Weekend Away 2017

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.

Timeline datestamp: 11 November 2017

This Magic that We Call Pinkies

Soprano Sophie relives the ‘magic’ of her first Pinkie weekend away… 

When you join the Pinkies you immediately know what you’re getting yourself into. This is a group of people who are so instantaneously warm and loving that they automatically become family. There’s a reason we joke about it being a cult, because this is a team that, even after only eight months of membership, I know will forever be a massive part of my life.

There are many in-jokes and terminologies bandied about in the Pinkies: we all know by now how to ‘dolly’ up our voices, and cherry-popping is a well-loved rite of passage for all Pinkie newbies, but there’s one phrase that you overhear a lot when you first join that no-one ever truly explains – Pinkie Magic.

Up until a few days ago, I thought I knew what Pinkie Magic was. Because there truly is something so beautiful in voices joining together to express something through music – and when the Pinkies get it right, boy do they get it right. You only need to look at the reaction to ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ at our January concert. I’m (arguably) a performer professionally, but never have I felt as much warmth and happiness following anything I’d done onstage as I did in that moment. Everything came together and we delivered a message to our audience of community, of strength, of love; and I believe that everyone in that room felt it and will remember it for a very long time. That is Pinkie Magic.
But there’s another side to the magic that I think can only be truly appreciated after an extended period of time with the Pink Singers (namely dancing the night away and then still facing a warm up the following morning…). And that is what I had the incredible honour of experiencing this weekend.

I was the kid who grew up on musical theatre summer camps, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a packed timetable where I spend my time doing nothing but singing, dancing, eating and sleeping. But no matter how well-scheduled, how good the music or the calibre of the teaching – though as everyone will attest, this was all outstanding this weekend – what truly makes a residential is the people.
This weekend was a trip that I already find impossible to put into words, but at the same time something I want to talk about for weeks, to the point I’ve written this blog post just as an excuse to reminisce even more. I took so many photographs, just to attempt to capture any of the stardust that seemed to be all around us, so that in years to come I could look back and remember – this was good.
Anyone could tell you the incredible things we achieved this weekend during the planned sessions. Learning the ‘All That Jazz’ choreography with the fabulous Emily was a massive highlight. Finally feeling like we were nailing down some of those tricky sections of score! And, even on a hangover, the noises that Andrea got us making during Handel’s ‘Happy’, it felt truly incredible.
But like I say; a residential is made by the people. And these Pinkies are the people who have my back (and have had it through some really hard times over the last few months), and they are the people who created my true highlights of the weekend – every moment we just got to spend time together.
Some of my highlights: running full speed onto a stage to not miss a second of the Steps ‘Tragedy’ choreo; Aoife playing her guitar as people blew massive bubbles and I sat making daisy chains in the sun; trying to decide which shade of lipstick would best enhance Jerome’s 90s aesthetic; the astonishing versatility, beauty, and humour of everyone onstage during the open mic; learning which of the Pinkies actually like teacakes;  discovering that Eléonore can not only sing, rap in French, cook, draw, and be exceptionally tall, but apparently now she plays guitar too?!
And more! Belting out ‘Born This Way’ opposite two pretty-in-Pink Pinkie cheerleaders for a canteen filled with French schoolchildren; being secretly happy that there was so much traffic on the way back into London because, even though I was exhausted and very excited about the prospect of bed, it was one more minute I got to spend with some of the most stunning, golden-hearted, magical people I know. Thank you, thank you Pinkies, for counting me as one of you and for letting me share the best weekend I’ve had in years.
So, it’s now Monday lunchtime. I’ve finally caught up on sleep, I’ve dusted the last of the 90s glitter from my face, and I have just one question I’d like to ask – can we go back now please?
If you would like to experience some ‘Pinkie Magic’, we’ll try and provide some at our next concert this summer! Book tickets now for our ‘From Queer to Eternity’ Show on Saturday 15 July at Cadogan Hall! 

Choral cavorting and carrots!

