Queer choirs gather in Canberra for big festival

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Music director Karen Wilden conducts Qwire… “When we went to Auckland four years ago, we offered to take the 2019 event, so here we are.” Photo: Peter Hislop

CANBERRA’S Gay and Lesbian Qwire is not known for doing things quietly, but it’s about to get a lot louder as it hosts the sixth Out & Loud choral festival, a mighty celebration of choral music and queer culture never before seen and heard in Canberra.

Hitherto devoted to LGBTQI+ choirs in Australia and NZ, the festival will for the first time feature choirs from Fiji and East Timor. There will be nine choirs at the 2019 festival.

Apart from them and our own lively Qwire, there’ll be the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, Melbourne Gay & Lesbian Chorus and the shOUT Youth Chorus, the Brisbane Pride Choir, Gay and Lesbian Singers of WA, True Colours Chorus Darwin and the Gay & Lesbian Singers Auckland. 

“It’s a very big thing for us,” says Karen Wilden, the music director of the Qwire. “When we went to Auckland four years ago, we offered to take the 2019 event, so here we are.” 

Wilden took over the baton from Leonard Weiss about a year ago, having sung at the coalface with the group for more than 22 years. Initially nudged by former music director Leanne Linmore, she frequently acted as assistant director to Weiss, so it was a natural move. 

Considering the visitors from Fiji and East Timor, Wilden suspects life might well be much easier here than members of their LGBTQI+ communities, saying: “We are lucky in life, because we’ve got acceptance in Australia, especially in Canberra – we love Canberra because they love us.

“Music is such a powerful way to healing, love, hope and compassion and being able to celebrate in music is pretty special.”

To make it even more special, she’s brought in Qwire global LGBT choral movement leader and conductor Kathleen McGuire and two Canberra musical heavyweights to help carry the load.

Composer Stephen Leek was “the obvious guest conductor”. Presently manager of the Young Music Society, he will conduct a massed choral performance at Llewellyn Hall featuring more than 500 from the visitors and Canberra’s Qwire. Compositions by Leek will also feature.

Canberra-raised composer, pianist and double ARIA-winner Sally Whitwell has been commissioned by Qwire, which got an ACT government grant for the purpose, to compose “Stronger Together”, her anthem “for all the queers coming to sing in ‘Out & Loud’”.

“One of the things that will make our ‘Out & Loud’ unique is that we’re going to show off the iconic venues, like the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia,”says Wilden. 

As music director, her job has been to provide songs that make her singers feel that they’re in a safe place and she’s injected some choreography into the numbers too, just for fun.

And for the audience, there will be “good-fun things” that have messages of empowerment and courage, “although of course we also choose some songs just because they are beautiful,” she says. 

In the “beautiful” category are “Fall On Me”, written by Andrea and Matteo Bocelli and Whitwell’s a capella song “Sudden Light”, composed to a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

As for empowerment, there’s Nick Cave’s rousing “The Ship Song” and that showstopper, “This Is Me” from the musical “The Greatest Showman”, which goes: “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be”.

The 2019 Out & Loud Choral Festival, October 24-28, various locations, details at outandloudcbr.org.au 

Gala concert, Llewellyn Hall, 5pm, Sunday, October 27. Book at ticketek.com.au

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