With just over a month until our next concert, A Night At The Movies – The Sequel, we thought we’d find out how Chris Chambers, one of our home-grown arrangers, goes about his craft.
The Pink Singers’ concert repertoire comprises a superb collection of songs from movies, in a variety of styles. Although we acquire some rights for existing arrangements, we are lucky enough to have several talented Pinkies who arrange beautiful songs especially for us. Chris has been doing this for several years, so we thought we’d quiz him on how the magic happens. Here it is in his own words:
STEP 1: THE SONG
The announcement of the concert theme is succeeded by a lengthy trawling of internet ‘top 100’ lists. I also see if I can sneakily find a tenuous link between my favourite pieces of music and the theme in question. The list of suggested repertoire is released for the Music Team’s consideration which is also a good time to sway opinion. And drink wine. Then I wait to see what the Artistic Team would like to offer me.
STEP 2: THE ARRANGEMENT
As a teacher this is normally done in my holiday repose after a certain amount of dread and much procrastination. In the final 2 days of my six week holiday I set up the laptop, turn the telly on in the background (somehow this makes it seem like less of a formal commitment to hours of work) and place the first of a multipack of Diet Coke on the digital piano. I then spend hours playing the same chords over and over again, much to the delight of my husband, until I stumble accidentally on something I like.
Four hours later this is all securely entered into the music notation software. The play button is pressed and the afternoon’s work is duly deleted. When eventually completed the score is emailed to the Artistic Team 4-7 times to rectify numerous omissions, errors and changes of heart. Sadly the hours spent listening to and playing my favourite songs over and over again render me insensitive to the reasons I liked them in the first place.
STEP 3: REALISATION
The rights have been successfully obtained and it is the exciting first rehearsal with the choir. Some parts of the arrangement instantly come to fruition. There is a certain degree of disappointment with some of my decisions and my unreasonable expectation that everyone should sing it perfectly from the first read through. These hugely narcissistic thoughts fed by an extreme fear of inadequacy are usually allayed by the second rehearsal. The ensuing sense of achievement and satisfaction is punctuated with occasional trips from my rehearsal chair to the musical director to highlight yet more omissions, errors and changes of heart.
STEP 4: POST-CONCERT
Of course, everything works out well in the end. I vow not to do any more arrangements due to the emotional turmoil. The theme of the next concert is revealed. I remember that I am incredibly lucky to be an amateur having their work performed by such a vast and able choir and repeat Step 1. A Night At The Movies – The Sequel will be performed by The Pink Singers at Cadogan Hall on Saturday 20th January. Tickets are on sale here.
Which Pinkie has webbed feet? Who was awarded not one, but two Blue Peter badges? Meet the team who make up this year’s new Management Committee to find out!
Simon – Chair
Interesting fact: A lesser-known fact about me is that I’m a lapsed runner – in 2010 I ran the London marathon and it was painfully epic! Favourite Pinkie song: With A Lily In Your Hand – it’s a setting of a beautiful and unusual love poem by Federico García Lorca; it’s full of lush chords, ostinato rhythms and contrasts.
Zoe – Events Manager
Interesting fact: My cousin is one of only two people to have won the Cycling Triple Crown. I can just about cycle around the park (as long the path is flat).
Favourite Pinkie song: Chandelier: the choir sang it to us nearly-newbies, and I loved it so much. I was so happy when I sang it when we went to Dublin and Amsterdam.
Penny – Soprano Section Leader
Interesting fact: I neither love nor hate marmite.
Favourite Pinkie song: Send in the Clowns – when I first auditioned for the choir, the current members sang it to us; it was amazing and really made me want to be a Pinkie.
Ben – Tenor Section Leader
Interesting fact: I’m a complete ‘cynophile’, a person who loves dogs!
Favourite Pinkie song: With a Lily in Your Hand – my first season! It was extremely tough to learn, but sounded amazing in the end!
