, duets and even a performance of the cup song. To finish off the night we had fireworks which seemed to sum up again the sense of belonging to something truly special and memorable.
On Sunday there was more rehearsals and choreography which included a fun dance routine themed on Footlose, this gave us a chance to practice choreographed music and burn a few calories whilst getting valuable feedback on how this music could be interpreted through movement. There were options to attend a quiz or some improvisation classes which I really enjoyed. By the end of the weekend I felt I had developed more connections to other Pinkies, I felt included, had so much fun and felt a real sense of achievement although somewhat tired….., but what a weekend of fun !!!! This choir has a real sense of its own identity and feels more like belonging to a large family and I feel very privileged to be a part of something so energetic, committed and creative. Save
Fresh off the back of our latest weekend away, which was rehearsal packed, choreography tight and party’tastic, newbie alto Eleonore sums up what it meant to her…
I was a little nervous on Friday morning as I trammelled my luggage with me to work, carrying what I hoped were all the essentials you might need for a Pinkie Weekend Away: sheet music, bottles of wine, tea-time snacks and more costume changes than you’d expect for a two-night retreat.
Despite the excellent, colour-coded schedule and very thorough brief, I really didn’t know what to expect from the upcoming trip. The choir itself may have been celebrating its 34th birthday, but I was still brand new. Being a newbie always feels a little tricky, even in such kind and welcoming company as the Pink Singers – you’re still playing catch-up, trying to insinuate yourself into conversations that are already underway, and hoping the in-jokes don’t fly too far over your head.
Little did I know, over the next two days, the warmth, kindness and inclusivity of everyone in the choir would turn these anxieties into unfounded nonsense.
The flats, when we arrived into Newlands Park, were basic but cosy, surrounded by real greenery and the kind of oxygen you get to breathe once you’ve ventured out of central London. The place had been sprinkled with little welcoming touches; our names on the doors and festive bunting in a communal kitchen that brought back strong memories of evening pre-drinks before a night out in the Student Union.
Dinner during our stay felt like a similarly school-like affair, with canteen-style trays and an assembly line of courses complete with fluorescent-coloured tubs of jelly. Simple, but perfectly tasty stuff (or as Simon announced, in typically British understatement, really not unpleasant!)
Over the next two days I got a real crash-course in choir life, alternating between serious rehearsals, informal singalongs, intense vocal workshops, educational choreography sessions, organised down-time activities (including Jeremy’s yoga and improv theatre class, and Sunny’s outdoor sports-day) and, inevitably, a whole lot of drinking and dancing.
Both Saturday and Sunday morning were, naturally, slightly groggy starts following the previous nights’ festivities, but bleary-eyed though we were, it was frankly inspiring to see – even amidst the light-hearted grumblings from the tired and hungover – how much effort was put in by everybody to show up and sing out. Special thanks should go to John and Murray especially for managing to keep us alert and in tune despite the croaky voices and droopy eyelids (… ours, not theirs.)
During the afternoon sessions over the Saturday and Sunday, we were lucky enough to have two experts giving their time and knowledge to help us. Emily, a choreographer and dance teacher, led us in a Bob Fosse workshop in which we were taught basic moves like the waft-walk, the flamingo, and the boxing kangaroo (note: probably not the real names). After that, we were let loose on the full choreography to Chicago’s ‘All That Jazz’, an opportunity which was met with great enthusiasm, if not always perfect results. I imagine even the least seasoned dancers would agree that this whole session was hugely fun, informative, and really gave us an expert’s insight into how to move our bodies – all lessons learnt to be applied in the next choreo rehearsal, of course…
Sunday’s session was with Andrea, a singing teacher, who worked with us on timing, projection, tone, and expression – all the nitty-gritty details that fine-tune a performance. It was fascinating to hear her take on what needed working on and why, and it gave us a chance, too, to really show what we could do. I think everyone stood a little straighter and sang out a little prouder that afternoon, to prove Andrea’s attention to us worthwhile.
Andrea also led individual workshops that day with Claire and Jeremy, who both stunned us with their beautiful renditions of chosen songs – Claire reduced half our row to tears with her piece, while Jeremy’s Hugh Jackman-esque tenor sailed impressively through the room. It takes a lot to stand up and perform, and even more to be critiqued in front of everyone while doing it, so special thanks has to go to the pair for allowing us to watch and learn through their session.
