Mumbai Musings: part 2

‘There’s a first time for…. more than one thing.’

Joining the Pinkies on our recent trip to India was a whirlwind experience of ‘firsts’ for newbie Claire – from taking to the mic in front of a large crowd to marching en masse in her first ever Pride. Here she shares these adventures and more… 

At the end of January, a group of over 40 members of the Pink Singers arrived in Mumbai to show support to Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir. For me this was an adventure of a lifetime: I’m in my late 40s (ok, I’m 50 this year) and this trip was the first time I had left the UK in over 18 years. Also, as someone who – due to a whole series of circumstances – was late coming out, Mumbai Pride would be my very first Pride March!

I cannot say what I was expecting, other than possible heat stroke and the need for Imodium! I found myself in a busy city of contrasts: beautiful buildings alongside slum areas; colours and flavours seemed brighter and more intense; people were curious, but friendly (eye contact in a city…). After living so long in London, this was so refreshing. I learned that to cross a road, you had to treat it as a champion’s quest, and that bartering was not only expected, but fun to do. 

Taking part in the Queer Azaadi Mumbai March was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was a privilege to be able to walk alongside people from the Indian LGBTQ+ community who cannot openly live the lives they wish to, and to show solidarity and support in their fight to overturn Section 377. I am now looking forward to taking part in London Pride, where I hope some of our friends from Rainbow Voices Mumbai will be marching alongside us. 

I am an introvert. I find it hard to show it when I’m happy; smiles I feel on the inside rarely show on my face. I also find crowds difficult, I’m not good at small talk, although I’m a great listener. I have social anxiety and being the centre of attention can be a real problem.

So… when Simon, our Chair, said, ‘Claire, I’d like to ask you something but it’s ok to say no’, and then went on to ask whether I would speak at the concert in between songs, my brain screamed, ‘NO!’, but I heard myself calmly agree. And so, the next evening, I found myself speaking in front of a crowd for the first time. 🙂

Claire making her moving speech during the ‘We Shall Overcome’ concert

Singing with and listening to the members of Rainbow Voices Mumbai was truly uplifting. Being able to spend time singing, listening, talking, eating and drinking together, as well as sharing stories and experiences made me realise that although we live many miles apart, we can still find common ground.  

Being part of a choir gives us a shared understanding. When we sing together, that’s when the magic happens. Not only is singing therapeutic, joining together as a group provides a sense of belonging. This is something I shared during the concert: the knowledge that members of the choir have become friends and more than that, my family and support group. A wise man once said, “We are living in divisive times, where forces seek to drive wedges between us. Long may music and these experiences we share bring us together.” (Tenor, Hsien Chew, Facebook posting, 2017). 

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.

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

AmaSing Festival

Daniel Craig

The Pink Singers were delighted to perform at the presigious Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam as part of the Europride Amasing Choir Festival earlier this month. Massive thanks to our wonderful hosts Manoeuvre – Gay Men’s Chorus Amsterdam and Galakoor. Here’s the low-down from bass, Daniel… 

According to the Oxford dictionary (and thesaurus) there are 2,730 positive adjectives beginning with A and honestly I could use pretty much every one to describe the Pinkies latest jaunt to Amsterdam for the AmaSing festival.

As an Aussie, it is very exciting to travel interstate to perform. Travelling internationally to do so is always a dream, and – as a part of the Pinkies – I’ve been fortunate enough to do that twice now. Firstly, Dublin and more recently, to Amsterdam – not just to sing anywhere but in one of the best concert halls in the world, the Concertgebouw.

The trip officially started off with registration at Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) where a few pinkies started to congregate. I don’t think you really appreciate your friends until you haven’t seen them in a while, so there were lots of hugs all round. The organisers then put us on a great canal cruise which allowed us to see Amsterdam from the water and helped get our bearings in this horseshoe city.

Amsterdam 2016

The cruise dropped us off at Het Amsterdam Museum for our official meet-and-greet which really gave us a great feeling for what was to come. With all the recent hate crime in the world, it was incredible to get together with 600 of our LGBT+ family to chat and to sing.

After a great afternoon, most of the Pinkies retired early to prepare for our big day of performances (which turned out to be of epic proportions).

Amasing festival, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Friday saw the first of our performances: a 15 minute outdoor set and a beautiful set inside the Conservatorium Hotel. Both were greatly received with a request for more from the patrons of the hotel; however, these gigs were just the warm up for the night to come. Later that day, we had a quick sound check inside the Concertgebouw, which reduced a chorister from another choir to tears. He said, “Our opening of ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ gave him shivers and made his eyes well up”. (Wow, we only sang 16 bars)!

