Category Archives: Blog Posts

Some thoughts from across the pond

I have a privileged job in that it takes me all over the world. I have visited places and experienced things I never would have otherwise. I’ve worked in places such as Nigeria where I was advised to wear a fake wedding ring (when I wasn’t married) to prevent me from being hassled and asked why I wasn’t married; and Mexico where I left my (genuine) wedding ring at home to ensure I wasn’t mugged for it. My job is to help students from other countries come and study at Cardiff University, and as such I have travelled to many countries for over 10 years now. It’s a job I enjoy and believe in, even though it means I often miss one of my main passions – singing in Songbirds choir, Wales’ only LBT choir. We sing an eclectic mix of music, reflecting our equally eclectic members and we’ve performed at weddings, charity gigs, on stage at Pride, auditioned (and been shortlisted) for Gareth Malone, been featured on Made In Cardiff TV, and of course hold our own concerts a couple of times a year.

So yes, my job means I miss more choir rehearsals than I’d like but I still practice as I travel around – listening to a recording of my part (Alto) that our wonderfully talented Choir Director meticulously records for us to practice to, and learning the words as I fly or drive around – but it’s not the same as rehearsing each week with my choir family. For it is a family. We are all come together once a week, from our often very different lives, be it as workers, students, parents, working parents, retirees etc., to stand together to sing. We are of mixed backgrounds, ages, nationalities, political beliefs and musical abilities – but when we all sing together we make music. Often very beautiful music. It’s so uplifting and is the best tonic to a stressful day/week/year/life!

For the first 7 years of my life as an international officer for Cardiff University my markets included most of the Far East as well as Africa and non-EU Europe, including Russia. From the beginning I did so as an out lesbian. Out in my personal life, that is, and out with my colleagues – but never out when working overseas. And to some extent that’s only right, professional – why should I share my personal life in mostly fleeting encounters anyway, regardless of my sexual orientation? But it was awkward at times. I worked with agents in, for example, China, for over half a decade – I knew about their personal & family lives, but I remained evasive about mine for the sake of our (otherwise) close working relationship. In other counties, such as Russia & Nigeria, it was literally more to do with personal survival. Yet I still felt compromised. It flew in the face of what Stonewall terms “being authentic”. And how can we be our best if we’re not being authentic? It’s a question I grappled with on each and every trip.

Three or so years ago I had the fortune to change my markets and became responsible for recruiting students from North & Latin America. Just as my fortune changed even more for the better and I met my soulmate, my finally-&-forever woman and, now, my wife. Whilst I still obviously wasn’t going around outing myself left, right & centre, suddenly it was ok to occasionally drop “my wife” into sentences when asked questions about my personal life. I could wear my wedding ring without worrying about answering questions about what does my husband do & how many children do I have (does 2 cats & 1 dog count?). I could refer to myself as Mrs Watts-Peters and explain how
double-barrelled names work (something a surprising number of people still don’t understand!) without embarrassment.

But now the incomprehensible has happened. Donald Trump is in the White House. One week in and White House pages on civil rights have been taken down, women’s rights to choose what happens to their own bodies are under threat, and war has pretty much been declared on anything or anyone defined, by them, as “other”. One week on and I was on my way to the US, starting in DC.

Now, I wasn’t expecting to land in a country so fundamentally changed that I no longer recognised it. I knew I was unlikely to personally encounter homophobia. And I didn’t. But how long before the vitriol and fear, borne from closed minds, seeps down? Before those who previously kept their prejudices against anything other than white & US-born to themselves, or at least their own, now  feel empowered to say and do exactly as want, to whomever they want? Maybe not in DC or New York, or California, where I often visit, but what about Texas, where I also often visit? Where even  pre-Trump I was very cautious. And well we might fear the worse if the noises coming out of DC so far are anything to go by, especially regarding the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) which, if  passed, would effectively legalise anti-LGBTQ discrimination – including among employers,  businesses, landlords and healthcare providers, as long as they claim to be motivated by firmly held  religious beliefs.

But as the world has already shown, and will I’m sure continue to show, we will stand in solidarity against racism, homophobia & sexism. The world will march, protest, stand up for and rage against  any atrocities which threaten our civil liberties. More than anything, LGBT+ communities across the world will carry on carrying on, proud of who we are. We’ve come too far and suffered too much to go back now.

