WITH a collective spring in the feet and tune on the tongue, the Canberra Gay and Lesbian Qwire is about to hop on a long flight to Munich to sing at Various Voices, the 14th European LGBTI Choir Festival, where anything between 2700 to 3500 choristers will sing, representing 93 choirs from 19 countries.
Our Qwire will introduce German audiences and LGBTI singers to the music of Kylie Minogue, Gotye, Vance Joy and others when they raise the rafters of the Gasteig cultural centre in Munich with Aussie anthems such as “Beds Are Burning”, “You’re the Voice” and “My Island Home”, all performed under the baton of Canberra’s hardest-working conductor, Leonard Weiss.
“Lennie”, as members prefer to call him, identifies as straight, but that’s no problem for the broad-minded Qwire, whose constitution recognises “the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities including and not limited to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer…[the Qwire] also welcomes straight allies”.
Weiss will step down when he gets back from Munich after four years at its helm.
A strong supporter of LGBTI values, Weiss tells “CityNews”: “I’m happy to be in front of such wonderful company”.
The Qwire was part of Weiss’s initiation into conducting and he sees “a very strange serendipity” in the fact that he’s now 25 and so is the Qwire.
“I had done a few bits and pieces with the NCO and then in 2013 I started my own choir and I was roped in to direct the Gay and Lesbian Qwire between 2013 and 2014,” he says.
He quickly cobbled together a mixed repertoire that “might’ve been a bit all over the place” and travelled with members to the previous Various Voices in Dublin.
Founding Qwire members Chris Healy and Susan Nicholls tell “CityNews” about the early days. They joined three weeks after it started in 1993.
A group of seven friends got together over a barbecue and asked: “Why don’t we start a choir?”
Healy says: “At first it was in someone’s garage where we had to sing to the smell of Dynamic Lifter then, with about 26 people, we graduated into the library, the church and eventually the church hall at All Saints in Ainslie.”
In its second year the choir travelled to Melbourne and Sydney to sing. It performed at many different venues in the ACT and quickly became very popular, with numbers rising to 80. Founding director Chris Ashcroft had been a barbershop singer so soon had them singing in four, six and eight parts.
It’s always been an “unauditioned” choir. To Weiss that’s “a very interesting challenge”. A survey told him that 30 per cent of members don’t read music and that many hadn’t sung since school.
“We don’t want to exclude anyone, the point of the whole exercise was so that we could extend solidarity to people,” Healy says, noting “the more you sing, the better you get at it”.
After Ashcroft left, Leanne Linmore stepped in, a trained teacher who brought the Qwire to such a high standard that it performed on ABC radio. Then came Ken Teoh, who “brought in choreography and gave the choir a tremendous injection of energy, and now we have Lennie”.
“Lennie” is particularly excited because of his mixed German and Austrian ancestry, but says: “For Munich, I felt what we needed was to show a bit of an Australian identity and to show what LGBTI is in Australia.
“This year we have a mix of mainly all-Australian icons, like Kylie Minogue, INXS and AC/DC.”
He’s also included “Stay Awhile,” a “gorgeous classical-style piece” by Canberra composer Sally Greenaway that begins: “If the moon goes out I will light a star, and brighten up your heart”.
Nicholls and Healy say that although the full number is about 60, 30 Qwire members will travel to Munich, but add that with previous visits to Various Voices in San Francisco, Portland, Paris and Dublin, they know what’s involved so started saving up well ahead of time.
“The idea is to make good music and have fun,”Nicholls and Healy say.