“Singing has always been at the centre of human existence,” Murray Hipkin tells me. “It allows us to protest, grieve, worship, celebrate, entertain, provoke, soothe and to express solidarity with each other.”
Formed in 1983, The Pink Singers have been at the forefront of some of the UK’s biggest gay rights battles, bringing people together, in harmony, through the unique power of song.
The group meet every Sunday in central London, where they rehearse for four hours (followed by a visit to the local pub) in preparation for two concerts each year. The repertoire is staggeringly diverse. At the next show, on July 15th, they’ll be showcasing everything from Leonard Bernstein to Dusty Springfield and Handel – with some Lady Gaga thrown in. “We sing anything that we can get our hands on and our larynxes round,” Murray laughs.
Murray’s journey into the Pink Singer reflects the diverse life experiences of its members. Feeling stranded in his childhood following the death of his mother, a sense of alienation drew him into the Evangelical church. He married young and had two children. Only later did he come out.
“I’m doubly lucky to have found my Pinkie family where I can be a part of that history,” he says. “It gives me the fantastic opportunity of using my professional skills and experience to challenge and enable an incredible group of volunteer singers to stretch themselves musically - and have a positive impact on the choir family and in the wider community.”
Murray began playing the piano at just five years old and has worked for many years as a member of the music staff at English National Opera, as well as serving as Musical Director on West End hits like 'The Sound of Music'. Even in such a bright career, however, he regards his work with the Pink Singers as one of the highlights.
“It’s always great when someone comes to audition, and you realise that you can help them on their journey by inviting them into the group,” he enthuses. “As a shared experience, there’s nothing quite like singing - and in a choir such as the Pinkies, where we have another unique layer of shared experience, working hard, playing hard and harmonising hard (at every possible opportunity) becomes very special.”
Pink Singers in concert, July 2011.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the UK was a much more hostile place for LGBT people. Not only was there the endemic homophobia of Thatcher’s Britain to contend with, but also the fight against AIDS.
Thirty years on, however, Murray believes the choir is as important as ever. “We need to face outward as well as inward. As battles have gradually been won here in the UK, the character and purpose of the choir have evolved, of course,” he explains. “We can never afford to forget what’s going on outside our little cocoon, and one of the things that I think sets the Pinkies apart from other similar groups is that we have always had a significant presence outside the UK.”
Joining the choir enables its members to reach out to other LGBT people across the world – and standing in solidarity. Sixteen members have recently visited Seoul and Hong Kong, and last year a small group went to Taiwan to sing in a new LGBT choir festival.
And then there is the Pinkies’ society-changing work with India. In the UK, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, but unfortunately, a version of this Victorian law remains in place in the Indian Penal Code (Section 377) criminalising tens of millions of people.
Murray’s enthusiasm is infectious as he describes how the Pinkies have built bonds with LGBT Indians. The choir made contact with Rainbow Voices Mumbai, India’s first LGBT choir, and around 50 of them visited Mumbai in January, where they performed with them at the National Centre for Performing Arts and then marched with them in Mumbai Pride to support their protest against Section 377.
In July – at this year’s Pride – Rainbow Voices Mumbai will be visiting London. “They’ll be singing with us on the main stage in Trafalgar Square, and taking part in our next concert, From Queer to Eternity,” Murray says. “I’m sure this will be a life-changing trip for all of them, and it is humbling to be part of it. Going to India changed me. Fifteen or so years ago I would never have imagined myself joining Pride marches in (so far) Athens, Lisbon, Reykjavik, Amsterdam and most recently, Mumbai, but I was there, and have the pictures to prove it! The Pink Singers has opened up a whole new world for me – and so many others.”
To get involved with the Pink Singers, apply for an audition. The Pink Singers July 15th concert, From Queer to Eternity, is at London’s Cadogan Hall. Click on the image below for full details.
Top image: Murray Hipkin by Nicola Swan.
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