And one more thing is for certain. I will still sing out loud in my hotel room, or sit on airplanes with my choir words open on my iPad & the Alto part on my headphones. And if questioned I will tell  them I’m rehearsing for Songbirds, an LBT choir. On 7th April we’re marking our 5th birthday with a celebratory concert. So come & see us in action – all are welcome. Better yet, if you like what you  hear and fall under the LBT umbrella, why not join us?!

By Sarah Watts-Peters

Feeling proud (with a small sprinkling of panic) at Pride

Waiting to go on at Chapter on Friday night gave me time for thoughts like, ‘I’ve forgotten all the songs!’ and ‘What if I blast out a high note all on my own in the wrong place?!’. It was reassuring standing between my first Soprano compatriots. Starting with You’ve Got Time was so cool: Clap Clap, Stamp! – like saying, ‘Shut up and listen everyone, the Songbirds are here!’ After that our voices rang out and if I hadn’t been so busy concentrating on Rosie’s conducting (and great facial expressions!) I reckon I’d have shed a tear for the beauty and strength of the sound we made together.

Saturday morning my partner Anne and I found the lovely Songbirds banner and joined the march. Having come out as a young lesbian at the time when Maggie Thatcher was banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ and scorning ‘pretend family relationships’, I still find it pretty amazing to see the police and the public smiling at us and sporting rainbows (though I’m not sure why everyone was waving flags with a rainbow-coloured chicken on!). It was a bit hard singing Love Shine a Light and Bread and Roses with the samba band drumming in front of us, but what we lost in finesse we made up for in volume. All ending up at the Angel Hotel was a great idea, their posh toilets saving us from the Portaloos in the park.

Backstage the excitement of meeting Heather Pearce (and taking selfies with a balloon unicorn) kept us busy until they called ‘Songbirds on next!’ (at which point panic grabbed me again but was banished by a quick verse of Valerie). We lined up on the stairs, then climbed to the heat and brightness of the stage. Then we were off, feeling pretty damn proud as we channelled Amy Winehouse and Adele… it all seemed to be all over in moments, and I can’t wait to do it again next year (how about singing with us next time, Heather?).

Lois, August 2016

Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining LBT women in Cardiff.

We have now moved to Monday nights! 7.15 for a 7.30 start at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.

Catch them Birds: August Performances

The sun is up, Pride is on the horizon.

“Where can I catch those Birds?” I hear you think…

Friday 12th August, 9pm onwards in bar at Chapter Arts Centre – FREE Entry

‘Proud Voices – A Marriage of Convenience’

This evening of iconic music will see Cardiff’s resident LGBT* choirs join forces to kick off Pride Weekend in Cardiff.

Come and enjoy the atmosphere in Chapter’s Cafe Bar, while the choirs rouse and dazzle with songs from musical icons old and new!

Saturday 13th August – Mainstage at Coopers Field – timings TBC

Songbirds will return in a blaze of glory to light up the mainstage at Coopers Field with a short set of fresh repertoire.

 

 

Cardiff for Orlando

Last Monday, several hundred people – the BBC estimated 350 – gathered in front of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay to hold a vigil for the 49 victims of the Orlando shooting. Sparked by the dreadful news that hit our televisions, newspapers and web pages on Sunday morning, the vigil was organised in a matter of hours and was one of many held across the world.

The feeling in the crowd was one of pride and defiance as much as it was mourning as the assembled crowd adorned themselves with rainbows, draping themselves in the array of pride flags – gay, trans, bi, pan – usually reserved for Mardi Gras, marches, and other celebrations of our community.

In the face of this atrocity, as in the face of many others that our community has faced, we react with resistance and messages of peace and hope. It is a mark of the power and importance of our community.  In every country around the world, we grieved the Orlando murders as if we had all lost 49 friends.

As many people have commented, the nightclub in which the attack took place, and others just like it across the globe, is so much more than just a place to drink and dance. These are the places in which we are free, places where we can celebrate our identities, places where we can find support and community.

As a community our strength is in the ways that we gather and in the bonds we form between ourselves. It is in this spirit that we invite you to join us, not only to sing, but to celebrate and build our community here in Cardiff.

 

Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining lesbian, bisexual and trans* women in Cardiff.

We meet at 7.15 to rehearse from 7.30pm every Wednesday at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.

 

 

Treowen Manor: Wedding Serenades and a Wall of Cows

Way back in December last year Songbirds were invited to perform at a wedding – the third matrimonial event we were to perform at as a choir. What it is to be in demand!

