Lots and lots of updates!

Hello everyone, and many apologies the blog has been so quiet of late. As you can imagine these things take quite a while to write so our main updates do tend to come from our Facebook page (if you haven’t liked it yet, why not – do so here please – https://www.facebook.com/SWGMC/) and from Twitter (feel free to follow us here for all the updates – https://twitter.com/SWGMC). Since it’s been so long this one isn’t our normal long piece, it’s more of a newsletter on what we’ve been up to, will be up to, and shouldn’t be up to. Our next blog has just landed as you may have noticed, and it is cracking. Our Chairman – Nick DeFigueiredo – writes compellingly on the relevance of pride to modern societies like ours where it appears we already ‘have it all’ here (http://swgmc.com/events/why-pride/) .

The next one will also be on the way soon I promise, as we’ll take you through what we got up to in Manchester (more on that in a mo) then give you a flavour of our new members evening, and finally we’ll follow up soon with a rundown on what we’re doing to get ready for Christmas (only 122 sleeps peeps!). So here we go…

We’ve been on tour:

Well, if you count going one place for the weekend ‘a tour’ that is… On the 18th of August we headed to everyone’s favourite Northern metropolis – Manchester, for the Hand in Hand LGBT Choir Festival, which took place all over the city last weekend. We were very excited to feature in the final gala concert of the event on Saturday 19th August at the Royal Northern College of Music, along with our hosts the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus, the European Queer Choir and the Festival Chorus.

Calling New Members!

We do love new members, and September is the month we go all out to try and encourage everyone who’s ever thought about it but never quite made it, to come and have a look at our rehearsals and meet all the guys. New members evening are very relaxed and informal and we try to use it for a chance to get everyone chatting to everyone else, ply them with welshcakes and beverages, try a few fun songs to demonstrate how we learn music, and then go to the pub afterwards. We hope anyone thinking ‘shall I shan’t I’ will finally think ‘I shall’ and come join us on 7th September at 7.30pm at Roath Church House in Penylan. Please drop us a line if you want more details, or just turn up, we’d love to see you!

SWGMC finally ‘Cut a Record’:

We’re very proud to announce we are eagerly awaiting the first pressings of the choirs first official CD. As a result of our sterling success at the Cornwall International Male Voice Festival (read about it here – http://swgmc.com/member-notes/magic-weekend-away-part-1/) we figured it was undoubtedly time that we laid down a few tracks at the beautiful Acapela studios in Pentyrch and after a very successful day recording five of our favourite tracks and a music video we couldn’t be happier with how it all went. Stay tuned for more including our reveal of the release date, and the five tracks that will feature on our first ever ‘E.P’

It’s all well and good… In theory:

Several of the choir members went back to school for the day recently as our Assistant Musical Director extraordinaire Vicky took on the challenge of schooling some of the boys in music theory. For many who think about joining a choir, the most daunting bit is wondering how on earth you’ll learn to fit in with everyone else, sing in tune, and learn your bits, particularly when you join and everyone is looking at this extremely complicated stuff called ‘sheet music’. Vicky expertly took us through the complete basics of reading music and what all the little symbols and notes mean, so that many of us who sometimes feel we muddle through (because about half our members can’t read music!) felt a lot more confident at the end, and knew enough of the basics now to not be loss. The class was almost as much of a hit as the Sunday lunch we had during the break, so we’re going to try and convince Vicky to send another few recruits through bootcamp soon, maybe it could be you!

A Magic Weekend Away – Part 2

So where was I…
Welcome back to the latest blog – Part 2.

When you left us we had just become ‘Internationally Acclaimed and Multi-Award-Winning Choristers’ – a phrase we’ve been using with a smug level of regularity ever since. But I digress… After the fun of competition Saturday came the rest of the weekend…

Sunday was rather a bump back to earth. We had all been terribly looking forward to playing the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’, which is a beautiful venue bursting with plants and wildlife. Unfortunately, the only things that were bursting when WE arrived, were thunderclouds overhead, and the café and award winning gift shop (at the seams) with people jamming themselves in to find cover from the biblical rainfall. The beautifully picturesque botanical backdrop stage so lovingly set up for our performances had to be abandoned, and we couldn’t move indoors for suitability and health and safety reasons.

