‘By Special Arrangement’
Saturday January 9th, 2016,
Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square
To Cadogan Hall on Saturday night for my first concert of 2016, this time not piano music but an evening in the company of The Pink Singers. Long before Gareth Malone first encouraged people to sing together, The Pink Singers were founded in 1983, and are the longest running LGBT choir in Europe. The Pink Singers are London’s LGBT community choir, comprising over 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people from a diverse range of backgrounds united by a passion for singing. In addition to performing two London concerts each year, The Pink Singers also sing with other choirs in the UK and around the world and participate in Gay pride and other festivals for LGBT people. The choir is directed by Murray Hipkin, who also serves on the musical staff of English National Opera.
There was a great atmosphere in the bar before the concert, much noisy greetings of friends, conversations and laughter heralding an evening of fine singing, entertainment, and a wonderful, all-consuming sense of a shared experience.
The Pink Singers are most definitely performers as well as singers: this was clear from their opening number, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO, which included a spoof newscast, dancing, mime and animated singing. Later in the evening, a performance of ‘Masculine Women Feminine Men’ (Leslie & Monaco, arr. Murray Hipkin) came complete with a dash of Busby Berkeley-style dancing.
A clue to the theme of the evening was in the title of the concert – By Special Arrangement. The programme showcased not only the diversity of music for SATB voices, but also the special talents of arrangers within The Pink Singers. There were particularly tender and poignant renditions of ‘This Woman’s Work’ by Kate Bush (arr. Andy Mitchinson) and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ (arr. Chris Chambers), a song which always reduces me to tears. There was also an extraordinarily powerful setting of text from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, ‘The Zanies of Sorrow’ by Matthew King, originally commissioned for the North London Chorus. There was also a charming, reflective setting of ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats by Fran George (who happens to be a piano teaching friend and colleague of mine).
The variety of music, from showstoppers from opposing ends of the world of music (‘Relax’ meets ‘Zadok the Priest’!) to tender intimate ballads such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ demonstrated The Pink Singers’ ability to switch effortlessly between myriad soundworlds, genres and moods. And get this, the choir is largely composed of non-professional musicians (I hesitate to use the word “amateur” because to all intents and purposes these singers are totally professional, in both their sound, precise timing and slick, seamless presentation).
But there’s more….. In addition to the main choir, The Pink Singers has also spawned number of smaller ensembles , two of which had guest spots in the concert. The Barberfellas are a close harmony group – with a twist (they wear tight shorts and high heels!). Their set was witty and naughty, but also sensitive and tender, as evidenced by a lovely rendition of M.L.K. by U2 in an arrangement by Bob Chilcott. We also enjoyed a set by Gin and Harmonics, an all-female close harmony group whose repertoire included a lovely setting of Sea Fever by John Masefield (music by Kate Nicholroy, a member of the ensemble) and Biebl’s Ave Maria.
Gin and Harmonics perform ‘Mad World’
It was a splendid start to my concert-going year, and the evident enjoyment of all the singers and the audience combined to create an evening that was uplifting, joyous, tender, and poignant and, above all, a celebration of music and community.
The next Pink Singers concert is at Cadogan Hall on 4th June 2016.