Nicola – Multimedia Director
Interesting fact: I was once charged by a hippo in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park.
Favourite Pinkie song: Jai Ho– I saw the Pinkies perform it and hoped I always would too. I did, in my first Pinkies’ concert in fact, complete with choreography!
Simon – Artistic Director
Interesting fact: I am a very keen horticulturalist enjoying growing vegetables on my allotment.
Favourite Pinkie song: Both Sides Now – I’m a big Joni Mitchell fan and a huge admirer of our very talented arranger, Chris Chambers who did a stunning job.
Alice – Alto Section Leader
Interesting fact: One of my passions is travel, and especially to climb mountains. I always find the highest mountain wherever I go!
Favourite Pinkie song: I loved singing a song in Mandarin and Hokkien when we went to Taiwan to sing in the first Asian LGBT choral festival last year. It was hard but we got such a big round of applause at the end (or was it sympathy?!).
Jerome – Concerts Producer
Interesting fact: I love skiing and travelling. My father makes the best waffles in the world with a recipe from my gran.
Favourite Pinkie song: hard to pick a favourite song but one that took the choir through challenging times was Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns. I love it for its meaning and amazing chords.
Kirsten – Publicity Director
Interesting fact: I have visited 33 countries in the past two years.
Favourite Pinkie song: Love Song for a Vampire. We sang it at a Secret Enchanted Ball and ended up nearly choking on feathers that were being sprinkled onto our heads as we sang; it’s those bizarre situations that I would never otherwise find myself in that love about being in the choir.
Paul – Bass Section Leader
Interesting fact: My favourite colour is red, my favourite food is lasagne, my favourite drink is dark spiced rum and I have webbed toes on my right foot!
Favourite Pinkie song: My Pinkie highlight to date is singing Relax at the ‘By Special Arrangement’ concert. It is so dark and dramatic, a really powerful piece.
Zoe – Membership Secretary
Interesting fact: I absolutely love playing board games and cards and once played bridge with one of the top ten Bridge Masters in the USA.
Favourite Pinkie song: This Woman’s Work has to be close. A beautiful arrangement of a powerful song.
Rosie – Secretary
Interesting fact: My proudest achievement is winning two Blue Peter badges. I don’t need much encouragement to wear them…
Favourite Pinkie song: Make You Feel My Love – I thought this was a beautiful arrangement (thanks to the inimitable Chris Chambers!).
Jezza – Communities Director
Interesting fact: Not many people know that my first word was a Cantonese swearword, i couldn’t possibly reveal it 😉
Favourite Pinkie song: ah, so many… but our recent arrangement of September tugged at my heartstrings in many special ways and made me glad to be a Pinkie.
Bass Gary shares his favourite things about being a Pinkie: Someone asked me the other day what I enjoyed most about being a member of the Pink Singers and it took me a while to answer – when I joined I couldn’t have imagined the diverse range of things I would get up to! Over the last few years the choir has performed at LGBT choral festivals in Dublin and Brighton, taken part in a choral competition in Manchester, and visited Reykjavik and Mallorca to sing with their respective LGBT choirs. And this summer we are off to Amsterdam for the Ama-SING festival! We have also recorded two CDs since I joined in 2012 and I have also performed on stage in Trafalgar Square during Pride in London.
The trips are great fun – you get to build on friendships within the choir and enable you to make friends with members of other LGBT choirs – for example a large group of us now have an annual skiing holiday together! We organised a 30th Anniversary ball, arranged several residential weekends away, tackled the Crystal Maze – and I have made friends with people who I would never had the opportunity to meet if I hadn’t joined the choir. These things have all been amazing – however the one thing that stands out is our concerts.