So, given ten minutes notice and a wild panic we arrived to an (as yet unfinished) outdoor picnic area, and a piano stool on a slope partly leaning into the rain with a bin bag over it. We are game for anything though, and we were on tour, so we happily set to work on wowing a crowd of slicked faces and umbrellas, with our competition repertoire, and a few other crowd pleasers thrown in. Over the Rainbow drew a rather ironic laugh from several crowd members (couldn’t have picked better if we tried!), and we then stuck around for the other performers, and watched a lovely concert from our friends, the Bristol Male Voice Choir. After another concert in Camborne in the evening, we then retired back to the hotel for one of the finest moments of the tour… The unofficial afterparty.

The lovely Fiona had kindly granted us an extension and promised to serve us until midnight, but she ended up having such a laugh with us (while joining in a number of dubiously tuned alcohol-fuelled ditties), that she was still pouring the drinks as we approached 3 am. Needless to say some of the less sensible among my charges were feeling rather the worse for wear early Monday AM, as the coach readied itself with some people still not even awake yet!
I knew nothing of these things of course, having retired to my bed as soon as we arrived back at the hotel with a Horlicks and the latest Jackie Collins.

If you hear any differently then I assure you; you are being duped by scurrilous lies. For instance I vigorously dispute the following:
– I certainly did not stay up until at least 2 am
– There is absolutely not a bizarre video of me on a sofa singing refrains from ‘Hello Dolly’ while attempting yoga          poses.
– And I absolutely and positively did not need to pack my case with the coach waiting for me while still inebriated,    and forget to take several items of personal value which the wonderful and kind Fiona then had to post back to me.

Not a word of truth there…

We stopped in at the Tate in St Ives on the beginning of our homeward bound journey. A lovely performance space and possibly our best non-competition performance of the tour passed by miraculously (who knew if you just added a lot of alcohol and very little sleep, vocal magic would ensue). We headed back to South Wales having sung ourselves hoarse, but with an absolute bagful of memories to cherish. For me at least, I think all these memories, these little moments, are the good stuff, the bits that make a life worthwhile. There’s a lot of white noise and business as usual day to day, but now and again if we are lucky, we all have these moments. Moments where you feel completely overwhelmed with love, pride or excitment.

My weekend was full of this good stuff. Full of absolute pride in being a part of this group and everyone in it. Full of pride in myself for finally coming along and joining. It was full of pride for how hard these boys worked, not to win, but to do themselves and the gay community justice and fit in as equals. Full of pride that we put ourselves out there as the only gay choir attending the festival, but joined in, made friends, integrated, yet carved ourselves out a space amongst all these other amazing singers, and won so many admirers in the process for just being our best selves (at least at the right times – I was certainly not my best self on Monday morning).

I was particularly proud of our MD Andy. Everyone desperately wanted to win for him to validate how hard he works, and justify how hard he also works these boys. I’m so glad his partner Leon (or Chief WAG as I’ve now affectionately named him) came along and joined us, and got to see how proud we are of him too. I was exceptionally proud of Chris. We are an extremely private couple, who are our own harshest critics, but we always support and push each other to be better. I cried like a baby when he won his prize, because he regularly feels that in a crowded marketplace of exceptionally talented people he isn’t quite good enough. He realised that Saturday that he is, insanely talented, and loved by all the boys, however much they might wish him harm when they see each new and more fiendishly difficult arrangement he puts in front of them.

I was so proud of my fellow Tenor 2s for how hard we had all worked to blend so well together, and how much like a family we have become. I talked to everyone in the choir over the course of the weekend. Everyone. I liaised the hell out of them. And I enjoyed every second of it. It’s like a great big glorious family of eccentric 40% ABV fabulousness, and I love each and every one of them for the way being a part of this group has changed my life for the better. When you reach a certain age, and, particularly when you form a couple with someone, it tends to have a very specific effect on your social life. It becomes about you and them. Couples do ‘couply’ things; they stop seeing their friends. Their circle diminishes, and before they know it; there is nothing but the two of them, and their world has become very small.