And speaking of performing – Saturday night’s fun kicked off with an open-mic session in the festively-decorated hall that was to play host to our much-anticipated 90s disco, complete with glow-sticks and multicoloured balloons.
We were treated to an incredible range of performances – from beautiful acoustic three-part harmonies, to a singalong 90s medley, and even a Pinkie-spin on gangster rap, the length and breadth of the Pinkies’ talents were showcased that evening in brilliant fun, good humour and with a whole lot of love.
A special performance of The Backstreet Boys’ I Want it That Way from the newbies (and a fumbled turn accompanying on guitar by yours truly) went down a storm and rounded off the set of performances that evening that were all met with rousing applause. If I had any lingering doubts that there was anything to be unsure or nervous about as a newbie in the choir, this was the moment it was done with.
The rest of the night was given to dancing – the choreography to Steps and S Club 7 was broken out, and we naturally found ourselves harmonising to classic 90s boy bands with increasing enthusiasm (and corresponding tunelessness) as the night went on and the drinks were drunk.
There’s a moment that comes during the evening, when you step back and look at yourself, sweaty and covered in glitter, jumping up and down in five-inch platform heels, yelling out the lyrics to D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better and you think – well. Things are pretty damn good now, too.
Home time on Sunday rolled around all too soon, though, and after tea in the sunshine on the lawn, with hefty wedges of delicious cake, contemplative and mellow and satisfyingly tired, it was time to get back on the coach and make our way back to London, a little sleepy, but still scrolling through phone snaps to hold onto the memories just a little longer.
One last memory that I’ll treasure in particular: Saturday night, going down to dinner with a group of spectacularly talented, warm, unique individuals, dressed to the nines in party gear – wigs, skirts, glitter, pom-poms, ties, suits, face-paint – a myriad of self-expression and peculiarities descending upon the cafeteria. Suddenly we find ourselves accosted by a group of schoolchildren on a foreign exchange, small faces upturned, curious, excited, open. Not a moment of judgment seems to cross their minds. A little girl asks where she can find boots that look like that. An excited-looking boy begs for a go on the cheerleader’s pom-poms.
Quietly at first, and then louder, a song starts up – my mama told me when I was young, we’re all born superstars. It’s a real-life Moment with a capital M as the song grows in volume and our voices join up in harmony. The schoolteachers smile and laugh and film us, and encourage the kids to clap and sing along, though they barely need telling, excited as they are.
Community outreach, Phillip called it afterwards, as he readjusted his wig and waved the kids goodbye. I felt incredibly moved. I’d never much felt like I was part of a community, before.
Thanks, Pink Singers, for making me feel like a part of yours.
A new season and a new wonderful group of newbie Pinkies set sail on our pink ship. We asked our new bass Francesco what music means to him and why he decided to become a Pinkie, after his world travels landed him in London. Singing. Just singing. I missed it so badly. I moved to London earlier this year, at the beginning of January. Of Italian origins – my name easily betrays me – I spent the last seven years of my life in Barcelona, where I finished my studies. By now a little piece of my hearth is Spanish and, to my utmost frustration, so is my accent when I speak Italian. Music has been a part of my life since I was little. As a kid I was forced into my village music school – I have a clear memory of my mother asking which instrument I wanted to play, and not whether I wanted to play one at all. In hindsight, I couldn’t be more grateful for that. I have so many great memories of playing the cello. I always enjoyed it the most when together: duets with the piano or with my sister on the violin, trios, quartets, orchestras, etc. When I finally turned into college material, I dropped the bow to focus on my studies – that was the plan at least. But, in fact, music always found his way to drag me into a new, unplanned, adventure. That is how, I ended up spending many Saturdays of my twenties in bars, with an indie-rock band, playing the electric cello (not quite the outcome my mother was hoping for, I believe). Also, as an exchange student in Portugal, I joined a tuna – a sort of university band voted to polyphonic mockery of college life [Editor – ha! Tuna!] . In Brazil (yet another exchange period) I joined a samba percussion group. In Barcelona I was back in an orchestra… Long story short, no matter how hard I would tell myself I was too busy, I have always the time to let music distract me. This is how, four years ago, I auditioned for the newly born Barcelona Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC). I sang with them as a bass ever since, never missed a concert. That was one of the best musical experiences of my life: the companionship among singers, the flow of adrenaline going back and forth with the public, the body resonating with the harmony of the ensemble. It makes me feel so alive and so happy, every single time. It’s a chemistry I do not understand and yet one of the biggest pleasures of my life. And in the process I gained friends, a real family of people that shared with me the alchemy of making music together. Finally, when I decided to move to the UK and I was kissing my BGMC friends goodbye, I remember Matteo’s advice – quoting verbatim he would say: “Francesco, once in London you should audition for the Pink Singers. They are very good. And they party very hard.”
