The Fourth Choir: Stonewall Warriors at Heaven
To commemorate 50 years since the Stonewall Inn riots, Stonewall Warriors was an evening celebrating and exploring the history of LGBT+ culture. Stonewall Inn was the only gay club in New York then (owned by the mafia), and on 28th June 1969 the venue was raided for the third time in two weeks by police demanding to see photo ID from all there and searching the women to ensure they were wearing “at least three items of female clothing”. This was the last straw for the already oppressed community and three days of rioting ensued, with drag queens, butch lesbians and all those in between joining in civil disobedience so they could love in peace.
London’s LGBT+ chamber choir, the Fourth Choir, conducted by Dominic Ellis-Peckham (with a rainbow flag painted on his head), performed choral pieces, which were interspersed with readings. The singers were dressed sharply in blacks and oranges and moved confidently amongst the crowd throughout the show.
Delivering the programme of readings were Jonathan Blake, Mzz Kimberley, Annette Badland and Sanchia McCormac. The ladies were resplendent in sequins and the gentleman in leather kilt with flashing heart pin. They presented fascinating stories that gave background on the meticulously chosen choral works. These included the creation of nun Hildegard of Bingen’s music, which was inspired by a fellow nun she fell deeply in love with in 1150, who was subsequently moved to another convent and died a year later. We heard the story of a German woman, known as Anastasius, who was a prophet in a cult called the Inspirants until she occasioned the death of a priest by prophesying he could walk on water (he drowned), served as a soldier and then married a woman for which she was then executed in 1721.
There was illumination on the “bisexual love triangle” that inspired Shakespeare’s sonnets. An arrangement of the Bard’s most famous sonnet, 18 (Shall I compare thee to summer’s day?), to music by Nils Lindberg was particularly beautiful. So were the pieces of music chosen for the age of Oscar Wilde, by Tchaikovsky and Camille Saint-Saens, both magical composers. The pair were said to have enjoyed an intimate relationship, which included dressing up as the ballerinas they composed for.
As the programme progressed to the riots, the music became more modern, with a tribal stamp in Panda Chant II by Meredith Monk. A feeling of building tension ended with the choir running from the performance space into the smaller room of the venue, shouting wildly. This was where the low ceilings came into effect, bouncing the shouts around to create excitement and danger. The show ended with jazzy Take the A Train by Billy Strayhorn, a Black composer who was openly gay throughout his life and who was a key collaborator with the Duke Ellington Orchestra for over 20 years.
The Fourth Choir were faultless in their skill and dedication, especially the enchanting sopranos, and it was clear that much passion, dedication and love had gone into this project, with each composition meticulously selected. However, the choice of venue did detract from the performance: choral music needs space to soar and a club has lower ceilings than other performance spaces. It is understandable why Heaven was chosen, given it is so intertwined in LGBT+ culture, but it meant that one could hear the crash of bottles, the till and the barmen chatting. For someone who likes to immerse themselves fully in music, to really feel it and be transported, this punctured the mood and was intrusive. A shame as the music and stories were so moving.
Photo: Carol Moir
Stonewall Warriors was at Heaven on 28th June 2019 as part of Pride in London 2019.
For further information and future events visit The Fourth Choir’s website here.