Various Voices Festival 2023 - Bologna

Didn’t we have a lovely day, the day we went to…… BOLOGNA.

Much more than a day out, members of SWGMC packed their bags full of short-shorts, muscle vests and sun cream (oh, and not to forget our choir uniforms!) for a fun-filled choral visit to Bologna, Italy in June 2023.

This wonderful and characterful medieval city was the host for the Various Voices LGBTQ+ choral festival and 110 choirs from across the world felt the warmth of the Italian welcome.  We were once again delighted and excited to take part in the festival having previously been to Various Voices Munich and Dublin, the festival is held every four years.

With thousands of participants, rehearsed to the hilt, fizzing with excitement and ready to perform at theatres, museums, piazzas, and other venues across beautiful Bologna there was much to look forward to.  The festival ran from 14-18 June 2023 so there were many performances to see at this wholly fulfilling and inclusive gathering. 


Teatro Arena Del Sole was the venue for our first performance set. Being the first choir of the festival to sing at this prestigious venue, we donned our posh performance uniforms, gargled with gin (a warm-up for the vocal cords), and waved our five Welsh flags as we lined up on stage to huge applause from other choirs who had come to see us. This uplifting experience was followed by other choirs each taking their slots at 30-minute intervals throughout the afternoon. 

Evenings saw the livening up of the Various Voices festival site just outside the city centre at the Dumbo Centre.  Yes, the Dumbo Centre – not Gran Canaria’s Yumbo Centre - though it’s rumoured that there were some late-night similarities.  The site was a converted railway siding which provided covered and indoor performance venues, bars and many a food outlet.  A huge performance stage had been erected for the opening and closing ceremonies too. 

On the first night, there was an under-estimation of how many queer people might be attending and would want to drink. The occasion was marred slightly by the under-staffing and the two-queue system (one to but drink tickets and one to get the drink). Nonetheless, spirits were high, the performing choirs were in fine voice and the very necessary outreach and forming of new friendships began with aplomb. 

Outside the site, some of our Welsh boys found a friendly bar with no queues and our WhatsApp Bologna group pinged to life as we asked for directions (parched and longing for just one more drink!).  In fact, that WhatsApp pinged morning, noon and night for a week but it was worth the constant pinging as no one got left behind. Unless you wanted some down time, you could always find someone having a coffee, a walk, going to a museum (yeah right!) or just settling down to listen to some choirs.  All for one and one for all – this festival was truly a great time to reconnect with everyone - all centred around our hobby - the choir

 After watching many, many amazing performances throughout the week, our final performance took place at the Courtyard of Honour, Palazzo D’Accursio on Piazza Maggiore.  A much more informal setting, we showcased a great set list which went down really well with the audience as did (courtesy of our friends at Viridor) our lovely, bright yellow branded T-shirts. The short-shorts were on display too.  You can catch some more videos of our performances over on YouTube.

With voices hoarse, livers pickled and memories of the most fun-packed, inclusive and joyous of festivals, Sunday saw the return of some SWGMC members to Wales.  Others stayed on to take advantage of visits to nearby Florence and Venice – and we were able to keep abreast of their antics as the WhatsApp messages just kept on pinging. 

Reunited in our land of song, we collectively agree that we had the most amazing and happy memories of our time at Various Voices Bologna. Brussels has won the bid to host in 2026 so we’re already setting our sights on another tour to our near neighbours in Europe.  But first, we have Hand in Hand Bristol (the UK equivalent of Various Voices) to look forward to in August 2024. 
So if you thought that being a member was simply standing in a line, learning songs and performing, think again.  It’s a whole world of inclusion, fun, friendship and joy.  Get in touch if you’d like to talk about joining us

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