Amsterdam 2016

The pinnacle of the festival was the main concert in the spectacular Concertgebouw. The acoustics of this hall are world renowned (it has a reverberation time of 2.2 seconds, for those playing at home) and was certainly a spectacle to behold – for a full 6.5 hours (!!), as the concert inevitably over-ran… It’s definitely the first time I have finished a concert the day after it started.

The organisers of AmaSing had hired a park on the banks of the canal where all the choirs could leisurely watch the parade from. They even provided lunch (!) and we all sat around chatting with our new choral friends and enjoyed the stunning day that celebrated everything we believe in (and of course there were impromptu performances from various choirs as well…).

Amsterdam is synonymous with taking mind altering substances 😉 and the Pinkies’ excursion to this wonderful city certainly left us on a high.

Amsterdam 20116

A huge thanks must go to the AmaSing team for a brilliant Europride event and to basses Gary and Paul for organising the trip from our end!

Timeline datestamp: 04 August 2016

Together we are Pride!

The choir perform the first anthem ever commissioned for London’s Pride festival, ‘Together’ by Seán Doherty and Duncan Day, on the main stage in Trafalgar Square. Sopranos Abigail and Clare have taken part in London Pride before, but not with the Pinkies. Here are their accounts of what it meant to them.

Pride 2016_Abi

Abigail:

I don’t often start my Saturdays at 7am, but on the 25 June I made an exception. With a 9:45am call time for the Pinkies’ sound check on the stage in Trafalgar Square, I could barely sleep the night before!

There was something very surreal about the whole day. It was my third Pride, but my first with the Pink Singers, and I was right to be excited. The day began with singing 90 seconds of Pride in London’s 2016 anthem on stage whilst wondering if it was really happening, and it only got better.

As for many in the LGBT+ community, Pride is one of the highlights of my year. Apart from the fact that it gives me a chance to wear a sequined corset, neon fishnets and a rainbow tutu in public without feeling out of place, it’s the one day of the year that the whole city is out of force, singing, chanting, marching and even just standing in solidarity with the ‘controversial’ idea that everyone should have the right to be themselves and love who they love. And my goodness was I ready to sing.

The singing started long before the marching for us! As we gathered near the head of the parade waiting to start off, we couldn’t help doing a few performances for our neighbours – including a particularly special rendition of Blow Gabriel Blow accompanied by the London Gay Symphonic Winds.

Pride 2016_1

The thing which really stood out to me about the parade itself (apart from the fact that I was part of a 90-voice LGBT+ choir singing as we marched through central London, of course) was that we were right behind the US Embassy’s bus.

At Pride 2015, I marched with Keshet UK, is a Jewish LGBT charity, and we found ourselves near the US Embassy bus as well, but the circumstances felt very different. Last year, Pride was happening the day after the US Supreme Court ruling on equalising marriage, and the air was full of celebration. This year, we were marching in the shadow of 49 of our family being murdered in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando fewer than two weeks before.

It’s amazing, though, the show of strength everyone experienced. Orlando was in everyone’s minds, but showing that everything continues as normal was, for me, the most important thing for our community to do.

It was a powerful statement for us as a choir, then, when we stepped up on the Trafalgar Square stage later that afternoon to sing the specially-commissioned anthem Together. The song speaks of honouring those before us who fought (and sometimes died) for our freedoms, but also of looking to the future with hope for what’s to come. There could never be a more important message to send out in light of recent events:

Together we have the chance to be who we are,

Together we are stronger,

Together we are Pride.

Pride 2016_3

For me personally, I am so grateful that I got to spend so much of Pride with the Pinkies. June, which began with our summer concert and also had the impromptu #SingForOrlando benefit concert, ended with us singing in front of thousands in central London. Pride took me full circle, as I first heard of the Pinkies two years ago when I saw them perform at Pride 2014, my first Pride. Now I get to stand with them, Together.

Clare:

Clare at the front of the march!
Clare at the front of the march!

I’ve gone to London Pride before but only as a spectator. Since coming out I’ve always wanted to march in the parade but never had the opportunity till now. Since Joining the Pink Singers last season I’ve been involved with many gigs and concerts but this was different. I had the chance to march in the parade to be a part of something truly amazing. from beginning to end. It certainly lived up to its expectation plus the weather held out to.

I decided to march at the front of the parade; I wanted to stand tall be proud of who I was and what I was part of. I felt famous waving to the crowds that have gathered to witness this special day. It felt great reliving some of the concert songs plus having the audience join in was really special.

Everyone was really supportive and I couldn’t help but take lots of selfies! The Pink Singers made Pride a very special day for me and I will look forward to what’s ahead.

Pride 2016_2
Timeline datestamp: 26 June 2016