UK gets its third gay orchestra

UK gets its third gay orchestra


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2016

There’s one in London, another in Birmingham.

Now Exeter is coming out with a new ensemble. Some 30 LGBT players have signed up.

First rehearsal October 7.

See here.

The conductor is Tim Pithers, a former British Airways crew member.




  • Alex says:

    I think they should check at the door is everyone at the concert is gay, to ensure that everything is absolutely politically correct. God help us if any heterosexuals might be listening in!

  • Dan oren says:

    Gay what?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Crazy. A ‘gay orchestra’ is as absurd as a ‘roman catholic shoe factory’.

    • Scribe says:

      A Slippedisc article without a comment from John Bordtlap, as improbable as a flying, singing watermelon

    • Mikey says:

      You know, I WANT to like you. I like the music you write. We seem to have more-or-less the same beliefs regarding tonality’s place in contemporary music.

      But then you have to go and throw all that good will away by making a stupid homophobic comment.

      It’s a shame that with this comment you show yourself to be nothing more than a bigot.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I know, these things are extremely hard to understand. The absurdity lies in the connection between label and content: ‘gay music making’ is entirely similar to ‘non-gay music making’, as a ‘roman catholic shoe’ is indistinguishable from a protestant shoe or an entirely secular shoe. A doctors amateur orchestra does not offer other results than any other amateur orchestra, apart from available medial emergency service but that has nothing to do with the music making. Also, a female conductor does not sound gender-different from a male one, and the Torino Mandoline Orchestra which consisted, before PC reform, entirely of North-Italian women, does not sound differently now there are men and African immigrants contributing to the musical result. And so on…

        • Mikey says:

          I know these things are terribly hard to understand, but for some people who are members of minorities still regularly targeted with violence, the need for a safe space, one surrounded by people of like-mind, where none will judge them, is a good thing.

          no one here has said that “gay music making” is different (although a number of studies have been done on the topic and it is debatable), except that you felt the need to call out an LGBT community organization as being “absurd” without taking the time to understand the context of it.

          • Alexander says:

            Oddly, whereas you seem to think that Dr Borstlap is mostly right about music but mostly wrong about humanity, I have found that I often disagree with his views on music, while his views on humanity are often so insightful and eloquent that I only wish that I had thought to say the same thing myself. Take this comment, for example: “Beautiful project. I only feel sorry for the kids who are not talented. They see their friends getting somewhere, and are left behind. As we know, talents are not distributed according to right, race, class, nationality, gender, character. But every child has the right to live a worthy life, with or without musical talents.” – See more at: If I am certain of one thing it is that the man who wrote those words cannot be called a bigot.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I should elaborate a bit….. It is perfectly normal when a strict roman catholic businessman sets-up a shoe factory, but he will be absurd if he presents his business as roman catholic. If gays come together to make music, or whatever activity which has nothing to do with erotic interests (assuming an orchestra meets the requirement), presenting the orchestra as ‘gay’ is as absurd as selling atheist chocolate bars or atonal stockings. But I may be wrong of course, and a newspaper advert inviting knitting fanatics for a weekly bhudist knitting session may attract just the right people where everybody feels at ease.

  • General Ambivalent says:

    Isn’t the LGBT meme getting a trifle “shagged out” by now (permit the metaphor). Along with feminism and skin color, it is becoming a favorite vehicle for co-opting all other social issues and forcing them under its umbrella.

  • Alexander says:

    I should be genuinely interested to learn from anybody identifying as LGBT+ why they would wish to belong to an LGBT+ orchestra. If I were thinking about playing in an amateur orchestra my choice of orchestra would be determined by a combination of factors including the musical standard of the orchestra, specialisation of repertoire (if any), geographical location/convenience of access by public transport, and rehearsal and performance commitments. It would not occur to me that I would prefer to make music with other people based on factors such as sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, religion, political convictions, occupation, educational background, and so on. Indeed, I love the fact that music is something which can be shared by people otherwise divided by so many other categorisations. But if there are compelling reasons why LGBT+ people prefer to make music with other LGBT+ people I should be very interested to learn of them.

