Queer Songbook Orchestra’s musical “Resilience”

Setlist explores the hidden significance of LGBTQ artists

On Mar. 20, the Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO) delved into the often-overlooked musical contributions of the LGBTQ community.

Along with singer Lea Fay, three local storytellers and the Open Voices Community Choir, the group performed at the Isabel Bader Centre with their show “Songs of Resilience.”

The QSO has performed their “Song of Resilience” across the country over the past four years in hopes of bringing awareness to the struggles that continue to affect many in the LGBTQ community.

On Tuesday, the ‘Songs’ were introduced by the reading of stories from members of LGBTQcommunities across Canada, anonymously submitted to the orchestra group.

These stories demonstrate how many people remain unaccepting of LGBTQ members and help inform the songs performed in the show. These prefaces at each show add a special significance to the numbers since they are true stories about the struggles people across Canada face daily.  

An early standout on Tuesday was the story opening for k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving”, which tells the story of a boy in Gander, Newfoundland.

Too embarrassed to be seen buying a record by an ‘out’ musician in his small town, the boy would call in daily to a local radio station asking them to play it. When they eventually did, he recorded the song and replayed it until the tape broke. For the boy, the song reflected, for once, how he felt inside. It was an expression of who he was by someone he felt could understand his own experiences of life as an LGBTQ person.

These stories and lessons in history grounded Tuesday’s set list, which ranged from classical showpieces to pop standards.

The songs and stories demonstrated the comfort music provided to members of the LGBTQ community in dangerous times before anti-discrimination laws were in place, chronicling the struggle for equal rights over decades. 

As the musical timeline got closer and closer to present day, the narratives delved into the social stigma that continues to affect the LGBTQ community.

From this period, “Both Hands” by Ani DiFranco resounded with the audience. The performance was introduced by a story about a woman seeing her future-wife playing the song at a party, capturing an evocative moment in the wake of stigma.

The highlight of a show filled with technically proficient, emotion-laden performances was the finale – a rendition of “Rise Up” by The Parachute Club.

The orchestra rewrote the song with a new arrangement that turned the pop hit from the 80s into a gospel choir-accompanied power anthem.

It was immediately recognizable by most of the audience members, with excitement spreading as Artistic Director Shaun Brodie announced this would be the closing piece.

The performance’s energy brought the sheer joy the audience felt to a head. When the chorus of “rise up, rise up” began, many stood up to dance through the finale.

The open and loving nature of this show became its most impactful element. Fay began dancing with an audience member in the wings of the Isabel and eventually moved around the hall until both had danced across the breadth of the room.

The orchestra delivered a flawless performance. It was much less formal and rigid than expected from an ensemble of highly-talented performers but this only added to the confessional nature of the show.

From the lack of formal to seeing the performers dance in the aisles, the night’s performances spoke to comfortable self-expression,

Fay thanked the audience for providing her with an opportunity of unabashed self-expression — an extension of the music and storytellers she and the performers shared with the audience.  

 

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