Familiar to many thanks to their annual Winter Garden show, Out Aloud are a Sheffield choir made up of LGBT people from many different backgrounds. Ahead of their star-studded tenth anniversary show on 20 May, I spoke to musical director Val Regan and choir singer Angela Galvin to find out what has made the group such an enduring success.
With marriage equality achieved, is there still a need for a gay choir?
[Val] I’ve worked as a community musician for about 20 years and community music is about giving people access to music making who might not ordinarily have the chance. The other element is building communities, building confidence and cohesion. If you want to sing and you go along to a choir, they’re not going to call it a straight choir but effectively that’s what it is. There’s a culture and an assumed community there. Things are changing. There’s been great advances, but people have a need to be with others who share their experiences. It can also represent the LGBT community in a really uplifting, different way.
To join Out Aloud you don’t need any previous singing ability. Is that important to the identity of the choir?
[Val] Yeah, not just of this choir but it’s part of the ethos of how I work, to make music as accessible as possible. It’s important that people don’t have to read music or be particularly confident singers to join. It’s about taking away potential barriers to people making music as those things aren’t necessary. They’re just particular ways of doing it.
Tell us about the concert on 20 May.
[Val] It feels really important to mark ten years, because back then things were very different in Sheffield. It’s amazing to see all the friendships that have come about through the choir, so we’re really going to town.
[Angela] We’ve got the comedian Rosie Wilby, who’s compering the evening, and the 20-piece London Gay Big Band. Val’s working on arrangements with them so we’re going to sing a couple of numbers together.
[Val] The title is ‘Significant Others’, talking about LGBT lives through music. One song is about Rosetta Tharpe, who was hugely influential in creating the sound of pop music. She was a bisexual African American woman who most people have forgotten all about, so we’ll be celebrating her.
We’re a group of nearly 70 which contains a broad spectrum of people who contribute to the life of the city in so many different ways. It’s a great expression of what can happen when you come together with one purpose. We’re going to take people on a journey. We hope people will laugh and cry and sing with us. There’ll be outfits and dancing. There’ll be trombones. What more can you possibly want?
What’s your favourite song that you perform?
[Val] That’s really tricky. This is like Desert Island Discs. I just like whatever new song we’re working on, because you get really excited about hearing the choir singing it.
[Angela] At least two of the ones we’re rehearsing at the moment are becoming favourites. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is going to be fantastic. The next one is always your favourite one. The other is ‘Panther’.
[Val] It’s a great song by a contemporary American songwriter who writes in the shape-note tradition. It’s a very different style, but it’s a fantastic, rousing, raise-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck kind of song. We’re doing that at the concert as well. That’s quite a good representation of the spread of repertoire that we’ve got: archetypal pop to contemporary choral pieces which are very exciting to sing.
Out Aloud’s 10th anniversary celebration takes place at The Octagon on Saturday 20 May. Tickets are £15 via the SIV box office.