If I can recommend one thing above anything else, it would be this. Regardless of your situation, if you fancy becoming a part of any social group, do it. Take up a hobby, get out and about, widen your social circle and make new connections. Humans are a wonderfully diverse lot, but they are all social creatures, and it takes all kinds to make a world. So if you like what you heard here, come and join us. We’d love to have you and we don’t care who you are. If you are straight or bi we’d love to hear from you, and will always be welcome. This should be, and is, a safe space for everyone.

I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite moments from the tour. Not my words now but our fundraising chief Tim’s. He was sat in the audience with a lady who he made a particularly lovely connection with that sums it all up for me. He says:

“I know we all have our special memories from the weekend and hope we keep sharing them on here. I just wanted to share this one:
After we had sung in the competition, a couple of us went back in to hear the last choir. We just sat where we could find space and were sitting next to an elderly couple (who looked pretty much like the majority of the audience). The woman turned to us and said “well done, that was great”. I thought at first she was just being polite, but then she went on to say that her 18 year old grandson is just ‘discovering who he is’ and is having a hard time. She said “and when I saw you all up there I was thinking of him and I thought “THATS what you need!” So I guess there is a young lad somewhere who has a lot to thank us for. His Gran now knows it can all work out ok, even if he can’t see it yet.”

One of our other most bubbly of Baritones (the lovely Nigel) then managed to accost this woman again on Monday, when she came to see us at the Tate in St Ives. They got chatting about the same grandson and he told me he asked her why he was having such a hard time, and she said it was because he was a naturally effeminate guy. He sympathised with her and advised our chorus was welcoming of everyone. She said that was so nice to know, and she would be sharing her happy experience of meeting us and our comments with her grandson”.

So, what better way to end than to pop out that welcoming hand. If you feel lonely or like you don’t fit in somehow. If you don’t enjoy the scene and want to meet people somewhere a bit less intense. If you love music and want to share it with others, then please get in touch. And if you have a friend or family member that you think meets the description above, please send them this blog to read and ask them to check us out. We’d love to make your acquaintance.

Until next time!

The South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus welcomes new members whenever they want to join.
Please drop us a line at gaychorus@gmail.com if you’d like to come along, or just want more info.

A Magic Weekend Away – Part 1

Well a great big “hi there” and “hello and welcome” to the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus Blog. We haven’t posted in quite a while but there’s no better time to start than after a fantastic weekend away, so here we go…

I’m Gaz and I’m the Choir Liaison for SWGMC. You can have a bit more of a read about what I and other people on the committee do on our committee page, but my main role is feeding back and forth between the committee and the choir and helping to organise all of the wonderful social things we do. However, on one glorious bank holiday weekend very recently I had the pleasure of joining all the boys on an unforgettable trip I had very little part in organising…

You will probably be unsurprised to hear that arranging for a very large group of people to go anywhere en masse is an unenviable task, and these boys are no exception. It was mentioned to me by one anonymous source when I first accepted the post of liaison, that marshalling 30 plus gay men through any form of task or social gathering tended to be like ‘herding cats’, but by and large our exceptional committee team did a lot of the heavy lifting for the significant task of organising our 4-day weekend away in Cornwall for 40 of the choirs members, and I offer particular thanks to our two Mark’s (our Secretary and Treasurer) and Nick (our chairman) for all the work they did.

Our attendance at the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival has been something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time (it only happens every two years). The festival is always such fun, and Cornwall is of course well known for natural beauty and sunshine, and (just to stereotype for a minute) if there are two things most of our boys love… The festival takes place all over Cornwall in a range of towns, villages and landmark locations like The Eden Project, The Minack Theatre and the Lost Gardens of Heligan (where we were lucky enough to appear this year). So, if you’d like to know what we got up to then read on…

We departed on the VERY long journey on Friday morning and finally arrived (in some cases rather the worse for wear – what possessed M&S to sell cocktails in cans at the motorway services I don’t know, but I wasn’t complaining – thanks Exeter services!). We had just enough time to freshen ourselves up for the evening, and we had good reason to, as we were being followed for the entire trip by a lovely documentary crew from the Iris Film Festival (who have all of our best bits on tape now for a documentary appearing soon – we’ll keep you posted). After a quick walk to a beautiful nearby beach and back, someone had the bright idea for everyone to change into beachwear and give an impromptu concert next to the hotel swimming pool. The only trouble with this (as many of you may have experienced on trips to the coast) is that when the sun goes down it can become very cold, VERY quickly. In our case, by the fourth number most of our resonance was coming from teeth chattering!