KirstenOur weekends away have become a real highlight of the Pinkie calendar and this year’s was no exception. Alto Kirsten gives the low down on an epic weekend of singing, stretching, eating, human hungry hippo’ing, cavorting and bonding. Thanks to everyone for mucking in and making it magic… 
Well well well. What a weekend that was! We are still recovering from our annual residential, which took place this year in the aptly named Carroty Wood, in deepest darkest Kent.
We arrived on Friday evening and settled into our rooms, slightly unsure at first if we were on a choir jaunt or geography school trip. Things swiftly got underway however with soup (carrot, of course), sparklers and singing around the bonfire. What a wonderful start!
11219388_10206099332937270_2572522669729643055_nBright and early on Saturday morning a breakfast feast greeted us – thanks to our incredible Mama Tanya, who slaved away in the kitchen all weekend to keep us going. We then got to work and were lucky to be led in workshops by accomplished soprano Andrea Brown who, amongst many things, taught us about vowel sounds, honing our oohs and aahs into perfection. I really enjoyed Andrea’s approach and know we will be certainly putting the techniques we learned to use in our upcoming concert!
We also had a chance to brush up on choreography with our wonderful artistic team. I think the basses enjoyed these moves a little too much…?!
Carroty WoodLate afternoon came the highlight of the weekend for me – the masterclass. Two Pinkies bravely put themselves forward to sing under the watchful eye of Andrea, who gave tips and teaching in front of us all. Newbie soprano Clare was first up – what a voice! It was really interesting to hear even more come out of her performance with Andrea’s suggestions; her delivery of the song really changed as her engagement with the words developed. Next up was tenor Simon Harrison, who gave us all a beautiful rendition of West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’ – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after that one! Andrea also explained how to deal with last minute nerves and tension, and how to use emotion to make more of your performance.
After enjoying another wonderful feast – thanks again to Tanya, her helpers Teddy and Simon W, and the rest of the intrepid cooking crew – the fun really started. The evening kicked off with the ‘open mic’ performances, opened and compered by the fabulous Simon H, Phil and Michelle. Several excellent performances followed – what a talented bunch!
The party then got underway, with the theme “The Enchanted Wood” – what a sight to behold! We had gnomes on toadstools, red riding hoods, Robin Hoods, plenty of fairies – and of course a couple of carrots too! The revelry continued into the night, with plenty more singing, dancing and merriment.
Carroty Wood
Sunday morning didn’t involve any singing – the team clearly knew better! Instead we had a choice of fun activities to choose from – from rope climbing (let’s not ask what happened to Simon H’s shorts in that one!), swimming, our very own Bake-Off, judged by the glamorous ‘Marky Berry’ and ‘Tanya Hollywood’, prop making for our winter concert – and human hungry hippos! With only four injuries, that one was definitely a resounding success!
The day continued with rehearsals led by our Musical Director Murray Hipkin and fantastic music team, and some more choreography practice. As always this was interspersed with plenty more sustenance – we were certainly well looked after!
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153270852930745.1073741844.19397925744&type=3After all pitching in with the final clean up, we then trundled into our chariots to make our way out of the enchanted forest and back into reality. Boooo….until next year!
The whole weekend was put together by our fantastic events manager Mark – what an incredible job he did. We can’t thank him enough! Here he is with the wonderful Tanya, who I may have already mentioned worked really hard to keep us fed and watered all weekend. Thank you both!
Click here to see more photos from the weekend! 
Carroty Wood

The Pink Singers go to Brantridge

Simon BOne of this season’s newbies tenor Simon Blakey, sums up his experiences of his first weekend away with the Pink Singers…

Mention ‘Brantridge’ to a Pink Singer and the overwhelming response will be that of excitement and positivity. I’m one of this season’s ‘newbies’ and it was easy to spot its cult status amongst the choir – an annual event which has firmly ingrained itself in Pinkie lore, it was clear to us newbies (and the numerous not-so-newbies of the previous Spring/Summer season who were yet to experience Brantridge) that it would be an integral part of our initiation into the choir.  A definite weekend to remember. 

