The Pink Singers are Europe’s oldest LGBT+ choir. Formed in 1983 for London’s Pride march, at a time when the age of consent was still unequal and the first case of AIDS in the UK had been diagnosed only two years before, over the decades the choir has grown into a group of over 90 members who perform across the world.
“I think for lots of people in the choir it’s about finding a community where they can be themselves, and we can all connect through our shared love of music,” says Nicki Wakefield, a member of the Pink Singers and the choir’s marketing and publicity lead. “It’s all sorts of ages, genders, backgrounds – and it’s just so lovely to connect with people who you maybe wouldn’t meet in ordinary life. We’ve all got each other’s backs, and we support each other. It’s such an amazing community.”
It was this sense of community and belonging that first drew Nicki to joining the choir five years ago; despite having a background in music, Nicki hadn’t stepped into that world for a long time. “I used to be a classical musician back in the day – I went to the Royal College of Music,” she says. “It was a very competitive environment, and I wasn’t one of the better ones, as it were, so unfortunately it beat music out of me. I ended up not really doing very much in music for 20-odd years. The Pink Singers has brought the joy back to music for me.”
Since discovering the choir and reigniting her love of music, Nicki now works as part of the choir’s management team; the whole team is made up of choir members, who ensure that everything runs smoothly – and they are certainly kept busy. “Probably about two thirds of the choir are involved in some way in the running of it, and everyone wants it to succeed,” Nicki says. “There are things like choosing the repertoire, doing the choreography, running the rehearsals, and managing the venues. We work with choirs around the UK and overseas – sometimes they come and perform with us, sometimes we do trips – so there’s a lot of stuff going on.”
As is the case for most of us, lockdown has been a big adjustment for the choir. Finding ways to keep singing together from home has come with some teething problems. “You can’t actually sing together because of the delay factor on Zoom – if you’re all off mute, it sounds like a mess,” Nicki laughs. But the choir has found ways to continue their work virtually, creating two videos during lockdown with performances of Coldplay’s Fix You, and then the rather apt Together In Electric Dreams.
Once the choir had chosen the songs they wanted to sing, the logistics of making a virtual singalong happen were unlike anything they had attempted before. “We all had to listen to the backing track in our headphones, and sing along to it into our phones,” Nicki recalls. “Then we were all given scripts on what we needed to do for the video, and we filmed ourselves on mute miming along to the audio.” With over 120 choir members past and present taking part in the Electric Dreams singalong, it was quite a feat.
When the small matter of a global pandemic isn’t in the way, the Pink Singers can be seen getting involved with a whole host of community projects, fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, and connecting with other groups around the world. Back in 2015, the choir ran a year-long project with India’s first LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai. At the time, ‘homosexual activity’ was still illegal in India due to Section 377, introduced in 1861 during British rule. The project aimed to share music and culture between the two choirs, while raising awareness around the status of LGBT+ rights both in India and the UK. “It was all about understanding what’s going on in different parts of the world, and trying to help fight for rights and support people,” Nicki says of the project. “It was an amazing experience, with such brave people putting themselves out there.”
The Pink Singers plan to continue their work around the world this year, with the upcoming Eastern Europe Project. Like the India project, this initiative will focus on raising awareness of LGBT+ rights, specifically in Poland and Russia, through a shared connection and love of music. “We’ll keep connecting with people in the community,” Nicki says of the choir’s hopes for the future. “Keep singing, keep performing, and try to be as inclusive as we can be.”
Of course, performing in front of audiences is one of the most rewarding aspects of being part of the choir, and its members hope that physical performances can start up again soon so that they can, as Nicki puts it, “Share some of the joy with other LGBT people who might be more isolated”. For such an out-and-proud group, performance is all about queer visibility. “I’m sure there are people in our audiences, particularly when we perform at mainstream events that aren’t specifically LGBT spaces, for whom it has a big impact just to see us, and know that it’s normal,” Nicki says. “It shows that you can be who you are, you can have a community, and you can perform.”
And it’s not just its audiences who get so much out of the choir. Just being able to see each other in person again is something that Nicki and the rest of the Pink Singers are looking forward to most of all, as joining the choir has given many of its members the sense of belonging and community that queer people are often left searching for. “These people are our chosen family,” Nicki says. “We’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of what we do. For lots of people in the choir it’s been the impetus to come out to their family and other people, and not be ashamed anymore.”
And for Nicki, there’s no doubt as to how much being a Pink Singer means to her. “It has absolutely changed my life, being part of this choir,” she says. “I have some really good friends in the choir; people who have been really important to me, and who I hope will be for the rest of my life.”
To find out more about the Pink Singers, visit their website: https://www.pinksingers.co.uk/.
You can also find them on Twitter and Instagram at @pinksingers.
You can listen to their latest album here: https://ampl.ink/1lVJR