One Night Only will be the eighth concert I’ve done with the Pinkies, and it will be the accumulation of four months’ hard work learning showtunes, opera and operetta pieces – as well as our renowned choreography! I am always in awe of our artistic team, who every season pull everything together into a show that has the required level of what we like to call ‘Pinkie Magic’. This season includes favourites from Les Miserables, Wicked and My Fair Lady to name but a few, and promises to be a memorable night for our audience. I will still get nervous before the show, it will all go too quickly, and I will look back on it and think ‘wasn’t that awesome’ – for me, nothing else we do gives such a buzz! The whole choir takes immense pride in our performances and if the reception is anything like previous concerts it will make it an amazing experience for all of us. So if you’ve haven’t done so already, please book your tickets here before they all go – and I promise I’ll wave to you from the fourth row of the bass section!
Paul: Bass Section Leader Singing around the bonfire at Brantridge was a very moving moment for me. I’ll never forget it. It was very intimate and I really felt part of something special from that moment on! Singing on the stage at Pride this year was also a slight ‘pinch myself’ moment. Teddy: Treasurer John’s Clair de Lune piano piece in our ‘Night at the Movies’ concert. It was meant to be a ‘filler’ track while we transitioned on/off stage; however his finesse at playing this piece had the audience captivated. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Kirsten: Marketing Director The Lisbon trip in 2012. The whole weekend – sunshine, singing, love and laughter, concerts and (mainly) caipirinhas – really catapulted me into the pinkie family!
David: Artistic Director My favourite ‘Pinkie’ moment (to date) is being invited to sing with the choir at No.10 Downing Street to celebrate equal marriage.
Simon: Chair Campfire singing on our weekend away, being invited to countless Pride after-parties by our Reykjavik hosts, running choral and choreography workshops at the Southbank Centre’s Chorus festival, helping put together our lottery-funded exhibition ‘Singing The Changes’…
Giancarlo: Tenor Section Leader It’s a tie between singing every song we knew at the top of our lungs on our train carriage returning from Manchester, or marching with everyone in the Pride parade!
Jerome: Concerts Producer Getting a standing ovation in Iceland as guest choir and so much enthusiasm from the audience during and after the concert, including people recognising us in the streets afterwards. Well, surely the whole Iceland trip was a favourite moment.
Mark: Events Officer My first ever overseas trip with the Pinkies to Montreal in 2004.
Nicola: Multimedia Director Singing the entire back catalogue of Pinkie songs on a train ride from Manchester to London.
Rachel: Membership and Social Secretary I liked the anniversary ball. I liked my outfit! Also, the Hollywood glamour party. I liked everybody’s outfits!
Lucy: Soprano Section Leader Taking part in the Night at the Movies concert with lots of my friends in the audience. I loved singing all of the repertoire and the feeling of success at mastering the brilliant choreography – I even got to do a little solo ‘dance’ at the beginning of Dolly’s 9-5! Sarah: Communities Officer Proud Mary-ing on the back of the float in the Athens Pride Parade in 2011. It didn’t last long but for an hour or two we all felt like superstars! Athens definitely knew how to party; what a wonderful day and what absolutely amazing hosts!
Tenor Hsien sat down with Paul Selous and Rob Kielty, who were in the Pink Singers in the late nineties and early noughties, to find out what it was like to be Pinkies at the turn of the millennium.