So, time to unpack my luggage, settle in the new flat, find my balance at work… and I was already showing all the symptoms of vocal abstinence. I had to follow Matteo’s wise advice. So I reached out to the Pinkies for an audition. Next thing I know I was on a trial rehearsal, being so happy I could not help smiling like a loser all the way through it. It was such an energy booster. I didn’t actually realise how much I missed it since that moment. And fingers crossed, legs broken and a pretty lame audition later, I was actually embarked on a pink ship headed towards the next concert season! I am super excited about this new adventure and greatly thankful for the welcoming reception of the choir. I just need to apologise in advance to my new choir friends for all the times I ask everyone’s names again. Memory was never my strength. I really hope that in time I will have occasion to know the choir all a little better and eventually gain a little spot in their Pinkie heart. Even if @LaLaLondon it is always another day of rain, if feels very sunny to me each time we meet! Save Save Save Save
In the second of our post-concert blogs, we hear from newbie tenor Andrew:
I ended up staying awake late last night thinking of the right word to sum up my feelings towards my first Pink Singers concert (it feels like it happened just yesterday, but I’ve been reliably informed that it was actually a week ago). Dictionary.com ended up being very little help. How do you combine all the feelings and emotions of *that* performance?
On the one hand, Saturday’s concert was exhausting. As a newbie, I had been warned that the day was going to be a long one. Technical rehearsals started at midday and ran pretty much up until the audience started taking their seats. It probably also didn’t help that I was up until 2am the night before adding glittery stickers to an otherwise dull pair of Primark plimsolls. If it wasn’t for my deep reserves of cereal bars and pasta pots, I’m not sure I would have made it through.
The final few minutes before the concert werevaguely terrifying too, not least because I hadn’t had a chance to try my new pair of black trousers on and was only 20% sure that they would fit at all. I’ve performed in front of audiences in the past – and loved doing so – but I suddenly realised how long it had been. The last time I had sung on stage, I was young enough that my mum had made my costume and my voice was an octave higher. The idea of performing in front of my friends, family, and hundreds of others that had paid actual real life money to see us was suddenly quite nerve-wracking in a way I hadn’t expected.
The concert itself was a rush. Both in that it was a massive adrenaline rush, and that it all seemed to rush by in no time at all. I wish I could have had more time to savour every moment of it, but before I knew it we’d sung our songs and the audience was on their feet cheering. Our two amazing guest choirs had knocked it out of the park, and we’d delivered our best performances of the season so far.
I also found myself feeling quote emotional throughout. I had always understood the vague concept of this season’s concert, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England in Wales, but I didn’t properly appreciate how our songs would bring the audience on this journey. Where have we come from and where are we now? What successes should we celebrate, and where do we need to continue the fight, both at home and abroad? I got the impression that everyone in the choir approached the topic from their own unique perspective and based in their own personal experiences. I know that I certainly did. Our performances were certainly more powerful for it.
So despite my long search, I’m yet to find a word that sums up everything I felt on that Saturday. The closest that I’ve been able to find is proud. Cheesy I know, but it’s true. Proud of my fellow Pinkies for delivering the most amazing performance on the night that gave me goosebumps just to be a part of it. Proud of everyone on the artistic team and management committee who had put in far more time and effort than I had to make the night such a massive success. Proud of the amazing performances from Out Aloud and Rainbow Voices Mumbai (who I don’t think I will ever forget). Most of all though, I felt proud of myself.
This was my first concert with the Pinkies, but it’s not going to be my last. How could I turn down the opportunity to sing again with such a lovely and talented group of people? Last Sunday’s hangover might have faded, but the memories never will. Bring on concert number two!
Can’t wait to get your next Pink Singers fix? This August, we’ll be performing as part of the Hand in Hand Festival in Manchester (Celebrating LGBT+ choirs in the UK and Ireland). The concert will also feature Sing Out Bristol and Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus. Tickets are only £7 and going quickly!