Next up we all descended upon the dining room and properly met our host for the weekend, the hotel’s owner and manager Fiona. And what a host she was. If you ever have the good fortune to holiday in Newquay the ‘Priory Lodge Hotel’ is a little gem. We had a welcome second to none, and every time Fiona let out her raucous laugh (which seemed to channel the best elements of Barbara Windsor and Sybil Fawlty) the entire room would spontaneously burst into giggles with her. After a most acceptable evening meal in the lovely restaurant everyone began to wind down to an early night, ready for the big day…

Saturday in the Hall for Cornwall in Truro is ‘the place it’s at’ as far as the festival goes. It’s competition day and we’ve just arrived in the late morning to do a quick ‘flash-mob’ style concert before we enter the hall and get ready. Sadly because of the way the competition works, and the very limited performance time, it’s over quite fast, and if you’re one of the later choirs to perform you tend to miss all the other acts. We were reliably informed that there were some crackers though, and we’d expected the likely winners of the competition would be one of the overseas choirs who attend from all over the world to compete. We particularly had our eye on a Finnish Choir called Manifestum who have an excellent reputation (but not much in the way of clips I can plug them with on YouTube – come on guys!) Unfortunately we missed their performance, as we were getting ready for and rehearsing at the time prior to going on.

And what a rehearsal it was. There are some rare moments in life when you have a day without rain and everything just seems to go perfectly. You can probably imagine that for a choir of nearly forty members, those moments when everyone and everything just blends so perfectly… are very rare. Just such a moment happened during our rehearsal – directly prior to going on stage in the hall. The atmosphere in the room came over so blissful, I imagine it can only compare to a Buddhist, when they are perfectly aligned and seeing out of the third eye (or myself after the third glass of Sauv Blanc when I experience many of the same sensations). At the end of the rehearsal everything went deathly quiet almost as if anyone spoke we might jinx it. Andy (our MD) cried (he’ll claim it was wind, but we saw it) and said sometimes we made him really proud. This set everyone off and several other people joined in this moist-eye-a-thon (including me), but my rather more pessimistic side muttered internally “I think we’ve just peaked”.

After a nervous few minutes waiting we all stepped on stage, and during that time we got some of the most useful advice anyone going out into a stressful performance situation can ever have. Judith (our vocal coach) passed down the line, got us all to loosen up and breathe, and reminded us that the acoustics of the hall were completely different to the room we’d just rehearsed in, and we would sound quieter to ourselves and feel like we weren’t ‘carrying’. She said “don’t worry, you will be, you are, and you’re all sounding beautiful”. Wise words indeed that lady. We opened with a number that selects itself as the most nerve racking possible way to open a competition program ever. The song ‘Sweetest Kick’ is by the Spooky Men’s Chorale and is sung completely a cappella, but it starts with all the sections of the choir hitting a perfectly pitched but VERY quiet and resonant note. It is REALLY hard to do! (Like only eating one Pringle hard!) And we did it (about 300 times before the competition, and thankfully once really well during it!). With that nerve-wrecker over with we worked through our other two numbers (an awesome arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by our assistant MD (and my trouble and strife) Chris, and a very tongue-in-cheek version of ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’), and in a blink, it was all over.

After killing a couple of hours (and receiving some lovely compliments from other choirs and audience members that had watched us perform) we returned for the results, and were absolutely shocked and thrilled to find out we had won our category – by half a point! Talk about knife edge! It didn’t stop there though. It was then announced we had won best UK Choir; queue more tears. Then last, but not least, one of the proudest moments of my life so far; Chris’ arrangement of Over the Rainbow won the ‘Best Single Piece of Music’ prize for the competition too. I can’t remember much of what happened next due to how utterly surreal it was that we – a community choir from South Wales – had just won one of the biggest amateur choral festivals in the world. A few drinks may have passed my lips following (you’ll notice a theme emerging here I’m sure). There was precious little time to let the victory fully sink in though, as straight after the competition you then move on to the rest of the festival engagements (we had another four concerts still to perform at this point!)