Hsien (HC):Hi Paul and Rob, thanks for joining me. When did you join the Pink Singers and how did that happen? Paul (PS): I joined the Pink Singers in 1997, from 1997 to 2003. I was working for a lesbian and gay radio station with a temporary licence in London called Freedom FM and I went to an Amsterdam lesbian and gay radio station to see whether we could do a matching up or co-ordination together, and I saw this CD on the producer’s desk and I asked “What’s that?” He said, “That’s from Various Voices”, and I said, “What’s that?” “Well, it’s a lesbian and gay choir festival.” “That’s interesting…” It was about 1996, so I actually went to Various Voices in 1997 in Munich just as an audience member. I loved it so much I thought, “Well, I’m going to join the Pinkies.” I used to sing at school, but life took over and I hadn’t done it since then. I knew how choral music worked, but I couldn’t sight read and still can’t sight read. I was a bit nervous at the first rehearsal which was at the Drill Hall. There were probably about forty people in the choir, slightly more men, with a third women, just before they were awarded a national lottery grant to get more women involved. Rob (RK): I joined in 1999, the balance was slipping the other way at that stage. There were more women than men. It really seemed to be the more typical mixed choir balance where you have lots of women and it is quite difficult to find men. It helped that the Drill Hall was a lesbian bar one day in the week, so the women knew it well. Our rehearsals were on Sundays, 2 to 5pm. PS: I really liked the Drill Hall as a rehearsal venue. I liked the vegetarian café in there. I know that some people were not quite so keen on it. RK: I have happy memories of pizzas and dodgy pastries! I moved down from the Midlands and a friend of mine from university wanted to come along and join the choir and she asked whether I’d come along to support her. The interesting thing is that she came, stayed for a couple of rehearsals and then went off to join the [Diversity] chamber choir, but I stayed behind. I enjoyed the opportunity to get out and meet people from different places, and I did really enjoy the repertoire. We were preparing for a concert at the time, in Deptford I think it was, which was my first concert, and a lot of the songs we sang went on to the first CD, although I don’t think that was the intention at the time. It was just great to get involved with something with a performance in it because it was a lot of fun. We’d sing two concerts a year, and performances in-between for people who asked really. We didn’t do much in the way of paid concerts I don’t think but we did things which we thought were worthwhile events. We did a concert for a women’s refuge on the City Road. The events did not have to be gay-specific, but we always did Pride which still continues. PS: We sang on the big stage as the backing group for a boyband called A1. We did ‘Take On Me’ on the big stage in front of tens of thousands of people. The song was top of the charts at the time we were on stage. RK: They were pretty big at the time, I guess they’d be the equivalent of Olly Murs or one of the manufactured boybands nowadays. PS: When I started there were 3 musical directors: Mladen did most of the stuff, Kim – who I think was also with Diversity Choir – did the jazz stuff like ‘Java Jive’ and ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’, and Michael Derrick did show tunes, things like ‘If We Hold On Together’. We performed in Dublin after I joined. We performed at what was normally a lesbian night, it was the first time they let men in, and Michael was both the pianist and the musical director. We had to stand on benches lined up by the walls. It was because we had invited Gloria to sing with us at the Royal Academy of Music, and they invited us back. They said, “We’ve not got a performance space, but you can come to the lesbian bar.” RK: Michael did a lot of arrangement and he did most of the arrangement for our concerts. PS: After a couple of years Mladen became the main MD. We used to go abroad once a year but Mladen didn’t have a passport, and couldn’t travel with us for performances. It wasn’t certain that he was going to be able to stay in London, which is why it took a while for him to take over the choir. HC:Were there any particular songs which stood out for you? RK: Oh yes, ‘The Spirit Song’. At the time we had a non-religious policy but we had a music teacher who came up with this song; it was a primary school song which she had written for the kids to sing and she wanted us to perform it. The choir was an inclusive choir and we like to encourage people to contribute; the problem is when nobody else is contributing and somebody does, you kinda have to do it. It was a spiritual song and it was just really singy-songy. There was a huge controversy about it and we actually put it to a vote, and half the choir chose to sing it and half the choir chose to sit it out. It was a bit difficult at the time because we were doing a Christmas concert and we had some Christmas songs and some people felt very uncomfortable as well about singing Christmas-themed music. PS: I have a tape of the choir singing ‘The 12 days of Christmas’ with slightly racier lyrics. I