The 14th Various Voices was held in Munich and 92 choirs took part, from 23 countries. For the “pinkies” it was a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones, and for some it was their first chance to experience the wider LGBT choral world. As the oldest LGBT choir in Europe, the Pinkies’ performances are always well attended and receive a great reception. However, it does mean we put a certain amount of pressure on ourselves to give an outstanding performance for everyone!
Our repertoire in Munich gave us the opportunity to perform songs from a diverse range of musical styles, from the wondrous “Oh Radiant Dawn” for which we received many, many compliments, to Old Pinkie Favourites “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Proud Mary” with full choreography. For me one of the highlights was to see 3 members of the choir perform solos at their first Various Voices.
It was also exciting to see the range of performances from other choirs: from the sheer polish of the established American choirs, to the enthusiasm and joy of the choirs who were attending the festival for the first time. I can only imagine how the choir members from Ukraine, Poland & Turkey felt being part of such an inspiring and emotional 4 days.
Prior to joining the Pink Singers in September 2012, I had always wondered “Why join an LGBT choir?”. Having attended the last two Various Voices, I see that although the countries we live in may all be at different stages in terms of equality and justice for LGBT+ people, we are all travelling on the same journey. The one thing we all know is that singing as part of a group is something very special, and being supportive of other choirs in whatever way we can is a privilege.
Almost half the Pink Singers are in Munich as this post is written, singing at Various Voices in Munich.We wish them much fun. They are singing a selection from our rep for MixTape – and mark my word!– tickets are going quick for our summer concert. With all the lowest-price tickets gone already, get yours ASAP!!
In the meantime, some of us are left in London without a rehearsal this week. Sunny, one of our geeky Sopranos, took the opportunity of a gap in the schedule coinciding with her work 24h “hackathon“** to attempt to write some software to tell her when she is singing amiss to the Pinkies score. Here was the aim:
Take a PDF of Pink Singers music
Write a programme to turn it into a MIDI
Singalong to the backing track and record that singing as a MIDI
Compare those MIDIs and output where the singing is amiss
It turns out that the following is true:
There is software out there that will do some of this for you, but that’s no fun. Start from scratch to learn things!
It’s really hard to turn a PDF of sheet music into an accurate MIDI
Sheet music and MIDI can be represented as MusicXML, which can be read by all sorts of software, like Sibelius and other cheaper software
It’s even harder to turn a vocal recording into an accurate MIDI, if you aren’t an operatically trained singer 🙁 :
However, we got something working:
So, Sunny will be using her new software to make sure that Rainy Days and Mondays and other top tunes are spit-spot for our June 16th Concert. In the meantime, we wish the Pinkies in Muenchen Viel Gluck!! **hackathon – 24h to write computer code as quick as you can
On Saturday June 16th The Pink Singers will be singing songs from our 35th Birthday mix-tape. What songs would be on your favourite compilation?
We thought we’d take the opportunity to introduce you to a handful of the Pinkies Management Committee – those stalwart volunteers who keep the Pinkie machine motoring forward. We asked them what three songs they’d have on their mix-tape, and why.
Scissor Sisters, I don’t feel like dancin’. This reminds me of going to a gay night at Black Sheep Bar in Croydon in my 20s with my best friends and dancing all night, on a Wednesday night. It was so fun and I was just getting to see how fun being gay could be! George Michael and Elton John. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me. Before I got together with my girlfriend I started singing this one day walking along a mountain road in Taiwan and she joined in with me singing the harmony. I loved singing with her and I’ve never looked back! I Choir, written specially for and sung by the Pink Singers. If you haven’t heard it, it’s on our CD “By Special Arrangement” so go – buy it now!
Orbital – ‘Halcyon’. Orbital are my favourite band ever, got into them around aged 16 when I discovered ambient and electro music. This song is a piece of genius and makes me smile every time. bis – ‘Eurodisco’. This song reminds me of dancing my pants off to their gigs so many times across the years, its such a pop tune! Hopefully I will get the chance to dance at many more gigs to come in future. Marvin Gaye – ‘Abraham, Martin & John’. This song reminds me of my mum, she loved Motown and I’d always sing and dance to their albums with her in our house. She brought so much love and light to my life, and like the song says ‘the good die young’. Never forgotten you Mum.
Forever & Ever (Demis Roussos). I threatened to sing this to my fiance on our wedding day, he HATES it! Can you Feel it (The Jacksons). A disco classic that you cannot help but get up and dance to
Wow (Kylie Minogue) Love this song and it should have been a bigger hit! The Pinkies should definitely do a version!
