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.
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.
The World Cup may well be in Rio that year but the real heat will be elsewhere… It is with great pleasure that we can now confirm that the next Various Voices festival will take place in Dublin in 2014, hosted by our friends Glória LGBT choir.
Various Voices is a very important event, allowing gay and lesbian choirs from all over Europe and the world to meet and sing together, promote both musical and queer culture, and have a good time! The Pink Singers have taken part in every single ‘VV’, and this one will be a wonderful occasion to reinforce the ties with our fellow islanders and all our friends from Legato, the association of European gay and lesbian choirs and the organization behind Various Voices.
London’s South Bank Centre goes gay for the Various Voices festival (formerly known as the European Lesbian and Gay Festival of Song); the Pink Singers are one of the festival’s three stakeholder choirs.
It is so hard to describe what Various Voices is to someone who has never been to one. Once every four years, the LGBT choirs of Europe gather to sing to and show each other how far they have come. On the face of it, this is like any other choral festival, but the gays really do have all the fun, and VV is like a massive family reunion with two thousand relatives you actually like.
The journey to VVL has been a long one, and we knew we had a lot to live up to. VV 2005, my first, was expertly put together in Paris by our friends the zany Equivox and the slick Melo’men. At the end of it London and Geneva put bids in to Legato to host the next one, but the award only came a year later. It was then that Team London, the group comprising members from the Pink Singers, Diversity and the London Gay Men’s Chorus, started the wheels in motion. We’ve been meeting pretty much every first Tuesday of the month since, but much more frequently in the last year, and it was wonderful to see members of all the London choirs putting their time and effort in under the guidance of the Festival Director Martin Brophy.
The biggest coup was securing the world-famous Southbank Centre for the four days of the festival. We needed a venue where people could sing and socialize in one space, and there is nowhere so perfect. But that was just half the battle, there was a programme to plan, a registration process to set up and a million other logistical nightmares to sort out. But before I could even blink the information desk in the Clore ballroom went up and the delegates started arriving! It was time to just cross our fingers and pray that all the preparation would see us through.
Of course preparation for the Pinkies’ choral performance was also on my mind. The Pink Singers sent a large cohort of delegates and we were in the opening concert Voices Of Our City on the Friday night. It is always more nerve-wracking singing to other choristers, but we have been tweaking our repertoire since the start of the year and were ready. Besides, you could not have had a more positive audience. In particular Somewhere and Teardrop were spine-tinglingly lush, and our set was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. In fact, the standing ovation was a regular feature of all the choir performances. VV is not about acknowledging the musical prowess of the established choirs, it is about supporting the smaller, fledgling choirs. We all understand the power of song to move, celebrate and overcome prejudice, and it is choirs like Sing Out Bristol, making their debut at a VV, but especially the women of Le Zbor from Croatia, who put up the most inspiring of shows.
Knowing that the three choirs of London have such differing musical styles, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the variety of performances on display. From Der Homophone’s theatrical tale of Cleopatra, to the Vancouver Men’s Chorus’ tightly harmonized Celine Dion, to Rainbow Chorus’ narrative of protest songs, to Canta:re’s exploration of Robert Schumann’s music, there literally was something for everyone. And the music didn’t just stay in the theatres either, it was on the cabaret stages, it was at the bar, it was in the fountain, it was on the riverside. We sang about stopping homophobia, we sang to Remember Justin, but we sang mainly because we love to.
Like Lou T, I aimed to install myself in the Clore Ballroom for the morning vocal warm-ups, followed by the free performances. I caught the musical director of Rozenkoor taking off his shirt as a part of Steam Heat, I saw the girls of Die Rheintoechter doing their sexy, sinuous choreography. I watched our own Tanya and Cilla do their beautiful rendition of Indigo Girls. It was just so much fun!
Two events really stood out to me over the weekend. The first was the Big Gay Sing: imagine 900 gay men and women who can all hold a note, totally up for performing gay anthems, led by a choir made up of members from all the different choirs. I was sitting next to Oliver from Die Mainsirenen and he couldn’t stop singing, even in the parts where we were supposed to listen to the soloists. Our own Thomas performed a jaw-droppingly inspiring rendition of Over the Rainbow with a friend from Diversity, to a truly deserved standing ovation from the audience.
The second event was With One Voice, the performance of the from-scratch festival choir. I sat between Nicholas from the LGMC and Franck from Podium Paris, or “Tatjana” and “Susan” if you went by the names printed on our seat backs! I doubt anyone could have told me just how awe-inspiring it was to be part of a 400 voice chorus performing Carmina Burana in a huge auditorium like the Royal Festival Hall. And we did it all with just 48 hours of rehearsal.
At the end of the day everyone had their own experience of Various Voices. The one moment which encapsulated it for me was when some of the Pinkies, together with Henning from Vox Homana, were in Pizza Express after the closing ceremony, having dinner, feeling a little tired and a little sad that things had come to an end. The women of Gemengd Dameskoor were at an adjacent table. Seeing us they started singing their songs to us in the middle of the restaurant, and we sang our songs back to them, to applause from diners and staff. It is memories like this which make my world a little brighter.
Various Voices is a very special treasure; it has been an honour to be a part of Various Voices London 2009. Roll on VV2013!
According to Wikipedia, a flash mob is “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse”. Flash mobs in London have featured dancing, drinking and naked cycling. It was clearly time for a singing flash mob and the day chosen was Saturday September 13th. Continue reading “Finally a “singing” flash mob”