One Voice Chorus in concert

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“We have decided that, in light of what happened in Orlando this morning, the only thing we can do is to sing,” said Jane Perry, our music director.

Sunday service was over; coffee served and cleared away. As a congregation, we’d circulated, chatted, signed cards for absent friends. Then as we gathered again in the main hall to hear the advertised free concert and support our fellow choristers, our music director updated us on the fatality count at the Orlando gay club that had been devastated that morning by a lone attacker armed with an AR-15 machine gun. 

Rat-a-tat-tat. A machine gun in a dark noisy nightclub, where people didn’t even realize what was happening for the fatal first few minutes. Fifty dead. 50! For being gay! I wanted to vomit.

Yet there was Jane with a musician’s perspective: “the only thing we can do is to sing.” Of course, music is Jane’s life. She has a Masters in music and a reputation as a superb pianist. She also had two choirs in the last stages of preparation for a major international festival, which is akin to being in later stages of pregnancy. I should know. I sing in Uuphonia, the Unitarian church choir, and we present a couple of concerts every year.

Soon after Jane arrived in Calgary from Ottawa, she and her partner, bass player Cora Castle, founded One Voice Chorus (OVC) for LGBTQ singers and their straight allies. An auditioned choir, OVC offers a chorus of nimble and accomplished singers who are soloists in their own right. Their songs range from Renaissance to gospel; one song bounced a “Hello” refrain among five or six singing sections.

Several OVC singers also sing in the nine-woman BarberEllas, who sing barbershop harmonies in as many as six parts. Cora, the BarberElla’s director, explained that barbershop arrangements are often found on love songs, so the BarberEllas sing a lot of “me and you” songs in close intricate harmonies and rhythms.

Both OVC and the BarbarEllas and choirs are preparing for the GALA (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) Festival taking place in Denver, Colorado, next month: July 2-7. I count 25 Canadian entries in the Festival, among a truly international gathering of 6500 singers from around the world.

The Festival is mainly designed as a chance for people to sing together. This is not the Glee Club competition, as seen on TV, or even the Kiwanis Music Festivals. In fact, the Festival guidelines for participants include a section on Attitude that says in part,
•Don’t come with ego and competitiveness. It is unattractive. Everyone is doing interesting work. Prep  your chorus to come with anticipation of being blown away, not of blowing everyone away. 

• Help your singers prepare for the psychological issues of performing at Festival after listening to all the choirs ahead of you. Don’t compare yourself to other choirs. Figure out what you can learn from choruses in terms of repertoire, programming and performance style.
•Be prepared to experience the love from the audience. Their applause and appreciation will be powerful. 

So I have a modest suggestion for anyone who is as heartsick as I am about the Orlando shooting: support gay choruses. One way is to donate to GALA Choruses directly. Another is to seek out your nearest LGBTQ chorus and donate a few dollars to get them to the GALA Festival in comfort.

Maybe order a CD (Vancouver Men’s Chorus has one) or look for your favourite chorus on Youtube. You’ll find a new source of great music with upbeat themes, and you’ll also feel better because you’ve done something for someone else.

Singing well is the best revenge.

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...