Choir exchanges can be mutually beneficial and culturally enriching as both choirs perform together, socialize, and explore each other’s home turf. dIE TAKTLOSEN have had their fair share of choir exchanges, yet none of them come close to our friendship with Voces Gaudii.
In early 2018, as we rehearsed our new repertoire for Various Voices in Munich that May, we heard from an LGBT choir based in Warsaw who had started a crowdfunding project to allow them to travel to and perform at the festival. Our reaction was one of great admiration for an LGBT choir that dared to even exist, let alone perform, in Poland. We were also aware of the strain that traveling to Dublin for Various Voices in 2014 had put on our own pockets. We responded with as generous a donation as we could afford. E-mails back and forth expressed gratitude and we pledged to keep in touch and attend each other’s concerts at the festival.
On a hot and breezy mid-May day in the center of Munich, a group of us went to hear Voces Gaudii perform at one of the outdoor soundstages. They were young, energetic and had a refreshingly positive vibe. Their repertoire appeared to cover everything from the Italian Renaissance and traditional Polish folksongs to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. The stage’s sound system struggled to drown out the extraneous noise, but we were hooked.
dIE TAKTLOSEN had performed at the Gasteig on Saturday and had partied that night. Voces Gaudii, however, was one of the last choirs to perform, with a slot on Sunday morning. We piled into the small theatre, some of us with hangovers from the night before, some of us with luggage ready to hightail it out for a journey home, but all of us eager to hear more singing from this intriguing group of people. Nothing could have prepared us for what happened next. In the course of however many minutes, Voces Gaudii sang, their warmth and positive vibe, their well-rounded sound, and their inspired choice of repertoire really captivated their audience. But it was their final encore number that was the most moving: We Shall Overcome, a very fitting close to a concert by a Polish LGBT choir that shows such unswerving courage in the face of adversity.
At Various Voices, we had reached out to several choirs with the idea of putting on a joint pre-Christmas concert. As time went on, however, it became clear that a joint concert with Voces Gaudii would be the most viable option. And so it was that the cooperation between our two choirs was born.
We were very honored to welcome Voces Gaudii to Cologne for a fun-packed weekend in early December 2018 which included a meet and greet on Friday, an afternoon and an evening concert on Saturday followed by a party well into the early hours, and a brunch on Sunday. For those who weren’t completely exhausted by Sunday afternoon, there was even a sightseeing tour of Cologne.
The common language of the proceedings was, of course, English. Music is also a language, however, and anyone who has ever sung or played in a music group will know the fulfilling connection that comes from communicating with others through music. It was through this connection that both choirs came closer. Many reported that their most treasured memory of the weekend was the local Kölsch song ‘Unser Stammbaum’ which both choirs sang together, with Voces Gaudii singing in Kölsch dialect and dIE TAKTLOSEN singing in Polish. Given the history of relations between Germany and Poland, this joint performance was an especially moving experience for many in the audience, most of whom were German.
What, on Friday, had begun as a cooperation between our choirs was, by the Sunday, becoming a friendship.
Fast forward to early December 2019 and it was in the spirit of friendship that Voces Gaudii extended a very warm welcome to dIE TAKTLOSEN in Warsaw. Voces Gaudii had also planned a fun-packed weekend with cultural highlights including an evening at Ramona, Warsaw’s oldest gay bar, karaoke in one of Warsaw’s gay/mixed nightspots, a delicious lunch in a typical Polish bar mleczny, and a guided tour of LGBT Warsaw. The latter was remarkable in that it brought home to a choir from a city with one of the biggest Gay Pride events in Germany, just how invisible LGBT people are in Polish society and how their lives and achievements are either straight washed or simply absent from the history books.
It was this invisibility that both choirs wanted to counter with their concert of pieces from their current repertoires. This year’s big cultural crossover collaboration was the cheerful Polish Christmas song, Z kopyta kulig rwie, which could be termed the Polish equivalent of Jingle Bells. dIE TAKTLOSEN had spent several weeks getting their tongues around the piece’s challenging consonant clusters and their hard work met with a resoundingly positive reaction from the audience. For two and a half hours, both choirs were very visible.
A couple of days after the concert, Voces Gaudii reported that it had brought genuine hope to some members of the audience. One of those was a 14-year-old Roma boy who is growing up gay in Warsaw and, as anyone might imagine, has not had the best childhood. He watched the entire concert in stunned silence because he had never seen so many LGBT people who were so happy, beautiful and strong. On the way home, he told his mother that he had no idea gay people lived so long. “So, maybe I will too.”
Our friendship will continue. Watch this space.
Text by Richard Patrick from Cologne.
Pictures by Mikołaj Stefański.