The evening concert was in St Austell and we were performing with a professional choir, a local one from Mevagissey, and one that had travelled all the way from Australia who had taken part in the competition earlier also. The lovely atmosphere and camaraderie was only heightened by the fact that just before we opened the second half of the concert, we were told that the final results for all categories were in, and we had been declared festival champions too. Someone joked that they were gutted we hadn’t won Best Cornish Choir and that ‘we woz robbed’. After the concert we were then taken down the road by the Mevagissey MVC to their local, where we sang ourselves hoarse drinking local ales and inhaling their free-flowing pasties, all supplied by festival sponsors (and very welcome they were!) You would probably think after all that we’d be up for partying all night, but the day had been so emotionally exhausting that no one lasted very long. Myself and Chris and some of our friends from other sections had a quick tipple in Fiona’s homely lounge and then returned to bed with our Ovaltine like good boys. Others were far less exemplary in their conduct but I have received payments from each of them to keep my counsel here…

Well that was part one of our Cornwall adventure but please stay tuned, Part 2 will be coming next week to fill you in on everything else that happened before we went home!
And most importantly before I leave you…

We welcome new members whenever they want to join, however we have special New Members Evenings throughout the year, and our next one is Thursday 18thMay 2017 at 8pm at Roath Church House and if you like what you’ve read so far and what to give us a try please come along, we promise tea, coffee cake and laughs!

SWGMC 2015: A Bass Note

SWGMC are back from our summer break and already gearing up for our next concert (17 October, since you ask), but rather than spending all of our time looking forwards we thought we’d take this opportunity to look back at how the choir have spent 2015 so far. So here our bass section leader, Stephen Whitehead, talks us through his highlights of SWGMC 2015:

Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.
Steven along with his section in a sectional gathering.

I’ve been asked to write about what it’s like to sing with SWGMC, in particular in those performances which are not principally ours but where we are invited to perform by others, sometimes for the first time. And events in 2015 have provided the ideal opportunity to do just that. Here goes.

By January 2015, South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus’ programme for the year was set, and included dates for our own Cardiff concerts in June and October, plus a visit to Cornwall in May. The first music for our June ‘Brotherhood’ themed concert had been sent, downloaded and printed ready for learning. Then three invitations, out of the blue and hot off the e-mail press, meant that our public performances would begin earlier than planned. Each would be a ‘first’ and would, in its own way, prove to be truly memorable.

SWGMC at the premier of "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage"; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys
SWGMC at the premier of “Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage”; Ruth Jones and Gareth Thomas paused for a picture with the boys

In February we were approached by National Theatre Wales. Would we be able to sing in the Sherman Theatre at the press night of Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, a new play which told the story of the career and ‘coming-out’, and resulting media sensation, of Welsh International Rugby player Gareth Thomas. Since he came-out Gareth has become an active campaigner against homophobia in sport, working especially with young people.
A couple of years ago the media reported a number of suicides amongst young people in Bridgend which had a devastating effect on the community, and through a thought-provoking balance of humour, drama and sport, the play skilfully interwove Gareth’s story with that of Bridgend and those suicides.
It showed not only how far we have come as society with regards to LGBT equality as a whole but also, in some respects, how far we have yet to go. It’s a sobering thought that for some in our audiences, these performances may be the only time they knowingly come into contact with openly gay people. The choir foregathered in the bar post curtain where, with a suitably chosen programme and against a percussive accompaniment of tinkling glasses, we entertained an appreciative audience. At times music becomes the way by which we can build bridges.

Pride Film
Pride (2014) highlighted the struggle the Miners and LGBT community faced back in the 1980’s under the Thatcher Government. Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners formed in 1984 and a year later they were joined in solidarity by the Welsh Mining Communities to march in London Pride of 1985.