Having had plenty of notice, we had been learning new material over the spring and were really looking forward to have the opportunity to perform it.

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon we set off towards rural Monmouthshire and with perfect weather for a spring wedding, we were looking forward to enjoying the scenery on the way. What we did not anticipate, however, was turning off onto a track and coming face to face with a wall of cows as this particular herd were heading back to the farm…

photo

Cue a decidedly un-alto shriek from Emily and Amo!

Fortunately it was only a minor bovine delay and shortly afterwards everyone arrived at Treowen Manor house. This 17th century manor house is a spectacular venue and we were very excited to be singing there – not only is the building over 400 years old and the views from the grounds stunning, it has also been used for filming Doctor Who! We set ourselves up in the Banqueting Hall (!) and got warmed up ready to sing.

Then as the wedding party finished their photographs, we embarked on our set.

We had spent a few weeks learning ‘Joyful Joyful’ from Sister Act 2 (Back in the Habit) as requested by the bride and groom, so opened our set with this. Learning this song has been a challenge as the style is different from lots of the rest of our repertoire, but we pulled it off – with big congratulations to the choir members who had solos at the end of the song!

From here we moved through the rest of our set which included some more soppy songs (as we were at a wedding after all) as well as other new numbers such as The Weeknd’s ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ which was thoroughly enjoyed by all!

After a more mellow a capella section we finished with Regina Spektor’s ‘You’ve Got Time’ which we learnt last year for Cardiff Pride – watch this space as we are to perform there again later this year.

Our set was well received and guests were dancing and singing along which was great to see! A big thank you to Rosie who worked so hard preparing us for the concert and also to Daniel our accompanist for helping deliver a really solid performance.

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Not to miss out on the opportunity of being in such a beautiful venue, we took a couple of photos of the choir before relaxing post performance with a round or two of crazy golf and a wander round the ground of the manor. We were really pleased with our performance and had a great time singing, relaxing and enjoying the day.

Thanks to Jaime and Alex for inviting us!

Kate Bodd, June 2016

Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* women in Cardiff.

We rehearse every Wednesday from 7.15 at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.

New members always welcome!

International Women’s Day 2016: Songbirds on the Glanfa Stage

This year Songbirds were asked to entertain the masses at the Wales Millenium Centre WOW Festival to help mark WEN Wales’ International women’s day celebrations. As a group of LBT women, we all understand how important and pertinent it is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the world. Whilst there are some significant advances in these areas, we are also reminded that progress towards gender parity globally has slowed in many countries, and that there is a greater mountain to climb for women especially those being oppressed, raped, tortured, segragated, excluded from education work and politics, and those used in modern slavery.

As an avid member of Songbirds choir for over two years I have often been fortunate to have been on the receiving end of the most wonderful public feedback about our performances, and regardless of this (in all honesty) I often come away from said performances being quite self critical, remembering more about how I forgot a lyric or that I came in to soon or too late. That said, there are other times I leave thinking ‘today I gave it my all,’ and moments when the hairs on the back of my neck tingle as the gathering of a group of women singing in perfect harmony is quite simply beautiful.


However, for The WOW festival, I experienced Songbirds in a very different light. After not singing with the choir for nearly a month due to me paying a visit to the surgeons for a much needed op, I found myself in the role of ‘spectator’ (albeit I still ended up passing round a good handful of flyers and talking to people about the choir.)


As the girls stepped up and took their places on stage I experienced a sense of Pride and longing to be on stage with them. ‘I’m part of that wonderful choir!!’ I could hear myself think. I could also see some nerves on stage – I’ve experienced that with them also in previous gigs so I am aware of how that feels – but at the point they began singing it was like a beam of energy and female solidarity hit the Glanfa stage, and the impact on me as an audience member was quite powerful. They owned the space, and people sat around me listening intently and enthusiastically. 

As much as I have always enjoyed being an active member and always singing on stage, on Saturday I felt I was blessed in a different way with the opportunity to be reminded of what it is I gain from being in the choir, and I heard the choir as I’ve never heard them before. I was able to listen more intently, and I could see joy pain and anger in each of their faces as their faces reflected the mood/temperament and beat of each of the songs.


