Choirs Special: Sam Oliver on the Brighton Gay Male Chorus

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be… Billie Eilish…

Going along to my first rehearsal with Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus (GMC) in January, it’s fair to say I was a little nervous. I had been in a relaxed community choir before, but this felt like a different league.  

Two-and-a-half hour rehearsals on a Tuesday night? Tick. 100+ other members? Tick. Christmas shows at the Brighton Dome? Tick.  

It’s a big choir with a big reputation and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this particular jelly. I also had some reservations about the musical repertoire. Like a fair few queer people, I enjoy the odd lip-sync-along to a Madonna classic, but overall my music taste tends to veer more towards the alternative aisle. More Garbage than Gaga. My impression of GMC was wall-to-wall razzle-dazzle gay anthems and that is not my musical bread and butter.  

Pssst…don’t tell anyone, but I’m not actually a big Kylie fan. 

Walking in to the beautiful, ornate church where rehearsals happen, I tried to put my reservations to the side. Within minutes, I got chatting to another friendly newbie and felt reassured that I wasn’t the only nervy one. I was then introduced to my ‘buddies’ for the evening, a delightful Baritone couple who put me at ease and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me. By the time we started our vocal warm-up, I was already feeling, well, warmed up. 

Four months and many hours of rehearsals later, it’s time for our ‘Diva’-themed shows in the Brighton Fringe festival. I’m in our sweaty dressing room in the interval, surrounded by half-naked chorus members frantically getting into their diva outfits for the second half. Mine is relatively low-maintenance but maximum colour impact: 

Neon-green joggers? Tick. Neon-green tie-dye baggy hoody? Tick. Neon green hair extensions attached to a blue wig? Tick.  

Tonight, I’m flying the alternative diva flag and I’m bringing some Billie Eilish green realness.  

Singing, socialising and support. These three S’s are what the chorus, a registered charity, aims to provide members and the wider community. In the months since I joined, I have been surprised by how much I’ve benefited on all three fronts. Sure, at times the singing part has been challenging, with loads of songs to learn at a pretty galloping pace. 

I see challenge as a good thing though, and I’ve developed greater strength and confidence in my singing as a result. It’s the social part, though, where I’ve gained even more. I’ve made several new friends and even gone on an impromptu trip to Belgium with one of them.  

Most of all, I feel a sense of belonging to a bigger queer community. Sometimes people assume that if you’re LGBTQ+ and you live in Brighton, as I’ve done for the past nine years, you’re automatically part of a big queer gang. That’s not been my experience and it’s taken me a while to really find my niche. The chorus is now somewhere I can call ‘home’ and that means a lot.  

As does discovering my own alternative brand of diva-ness, Billie-style. 

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