remember singing ‘Ave Verum [Corpus]’ where we just used the word “Ah” and not the text. RK: For some people it was a big bone of contention at the time – it was part of the constitution. I think it has been removed now, which is good because it opens up a range of music. Some people felt very strongly about it: gay and lesbian people have a long history of persecution by religious people, especially Christian people, and there was that kind of feeling that we can’t engage in this kind of thing, and moving away from it and shunning it. PS: We performed a week after the Admiral Duncan was bombed, and we performed in the church in Soho, and we were actually asked to sing some hymns, and I think there was controversy about that. We were sort of half tricked into it: we thought we’d be singing non-religious songs to commemorate the people who lost their lives, but then we were pushed, asked, persuaded to do the hymns as well. There was unease that we were asked to do that. RK: We didn’t really have a set of songs for these kinds of events. We’d tend to rotate things round. If in doubt we’d sing ‘Hand in Hand’ which was a Pinkies’ theme song. But there is nothing wrong with that. While we might take the Mickey out of it, it was one of those things which gave the group an identity, and any time anybody left the choir, we’d sing it, which was a really lovely thing to do. PS: I remember performing in Paris, and Andy Quan left the choir, and we stood outside in a circle and sang the song. It was the theme tune we used to say good-bye. HC: What did you enjoy about being in the Pinkies? RK: Everyone hung out together. One of the great things about the choir was that while you sat in separate sections during rehearsal, afterwards you got to chat and made some good friends. Last night’s a good example, after 10 years we’re still good friends. PS: The social element was really important, perhaps the most important part about being a Pinkie. There was one particular pub a block or two away which we used to go to a lot. We used to go to First Out sometimes as well, and then after that some of us would go have a meal. We’d socialize outside of rehearsals as well. I remember a picture of me dressed up as James Bond at a James Bond themed party. RK: That was my New Year’s Day party on the millennium! PS: And I remember a Halloween party at Annie and Lynne’s place. RK: People did another things as well. There were a lot of people who played badminton together. HC: Apart from singing, what else did you do when you were in the Pinkies? PS: I was international co-ordinator so I arranged the trip to Various Voices in Berlin. My bedroom in the hotel was filled with the Pink Singer [sewing machine] T-shirts! Berlin Various Voices was very good. We sang outside which we really enjoyed, and it was the week that the FA Cup was on, so we had a lot of supporters making some noise. It was really enjoyable and we also sang at a special night called “The Queens” with three other choirs: a choir from Brussels who sang 12 Icelandic folk songs, Mannenkoorts, and Vox Rosa, which is the choir I am now with. With Vox Rosa I’ve done Various Voices Paris, London and Dublin. Joining a choir [in the Hague] was a way of making new friends, much like the Pinkies and London I think. RK: I was on the committee for quite a few years but I was co-choir of the Pink Singers with Marc Gachon-Dyer for 12 months. I was chair when we went out to [the GALA North American LGBT choral festival in] San Jose which was great. To be in the choir at that time was fantastic. I still remember coming down the stairs dancing to ‘Cabaret’ and the stairs were very steep, and we were very far apart from each other. I remember singing my line and thinking, “That’s it!” It was also around this time that we had the difficult Christmas concert, and there were some interpersonal difficulties within the choir at the same time. Having to be in the middle and peace-keep was kinda hard. That’s part of the fun of being part of a community organization, you are going to have people come into conflict with each other and you are going to have strong opinions and you are going to have people storm out. By the end of my 12 months I was happy to hand things over. Marc would have given up a long time ago! That was 2000. I think I handed over to Lynne, but then I stepped down to a lesser role, remained in the committee and took on merchandising. HC: Why do you think people joined the Pink Singers then? RK: The choir was a meeting space, the music was a reason to meet. It is always a mixed bag, for some it will be a safe space, for some it will be about the music and high quality music. And again it is finding the things that fits the most people. One of the wonderful things about the choir is that we would sometime take on some challenging pieces like the Gershwin medley and the opera choruses. Of the concerts that I performed with the Pinkies, that was by far the standout concert. PS: It is about finding that happy medium – a choir can change in its characteristics, in what it wants to do, and find its level over time. RK: I think one of the things that I’ve learnt is that you let it evolve. You don’t push it, you guide it maybe, a little bit, but you don’t push it because pushing doesn’t work.