In March we received another invitation, this time from Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre. Would we be able to sing at a special screening of ‘PRIDE’ at the Big Pit Mining Museum? The award-winning film charts the events of 1984/85 when a group from London, LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), spearheaded a nationwide campaign to financially support striking miners through voluntary collections. Initially they focussed on Onllwyn in South Wales, and thanks to their efforts the two disparate communities became united in a way that was unprecedented. As most of us had seen the film, some more than once, and knowing how moving, inspiring and uplifting it is we also knew this performance would be extra special. Thankfully we sang our twenty five minute programme prior to the film’s screening, as it would have been difficult singing afterwards. As one of our members commented, ‘Will there ever be a time when we don’t cry at this film?’ The question was not necessarily rhetorical.

London Pride
Subsequently we had the honour to join LGSM and Tredegar Town Band on June 27th at London Pride to commemorate this historic event in the campaign for LGBT equality.

Question: how do you squeeze eighteen choristers, a conductor, vocal coach, accompanist, keyboards, a presenter and all the usual studio equipment into one small BBC radio studio? The secret is to take it in turns to breathe, as we discovered when were asked by BBC Radio 2 to sing ‘live’ on the Jeremy Vine Show from BBC Llandaff in March.

SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff
SWGMC join the Jeremy Vine show live in Cardiff

Two numbers leading up to the main news on the hours of the programme? No problem. Would we be able to do something ‘extra’; how about a jingle for the programme? Certainly. You have one? Ah, you want us to invent one!? No problem! Three minutes to go, improvisation kicks in and with moments to spare we have a jingle, it is rehearsed, the BBC like it, and three minutes in we sing it ‘live’; to an anticipated audience of 7 million people. We have sung in concert halls, theatres, churches, even a bio dome at the Eden Project, but to an unseen audience of 7 million people! No pressure!
Those of you who were listening in may have recalled that rather challenging question Jeremy posed from his audience of “Why a gay choir?” – Mark Anderson told us all at the time very much “Why a gay choir?” in his blog.

Fast forward to July now (but not forgetting our Brotherhood concert in June, see previous blog post here). In 1471 there was some hostility in Tewkesbury when the Houses of Lancaster and York fought it out in the Wars of the Roses. Thankfully, when we arrived in 2015 all thoughts of hostility had abated, although the fact that the town was in the middle of a Medieval Festival was a vivid reminder of its past. As a choir we seem to thrive on challenges, and in this case this involved singing a selection of West End and Broadway Musical songs in a new venue (Tewkesbury Methodist Church), with a new orchestra (the brilliant Tewkesbury Camerata, who we’d never even met before) and under the baton of a new conductor, the accomplished maestro Mark Aitchison (who we had met before but not been regularly conducted by).

Shows-Songs-Final-Social-MediaTewkesbury Camerata are an orchestra who meet for the first time on the day of their concerts, rehearse in the afternoon and perform in the evening. We did exactly the same (after, it must be admitted, a piano rehearsal with Mark in Cardiff the Thursday before). Our previous experiences in Cornwall have proved that singing in Methodist Churches (Camborne, St Austell and now Tewkesbury) has a positive effect and this was no exception, as the capacity audience which was packed into the venue that night proved when, two and half hours later, they gave everyone participating that night a standing ovation. All performances are important – they are where we build bridges, establish new connections and invite audiences to share our world and love of music – but they are equally important in how we can raise awareness and funds to support our chosen charity. Of which, this year is Mind Cymru – our boys are running the Cardiff 10K Run in an effort to fundraise for Mind Cymru – Please help us reach our target of £800 for Team SWGMC

e98_EP6d_400x400 Cardiff-10K-code-panel

So far in 2015 we have received four invitations which have led to ‘firsts’ for us (and there are more to come at the time of writing, watch this space) and, as always, we have risen to the occasions. Singing is hard work, the ‘trick’ is to make it look, and sound, as if it’s not. It uses muscles you never knew you had, or had forgotten about. It involves intensive rehearsals, and any ‘deer in the headlight’ moments are combatted by an adrenalin rush. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun and with this choir it pays dividends on so many levels.