We Can Do Better Than That, from The Last 5 Years by Jason Robert Brown. I could have chosen any song from this musical, or frankly anything by JRB. I love the concept of this show and the perfect way it’s played out. Don’t Rain On My Parade from Funny Girl by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. When the choir went to Manchester last August for Hand in Hand, while everyone else was at the launch party I went to see this musical at the Opera House (a much better night out by my standards 😉 ). I already knew I loved Sheridan Smith (leading the cast) but I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the show. This show recurs throughout the show, firstly as her wanting to impress her boss, and then her husband to be, and then finally as a show of female independence. Into The Words, from Forbidden Broadway (sensing a theme yet?!). I was lucky enough to play the clarinet for an amateur dramatic production of Into The Woods which, unfortunately, and controversially, cemented my dislike for Sondheim musicals. This song provided my with some relief during a long week!
Wahooo! Newbie Mark relives the excitement of our recent concert, A Night At The Movies, the sequel. Which was epic.
I’d been waiting for this day to arrive since I joined the Pink Singers in the Autumn of 2017. With my outfits packed and a bubbling sense of excitement in my belly, I treated myself to an Uber that drove me through Chelsea to Cadogan hall. I thought it quite rare and fortunate that this particular driver was playing a classical compilation CD in his car, which set my anxious and excited mind somewhat to rest as I absorbed the lovely architecture on the way to the hall.
I arrived, and eagerly ran to the door because I was, as always, fashionably late. At the door I was greeted by Penny, elegantly puffing the last embers of a fag before our call, and she directed me down through the somewhat arcane stairways of the former Church of Christian Science to the basement changing rooms. Once downstairs, I was able to greet a few of my chorister comrades before the pre-concert work would begin.
The day was long and hard. We spent it practicing entries and ironing out creases, and I tried my best not to annoy an anxious Murray and poorly Jerome. Our lovely hostess’s sass kept me entertained as we ran through the numbers and the various steps we’d have to take in, out, and about the stage. Seeing the video accompaniment for the first time, I’m once again impressed with the talent that this choir endlessly seems capable of deploying.
At last, a coffee break. A cigarette (or two). And then running through the second half. By now the excitement was welling within me. We had our pre-concert dinner break and I wolfed down the squashed yellow sticker sandwich I’d bought on the way in. Night had fallen and some people were arriving at the hall. I couldn’t wait to see the rows of seats full of our Pinkie friends.
We’ve worked hard on this one. All those Sunday afternoons’ labours were about to come to fruition. I’m lined up on the stairs, taking deep breathes to calm my nerves. Simon informs me that I’ve been referred to as the one with the Tarzan hair. I ruffle my mane in response. Basses and Tenors are joshing about in hushed (not always) voices as we wait for a cue to walk on stage. These moments of pre-performance excitement are my favourite. In this moment, the potential for beauty is almost palpable. I dwell momentarily upon the collective intention, logistcal efforts, thought, planning, practice, talent, and no small measure of love too, is about to collide into a musical explosion.
This is it. My first Pinkie’s concert. I think it was somewhere in the middle of the Indiana Jones theme that I’ve taken my position. I’m scanning the crowd for my brother, but can’t seem to see much past the lights. Of course, I notice a few cute faces in the crowd. There’s so many people! It’s basically a full house! And then there’s the banner of Richard’s face hanging from the balcony. Legendary. Cue the Universal theme, and we’re off!
The first half goes so quickly. It feels like being in an altered state of consciousness, where the music flows our of me without deliberate effort. My whole attention rests on integrating my memory of the music, the auditory information from around me, and the motions of Murray’s hand guiding our collective voice. And the dancing. I’m proud of myself for changing my attitude to choreography. My confidence has grown. I’ve found a new way to express myself.
It’s interval. I should quit smoking… Maybe not just yet. Time for a quick wardrobe change. Gods! This is a damn good looking choir! Adorned in all the colours of the rainbow, these beautiful bodies, voices, and souls stand proud and ready. We’re back, and looking fabulous! My feet hurt, my eyes feel strained, but the adrenaline is coarsing through my veins. I’m giving it my all, playing the congas, shouting about your mum in the tube hole, focusing on keeping time and sensitive dynamics, and not bashing my neighbour when we Flashdance for our final number.
When I was later to see the videos my brother took of some of the performance, I learned that I look so happy when I let myself go and just do the moves without self-doubt. And you know what? I realise how lucky I am to have this space to be my gay self with pride. Being part of this choir has helped me accept myself more as a gay man; an ongoing process for many if not all LGBTQ+ folks. I’ve grown in a way I could never have done otherwise than being a part of this choir. I am grateful for this unique opportunity.
