Music that unites us

Michael Betteridge, artistic director of The Sunday Boys, on singing together through isolation

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I set up The Sunday Boys in 2016 to give people the opportunity to sing together on a Sunday. And now they’re my family.

The choir’s humble origins are in the basement of what was once Taurus Bar on Canal Street, with a mix of friends and acquaintances who got together to just enjoy singing. Five years later we’re registered as an official company with a board of directors, rehearse at the Hallé St Michael’s, have over 60 active members and have performed nationally and internationally.

Most recently we have received national recognition for our work during lockdown, to keep our members and audiences connected and singing together, by being nominated for a National Lottery Good Causes Award for Project of the Year. From over 1,500 nominations we’ve been shortlisted as one of just 17 finalists. It’s been incredible to be recognised for everything that we do.

The Sunday Boys is an inclusive LGBTQ+ choir for low voiced singers in the city to enjoy music, perform and, of course, make new friends. It’s an ambitious, innovative and safe space for LGBTQ+ people and their allies to come together, connect and grow through their love of music and music making. We use choral singing to tell queer stories that reflect who we are and our experiences, and to provide an important voice for the LGBTQ+ community.

Like everyone, the pandemic hit us hard. We had just finished our sold-out Sondheim concert at the Lowry when, all of a sudden, our worlds turned upside down. Being in a choir is about being part of something, being a community and sharing experiences together, and to have that taken away from you… LGBTQ+ people have been at higher risk of social isolation and poor mental health during the pandemic and living in Manchester (a city with one of the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ populations) we have experienced longer and harsher lockdowns than much of the country.

But we were determined to keep on making music together. Providing that sense of community and support has been a lifeline to many members and we actually saw our membership increase as people sought new ways to feel connected. During the last 18 months we have done everything from music videos of particularly relevant songs like Joni Mitchell’s Urge for Going and Queen’s I Want To Break Free (a particularly fun watch, I have to say!) to our first ever digital concert and workshops and rehearsals both online and in a multi-storey car park!

As an LGBTQ+ choir we are in great company and we stand on the shoulders of giants. Music is powerful. It brings us together and unites us, but it also gives us a voice

We also worked with the Lowry to commission a new song written for us by the extraordinarily talented Scottish artist Finn Anderson. A singer-songwriter and musical theatre composer, Finn worked closely with the choir and listened to our own experiences to create Distant Dream, a song especially for us, about the words we would say to our younger selves. That feeling of creating something truly beautiful together is really special, and it was no surprise when it resonated with HIV activist and It’s A Sin actor Nathanial Hall, who then commissioned the choir to perform it at this year’s candlelit vigil for Manchester Pride.

I am exceptionally proud of The Sunday Boys and everything we have achieved, but we are not alone. LGBTQ+ choirs are not a new concept (and I must in particular shout out to Manchester Lesbian & Gay Chorus who have been going for over 20 years). The first LGBTQ+ choirs were formed in the US in the 1970s and were often a platform for visibility and community, as well as political action. During the 1980s and 1990s they found a new role, providing safe spaces for those facing persecution during the HIV/AIDs pandemic. Even today, LGBTQ choir festivals such as Hand in Hand in Asia present a defiant front in the face of nations where LGBTQ+ people still face national persecution and criminalisation.

As an LGBTQ+ choir we are in great company and we stand on the shoulders of giants. Music is powerful. It brings us together and unites us, but it also gives us a voice. When I look back at everything The Sunday Boys has achieved in the last five years, I get a thrill of excitement thinking about what we might accomplish in the next five years.

You can vote for us to win National Lottery Project of the Year (and please do!) by visiting this website or using the hashtag #NLASundayBoys on Twitter


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