Oct 5th 2013 - RWCMD - SWGMC 5th Anniversary
Oct 5th 2013 – RWCMD – SWGMC 5th Anniversary

I’ve been singing for over fifty years, starting as a boy soprano, graduating through male alto and baritone to bass (by-passing tenor but not sure how), and over the years I’ve sung with some fantastic choirs, operatic societies and opera groups. I had the pleasure of joining South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus in 2009 and was invited to become bass section leader in 2012. From the moment we step out on stage to when we take our final bows, no matter what the venue or programme, singing with these guys is really special and there’s nowhere else, at that time, I’d rather be.

*** SWGMC says a huge thanks to Steven Whitehead on the blog he’s given us, recounting a very fruitful and enjoyable year we’ve all had! ***

Of ‘Mind’ and men

Since last year and re-launching this site, we’ve begun writing blogs to give our audience an insight into what life is like in SWGMC. These blogs have been about the great times we (and hopefully our audiences!) have had at our concerts, about the journeys we’re taking to festivals and other events that we’ve been invited to around Wales and the UK, and about the fun and social side of being in SWGMC and the mischief that we get up to when we’re not on stage (and sometimes when we are!).

stage-hackney

Of course our music and our various performances make up a big part of what we’re all about, but we also make a point of doing more and just singing. For example, each year we nominate a charity to fundraiser for, something that has become a fundamental part of who we are as a group, and we’ve learnt a lot from and contributed to our chosen charities since we began. The recent AGM we had back in February was no different, and the charity voted in for this year was Mind Cymru, highlighted in the AGM blog that we posted earlier this year.

mapmc

In 2015, society and its acceptance of civil rights has made tremendous strides into a more tolerant era, albeit mostly isolated still to the more economically and socially developed countries of our world. The progression these areas of the globe have achieved has not been without its share of turmoil, and you’d think that by now we’d be more tolerant in our view of the unknown.

Only recently, we’ve heard about the devastating plane crash that happened in Europe and the following news headlines attached to this, most of them showing an incredibly negative side of mental health. Our thoughts at SWGMC are with the families affected by this tragedy, but also with the family of the pilot responsible for the crash.

SWGMC and the community we represent are often all too familiar with the mistakes and poor choices the media take in highlighting a small part of someone’s identity and stretching its relevance to sensationalise a story.
As Pink News recently highlighted, being ‘gay’ is still targeted in the media, as was the case in this story. Mind have also released a statement about the media coverage of this event to respond to the negative focus on the man’s mental health – and this sadly is one of many reminders of the struggles faced by Mind and other mental health awareness groups, not to mention those affected by mental illness and their loved ones.

SWGMC are proud to support Mind Cymru this year, because mental health should now, finally, be taken more seriously in today’s world. It brings it home to all the boys, every time we hear of another teen suicide in the LGBT community, or with personal experiences with friends and family. Many of us at SWGMC have opened up and faced some of our own demons, and as a chorus we’ve been there for each other through song and we socialise together almost like a second family. For me especially, SWGMC has been as much of a support group as it has a serious commitment to great musicality and great performance.

Mental Health is beginning to be recognised in many forms, but one which we’d really like to focus on with Mind this year is that which affects men in the UK. Back in February of this year, the BBC highlighted that suicide is one the biggest killers of men in this country, highlighting in particular that “78% of all suicides were in men.” This is indeed shocking and many of us in the choir know of a friend or family member that this has affected. And so we’re looking forward to the partnership and support we can gain by teaming up with Mind Cymru this year and particularly hoping to highlight men’s mental health in our upcoming concert Brotherhood: A Celebration of Masculinity.

SWGMC_Man postcard_Faces_v1_rev2 - SWGMC_Man postcard_Hobbies_v1_rev2 -  (1)

Speaking of my own experience, since the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to myself to set some personal goals. Some were about starting new things, some were about self-improvement and one which I’ve particularly enjoyed was starting to read more. I have one final note to end this blog and one of which I thought highlights our upcoming concert nicely, a particularly poignant quote:

“If expressing what you want and feel means you can’t be a man, then this society has a really ******-up view of masculinity.”
– from “Smoky Mountain Dreams” by Leta Blake

All the men at SWGMC have their own identity and the way we define or even express our masculinity is different, for each of us, but we’re proud of who we are, proud of each other and we stick together as a group.

Thanks for reading – we’re hoping to see you at our upcoming concert and in support of Mind Cymru.