Friday 

10525354_10203907406700484_6570985703091873460_nExcited (and a little nervous), we arrived at the estate to settle into our apartments and gather together for dinner.  We were promised that we wouldn’t starve and boy was that an understatement!  We feasted like royalty throughout the weekend.  After all, an army marches on its stomach… and the indisputable Captain of Brantridge, alto Jenny Cousins, made sure this army was well stocked (seriously, that woman could give Sun Tzu a run for his money on the military planning front, I’m in awe).

After dinner we all marched down to the bottom of the estate for a bonfire and fireworks, quite literally starting the weekend with a bang (and toffee apples hard enough to pull our dentures out).  The Xmas jumper parade was a sight to behold.  Quite how all that much polyester survived so close to the fire without combusting I’ll never know… a minor miracle.

Saturday

Sam demonstrating the tilting larynx, or was it the glottal onset?
Sam demonstrating the tilting larynx, or was it the glottal onset?

The Saturday was taken up primarily by workshops and sectional rehearsals.  We were honoured to have Sam Kenyon attending for the weekend, who is fast becoming an annual addition to Brantridge.  Sam is a master of several trades, but his knowledge and expertise as a voice teacher were a highlight of the weekend for me.  My thinned vocal folds and larynx-tilting will never be the same again.

Following a day of vocal exertion I reported to Captain Cousins for kitchen duty.  I was part of the team assigned to craft  Christmas dinner for everyone, a task I very much enjoyed.  I was told ‘this might be one of the toughest tasks of the weekend, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding’.  How true that was.  Luckily, we were a good team of kitchen wenches and dinner was a great success; absent friends were toasted (you resting Pinkies and those who couldn’t make it, you were much missed!), and then the evening really kicked off…

10393755_10154886275665357_7493555437710233179_nI’m unlikely to ever forget what came next: the annual Christmas party.  By the time dinner rolled around most people had adopted their alter-egos for the evening.  I counted several Madonnas, a Dolly Parton getting down with George Michael and Elton John, no less than three Freddie Mercurys, two Amy Winehouses,  several Chers, one Cheryl Cole and a grand total of eleven Conchita Wursts (as well as four Wombles!?).  Led by the compères to end all compères we were entertained with an open mic show of vocal treats.  I was part of a group making our debut that evening (though we should really revisit our group name for next year – The Sweaty Crotchets is REALLY not appealing.  Suggestions on a post-card please). 

Sunday

10712820_10152576042540745_6033920101232004789_nAfter a rather epic evening I awoke bleary-eyed to join another set of workshops run by Andrea Brown, a guest tutor for our final day at Brantridge.  Andrea has an impressive list of credits and qualifications to her name and was an absolute pleasure to work with.  I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from both her and Sam over the course of the weekend.

Sunday evening saw me delivered back home, practically comatose with exhaustion, but content with memories of an engaging, productive and eye-opening weekend.  What really came across most was the concerted effort everyone made to connect with members they hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet properly.  Friendships were forged and cemented, repertoire was tweaked, fun was had…what more could I ask for?

I’m brimming with excitement for our upcoming concert on the 10th January; it’s clear that it’s going to be one hell of a show, and I’m thrilled to be part of it as a fully initiated Pinkie. Thanks for the fun ride Brantridge.

Photo credits: Simon Pearson & Hsien Chew. 

5 best bits of the Pinkies Christmas weekender

Aoife
Aoife

The now legendary Pink Singers annual weekend away took place a week before Christmas, and was packed with festive delights! After piling on the bus down to Sussex with fellow choir members, the party and workshops started in earnest.
My highlights would have to be:

  • The peaceful, picturesque location offering a welcome change to bustling London
  • Singing choir songs around the camp fire… even if we were ever so slightly out of tune and time… let’s blame the mulled wine for that
  • Learning how to sing well with the brilliant Sam Kenyon, including putting on a country western accent by replacing words with ‘quack’!
  • The meticulously organised and delicious Christmas dinner for 70 people, served by elves and reindeer
  • The price! How they ever managed to organise such a well-catered weekend on such a small budget is just amazing!

 

Having the opportunity to get to know so many members of the choir – they are such a genuinely great bunch of crazy people and I’m looking forward to more hilarious, fun nights in 2014!

Photographs by Hsien Chew and Simon Pearson