    • Bruce says:

      Alexander —

      The possibility that occurred to me is that they find the idea of a congenial social space appealing. I think it’s not uncommon that all of us, in our daily lives, may have to work with people who make us uncomfortable in some way or another. I’m not saying that no one should ever have to experience social discomfort, but it’s normal & natural that in one’s leisure time one would seek a group where one could feel a sense of belonging.

      I’m gay and mixed-race. I’m not secretive about either trait, although I don’t push it on people. Where I work, we all have lunch together at a big table and the conversation ranges wherever it may. I’ve sat there while white people opine very confidently on the state of black America, how the victims of police shootings must have done something to deserve being shot (including the 13-year-old boy in Cleveland — someone else objected that surely she didn’t mean that a 13-year-old “deserved” to be shot, but the person was adamant that she did indeed mean that), and if black people would just stop provoking the police everything would be fine, and so on. Other times people have held forth on the inappropriateness of making a big deal out of marriage equality and equal protection, and how “the rest of us” are oppressed by political correctness (which IIRC used to be called “good manners”). I tend to avoid confrontation, and I am pretty much the lowest-ranking person in the department, so I just watch all the heads nodding in unanimous agreement while I pretend to check my phone. I like my job, and I need it, and I have to get along with these people. I do not consider my situation a difficult one; but after work, I think it would be understandable if I chose a social setting where this kind of thing was unlikely to happen.

      Just my $.02.

      • Bruce says:


        So… if I played in an amateur orchestra, musical factors might not be my only, or even main, criteria for joining a group.

        • Alexander says:

          This argument does compel me somewhat, so thank you for posting it. I have to say, though, that I find it depressing to think that even today it is common for people to express these thoughts. Of course nobody would want, nor should be expected, to make music in an environment in which he or she will be subjected to racism, misogyny, homophobia, or any other kind of discrimination or bigotry. I am probably very optimistic, but I would have hoped that these attitudes would have been less prevalent among musicians.

          • Bruce says:

            Alexander — these are not musicians. In my orchestra job people are much more accepting, and any discriminatory-type activity takes harmless forms like being (I think) the only person in the wind section not invited to a certain wind player’s house for dinner over the course of 15+ years.

  • Dan P says:

    So what I get from the comments above is that it’s objectionable, absurd, or otherwise mystifying that people who feel a kinship based on their shared inclinations, interests in common, or the like want to get together to play music. Right? The thing is, LOTS of people do. And what exactly is wrong with that?

    The simple fact is lots of people like to get together on this basis to do things they all enjoy – be it sports, music, or whatever. Do you object to the existence of a local youth orchestra – or a doctor’s orchestra (there are a number of them in the U.S.) or a women’s orchestra? There are those here too. And what about an amateur music group composed of people who belong to the same organization, say a church or other social group.

    People do it to have fun in a joint venture with people they feel a kinship with. Why the mystery and the defensiveness? Why all the sniping?

    • Mikey says:

      thank-you for understanding.

    • Alexander says:

      I am certainly aware of doctors’ orchestras, as they exist in Europe too – Germany has several famous ones, I believe. I have to say that I’ve always found the idea of a doctors’ orchestra rather strange too. It also sounds rather elitist. Perhaps doctors feel that they are too important to play in an orchestra with nurses, healthcare assistants, midwives, radiographers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, paramedics, dieticians, podiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychotherapists, dental surgeons, nurses, and hygienists, and so on. The idea of a workplace ensemble does not seem as strange to me, as many places of work offer activities such as these that are mutually beneficial for employer and employee. The Metropolitan Police Service, for example, has a choir, membership of which is open to all serving and retired members of the service, including officers and civilian staff in all ranks. Of course, British coalmines used to have their own brass bands, and these were an important part of life in communities in which almost every family was involved with the mine in one way or another.

      I also know that there are women’s orchestras. Again, the idea seems very strange to me. I certainly would not want to belong to any ensemble that existed solely for men, with the obvious exception of certain choirs whose musical character and repertoire demands all male voices (which is especially the case in Wales). I was educated at a boys’ school, but girls from the school next door always played in the school band, and when I was at university I played in the orchestra at a women’s college. I would not more want to play in an orchestra that excluded women than in one which excluded black people, Catholics, communists, and so on. That women should want to play in orchestras which exclude men seems to me to be equally strange.