I couldn’t help but smile and become glassy eye’d as they belted out tunes such as Shoshaloza, Songbird, Bread and Roses, and You’ve got Time. Yes it’s true that our MD has to wave her arms around rather enthusiastically to get us all to sound how she thinks we should sound, but from where I was sitting I think the arm waving pays off, and what I witnessed and experienced was nothing short of fantastic and heart warming, and it was all in the name of International Women’s Day, Songbirds have done themselves proud once again!

                                                                                                                                     – Julia, March 2016

 

Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining LBT* women.

We rehearse 7.30 every Wednesday at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.

 

 

Happy 4th Birthday Songbirds!

  • I’m not going to lie to you, between supporting my wife through some pretty intense work stuff and starting a new job myself, January has been a pretty busy month for me. So when I arrived promptly at my usual 19:34 and joined in with Rosie’s warm up at the back of the church, it did take me a minute to clock the ginormous cake at the front of the church and realise what it must represent. Four years of Songbirds choir!

    Christmas 2011 was my first out of university. I was right at the beginning of a career as a freelancer and all my university friends were scattering to the four winds. I knew I wanted to stay and make Cardiff my home but three years at drama school doesn’t necessarily give you many opportunities to get to know the wider community. I was broke, lonely and a little bit scared. I joined a choir and, having not sung a note since school, began to feel more like myself again. The MD of that choir invited me and my girlfriend Rachel to the LGCM Carol Service. We saw the boys of South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus perform and she said “we should start a choir for gay women,” And so, we did.

    That Christmas, I tried to explain to my parents why I was so excited about it. They didn’t quite get it; they were concerned about why I didn’t feel welcome as a bi woman in my other choir. It wasn’t that, I told them – it’s just that sometimes you just want a space to call yours. Somewhere you can celebrate being you. If no one comes, I said, then that will mean there isn’t a need for it. But maybe some women will come.

    Four years later, and women are still coming. I’ve lost count of the songs we’ve learned and the performances we’ve had. When Rachel and I got married last year, there were twelve guests celebrating with us who we’d met through Songbirds. I’ve learnt I don’t always need to sing alto (thanks, Kate!), how to play backgammon (thanks, Netta!) and how to fully embody the role of a lairy sailor (thanks, Les Mis!). I know I’ve made friends for life.

    We are a motely bunch, brought together just by our love of music and our love of women. We walk many paths and sometimes I think there are more differences than similarities between us! But, of course, that is our strength. When we make music together and sing “like the skies are shouting,” we make Cardiff our space and we celebrate each other.

    Happy birthday, Songbirds! Here’s to all that 2016 may bring.

    Oh and yes, the cake was incredible!

        – Bethan, Jan 2016

Girls Up Front: 5 Names to Watch Out For

Touching greatness in 2015…

Rozi Plain

Hailing from Winchester, Rozi Plain seems to be popping up all over the place at the moment. (If you correctly interpret ‘all over the place’ as ‘all over the Radio 6 playlists’…)

The latest of her records ‘Friend’ was written while she was living on a boat – a fact which is reflected in its unhurried flow and in one or two disctinctly watery lines.

She also plays with This Is the Kit.

2015 album: ‘Friend’

Listen to this: when you’re feeling philosophical and just a little bit wise.

Stand-out tracks:

Neatest lyrics:

‘It will be reported to be

a difficult year,

a tumultous year…’  (‘Actually’)

‘It is known that it changed

it had just been rearranged

so the bad and sort of okay

is weighted differently

today…’  (‘Rearrange’)

Julia Nunes

Julia Nunes gained something of a cult following for her YouTube renditions of pop songs, layering sound and video in order to play ALL THE PARTS. However, she is also a mighty fine songwriter.

She is dating Dannielle Owens-Reid of Everyoneisgay.com fame. #FanGirlFacts

2015 album: ‘Some Feelings’

Listen to this: when you’ve started to knit the pieces of your broken heart back together and you’re feeling pretty good about it.

Stand-out tracks:

Neatest lyrics:

‘I want to make so many mistakes

that you’re lowest on the list

I want to make mistakes

and I want you to hear about it…’ (‘Something Bad’)

‘Had I known when I was deciding

that I would feel it

in every empty shelf

I may have stopped myself…’ (‘I Don’t Want to’)

Samantha Crain

…is my favourite find of the last six months. She is just this fantastically exciting combination of classic storytelling and subtle twists of phrase. She makes me want to pick up my guitar and write ten songs in a row.

Samantha Crain is from Shawnee, Oklahoma, and she’ll appeal to country music fans, words people and anyone who enjoys full rich vocals.