The concert is done, and we’re milling about Cadogan before heading off to the afterparty. I say a few hellos, and all I hear from everyone is about how they absolutely loved it. My brother is impressed, and finally understands why I disappear for hours every Sunday. He can’t believe how professional it was. Born Slippy and O Fortuna were his favourites. I have a last puff on my post concert fag (this really has to stop soon though!) before heading back in to lend a hand setting down the stage. After lugging bits of stage and poles to the van, one of the stage crew asks if I’d like an old confetti cannon that the theatre was throwing out. I jumped at the opportunity, stroking my new one-use toy. I have a plan.
I rush off to the afterparty. Good cheer abides! And what an epic venue – Kirsten is a genius. I can’t quite remember how I got the drinks I did, but they were hardly necessary given the elation one feels post-concert. The bodies are moving. Colours are everywhere. Smiles, joy, new faces and familiar ones, young, and old, and all shapes and sizes. I’m waiting for my moment. The DJ plays Born Slippy. I wait for the wall of sound, poised on the balcony above the dance floor. The beat stops and the moment arrives. I unleash the confetti and it feels like time slows down. Colours flitter in the air. It’s one of those pure and rare peak moments in time. I am happy.
See you next season!
The original performance of ‘A Night At The Movies’ was on 20 January 2018 at Cadogan Hall, London
Friday 1st December marks World Aids Day, and The Pink Singers are singing to raise money for the National Aids Trust. Our thoughtful Communities Rep Jezza writes about his awareness of Aids – both close to home and in Africa and other developing nations, where it is sadly so prevalent today: (For information about the concert see here.) As a creative freelancer, I have spent many years delivering drama workshops around the issue of sexual health. Whilst not medically qualified myself, it is good for me to know as much as I can about the state of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment in the UK, since you never know what questions they might ask! Since 2002, when I started teaching, we have seen so many enormous changes. Recent groups of teenagers I have worked with have been surprised to hear the sort of things I told them about HIV and AIDS back at the turn of the century, let alone hearing about what happened when I was a child in the 1980s. So many amazing and life-changing discoveries have been made since then. We live in an age where some people are celebrating a decade of the virus being undetectable in their bloodstream, and joyfully expecting to live to a good old age. These are joyful changes, but of course, even in this country, some people still struggle to receive the kind of help that makes this kind of life and future possible. For those in other countries, the story can be even bleaker. Some of the pupils say to me ‘Oh, you just take one pill a day and that’s it…who cares?’. Whilst they have a point (to a certain extent) I still don’t think it’s that simple, and certainly it shouldn’t be seen as something that is no longer worth thinking about. Yes, some people remark at how little their HIV positive status impacts upon their life, and that’s wonderful, but many more feel its effects keenly every day. This does not necessarily stop them thriving, but the fight against HIV and AIDS is far from over. Sadly, many people still struggle to thrive at all, and that is still profoundly wrong.
I was born in 1982, and as such, mostly ‘missed’ the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. My forebears were not so lucky. Many remember all too well the pain and horror of losing so many beloved friends. Some members of the Pink Singers have been generous enough to open up to me about that time, and tell me how joining the choir was, sometimes, because they needed that safety of a loving community that understood what they had been through. We cannot underestimate the effect of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder upon our whole community. Even now, when we take a bow at the end of our shows, I know there are a few Pinkies who look to the sky at that moment, and send boundless love to the many friends they lost to AIDS thinking ‘This is for you’. As their hearts swell and their eyes tear up, often, so do mine. Of course the AIDS crisis wasn’t just confined to our global LGBTQ+ family, but it is fair to say that, in the UK at least, we took the brunt of it. We were robbed of a generation of thinkers, doers, lovers, friends, people who may have changed the world for the better if only they had had a chance. Recently, many of us chose to wear red poppies to commemorate the war dead. How many people will wear the iconic Red Ribbon to commemorate approximately 35 million people lost to HIV and AIDS? I know the Pinkies will.
We are being joined at our World AIDS Day Concert by the wonderful ‘Rainbow Singers Across Borders’, from the organisation ‘Rainbows Across Borders’. They are LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers, many from African countries. The continent of Africa has suffered so much from the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS, with Sub-Saharan Africa remaining the most severely affected. According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 1 in every 25 adults are living with HIV and account for nearly two-thirds of the people living with HIV worldwide. At a time when people with HIV and AIDS are still struggling to access the health care they so desperately need (particularly in African countries) at a time when the LGBTQ+ population is under attack from many sides (particularly the trans population currently), we think now is a good time to come together in song. We will be using this event to raise money for the National Aids Trust.
To remember those we lost, to help those who are , thankfully, still here, and to keep fighting on. Keep fighting for justice and truth, for the health and well-being of those we love so much. Keep fighting for those who are no longer able to. We will do it for them, we will do it for us, and we will do it for those who will come next. Our wonderful global family. We really hope you can join us for this very special day. The concert is at 7:30pm on World Aids Day Friday 1st December, at St Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA. Tickets are by suggested donation, and can be found here.