      Youth orchestras are a different category, as they exist primarily as educational organisations. Churches are another special case, as musical ensembles exist first and foremost to give glory to God and to contribute to the liturgy, meaning that people often choose to belong to a group attached to their own faith or denomination. That said, I certainly have known at least one Catholic who sang in the choir of an Anglican cathedral and at least one Anglican who sang in a very good Catholic parish church choir.

      In general, I think that a shared interest in music would be enough of a shared interest or inclination to establish sufficient feeling of kinship to want to play music together.

      • Dan P. says:

        I understand what you’re trying to say but when you say “In general, I think that a shared interest in music would be enough of a shared interest or inclination to establish sufficient feeling of kinship to want to play music together.” I think you may be missing the point. It isn’t that music isn’t sufficient, but that being with one’s own kind (whether they be gay, bankers, women, doctors, or whatever) adds something MORE to the enterprise. Wasn’t the Philharmonia Hungarica an orchestra in Germany comprised of Hungarian refugees who banded together to play?

        Personally, I can’t imagine there is a GAY test to be admitted to their orchestra (I smile at the thought of what that might be) and if some gay-friendly person just popped in and said “I’d like to play oboe with you guys” – and they needed a second oboe – I’m not sure anyone would object, but I can’t speak for anyone but myself.

        It’s nice when people can find more than one point of connection. One has to step back for a second and realize that these orchestras are also social groups, and like it or not, we ALL choose and are chosen to belong to the social groups we inhabit. This is just another one. (And what would Broadway do in the hinterlands without the Gay Men’s Choruses in the U.S. – I have to say they set a very high standard – at least the ones I know.)

        • Mikey says:

          Every LGBT orchestra I’ve known has had a large number of non-LGBT members as well.

          Judging from some of the earlier comments on this blog, it’s easy to see why some people might want to spend time making music with people who at least will not criticize them for being who they are.

          • Dan P. says:

            Yes, Mikey. No matter how much we’ve evolved as a species over the past century, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia still run very deep in everyday society. To be criticized just to want to get together with people to whom you don’t have to explain yourself is very hypocritical. Everybody likes to hang out with their own kind and do stuff – no matter what that category is. Who knows, maybe someone has rethought their attitude following our discussion. One can only hope, but I won’t hold my breath.

        • Alexander says:

          I do agree that if you see a gay orchestra as a social group rather than a purely musical activity it does begin to make a lot more sense, and perhaps that is something which I have missed, so my apologies for that. Across the road from my house there is a Catholic social club, which seems to exist mainly as a place where elderly Irish people can meet for a drink in more pleasant surroundings than the pub on the corner. Despite what people may think from my comments above, I am far from a homophobe, and I have on many occasions gone for a drink with gay friends at venues such as G-A-Y, the Yard, the Village, and the now sadly defunct First Out (all famous to Londoners), and I really can see why they prefer to socialise in venues such as these rather than in what one of my friends amusingly calls “straight pubs”. So if you see an orchestra as a social activity then I can see why gay people would perhaps enjoy playing in a gay orchestra in the same way in which people might enjoy doing any other social activity with people who are similar to themselves. There is even a club in London whose membership is restricted to people who have studied or worked at Oxford and Cambridge universities. That really is strange.

          • Dan P. says:

            Alexander, it was nice to hear your comments. I guess everyone likes to get together with their “crowd” from time to time. And with gay people – at least gay people past a certain age – it feels a little bit like family. It’s hard to explain why, but we have a shared history, a shared history of nasty internal political squabbles, and – to some degree – shared assumptions about the world. And, as a 5% minority and being largely invisible unless we choose to come out at every social interaction, it’s easy to feel like an outsider – or at least a potential outsider. So it’s nice to be able to kick back and be a real part of one’s own crowd – even if it’s just for a short bit – to play music, sports, or whatever. It’s how you make friends and possibly strike up something more. And being in a group of other gay people, it makes that process SO much more easy.

          • John Borstlap says:

            But the Oxford and Cambridge Club (which I frequent regularly) is a haven of sophisticated individualism, where we can recover from the group instincts of the hoi polloi and recreate with intellectual dignity among all the other sophisticated individuals who don’t like group thinking. It’s also very different from the other Pall Mall clubs with their abject discriminatory objectives: ‘no women allowed’ – we are extremely tolerant and thus: open to female minds, as long as they don’t fail the short entrance exams on entering the building.