2015 album: ‘Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

Listen to this: when you’re looking for something rich but tender.

Stand-out tracks:

Neatest lyrics:

‘My neighbour died on Sunday

35 years old.

Never asked for sugar.

Never said hello…’ (‘You or Mystery’)

‘I know I you broke it,

but I’ve got spare parts.

When you come back

would you bring my heart.’ (‘When You Come Back’)

Keep your ears peeled for these in 2016…

Lucius

Lucius are a super-hip five piece from Brooklyn, New York.

Clever, clever writing with full arrangements that drape themselves around the closely harmonised dual vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig.

‘Wildewoman’ (2013) was amazing and I am very excited about this year’s offering…

2016 album: ‘Good Grief’ – due out on the 11th March.

Sneak previews:

Chris Pureka

Has been a great lyrical love of mine for many years! In my first year of university I listened to ‘These Pages’ on repeat for a week, then wrote my first proper song. (For ‘proper’ read ‘not terrible/excruciating/teenage’).

Sexy americana cool with heartfeels and a handsome wry smile.

2016 album: ‘Back in the Ring’ – due out on the 1st of April.

Classic Pureka:

 

Feeling musical now?

Excellent – why not come along to a Songbirds rehearsal?

Every Wednesday at 7.30pm, City URC on Windsor Place, Cardiff. 

Songbirds Choir is a non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans* women. 

Respice, Prospice: Here come the japes of January!

As we nestle in these last few peaceful moments before we thrust ourselves back into our usual routines and take on the bluster of January, I find myself reflecting on the many activities of the last month.

This Christmas it was our pleasure to make a return visit to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s (LGCM) Christmas Carol Service. It provided a lovely opportunity for us to share the stage with the boys at SWGMC and to support the good people of City United Reformed Church and The Gathering. City URC have been fantastic in supporting us on our journey thus far and we continue to be deeply grateful for the use of their beautiful church as the base for our weekly rehearsals. The service was lively yet thought provoking with a number of deft changes of pace between the celebratory boom of carols like the ’12 Days of Christmas’ and quieter reflections from guest speakers on what it means to truly stop and observe Christmas. Particularly poignant were the speeches made by representatives of Displaced People in Action (DPIA), a charity which works with refugees and asylum seekers and who are looking to set up a coffee morning for LGBT* refugees and asylum seekers who may be struggling to find community for many reasons.

On the 14th of December we played host to our own Christmas Concert ‘Sing Noel! With Songbirds Choir’. In spite of the enthusiastic attempts of this year’s triumphant cold virus to flatten our forces, we pulled through as a choir and managed to deliver a buoyant and joyful performance at Jolyons. It was fantastic to sing to a full room and I get the distinct impression that the audience enjoyed it as much as we did! There’s something about a pinch of adversity that brings this flock together and I think the light and strength of our bonds as a community (which doesn’t take itself too seriously…) shone through.

On the 19th we popped up to the second floor of John Lewis on the Hayes to entertain the milling masses with our own brand of festive fun. It was something of a departure from the focused beam of audience attention that we have experienced at our previous gigs as our listeners made their way around the shop to our dulcet chorus, but it was evident from the smiles (and from our own sofa-based family of impromptu supporters) that we were able to add something special to the atmosphere.

At the end of the month we paid a visit to De Courcey’s Manor to sing at our second wedding gig of the year. This was great fun despite the many and varied logistical challenges of getting ourselves back to Cardiff for the 27th. (Thank you to our pianist Rich for rescuing our Musical Director from Newport…). And yes, the bride looked beautiful.

In a way the season saw us come full circle – returning to Jolyons and ending the year by fulfilling the gig we booked in June (or maybe May?) after we were spotted singing at the wedding reception for two of our own ‘Birds. By my watch that makes it the perfect moment to heed the words of my beloved late mentor MG – ‘Respice Prospice’ (Look back, but also look forwards).

And so we launch into 2016 buoyed by the successes of the last year and lifted by the hope of all that is still to come for our community.

Our first stop – finding some more of us!

To this end – on Wednesday the 6th of January we will be holding a New Members session, and you are very welcome to join us.

7.30pm at City United Reformed Church on Windsor Place, Cardiff.

No auditions. Just community and choir fun.

                                                                                                                     – Jan 2016

Songbirds Choir is a Cardiff-based non-auditioning community choir for self-defining Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans* women.