When Singing Out was founded in 1992, it was an act of defiance. As a gay and lesbian choir, taking the stage and putting thoughts, feelings and struggles into music meant shining a literal spotlight on a community that many wanted to ignore. And as the group enters its 25th year, it continues to give voice — perfectly tuned, of course — to an ever-evolving and diverse queer community in Toronto.
“Our mission is pride, music and belonging with a very, very strong emphasis on pride and belonging,” says Singing Out executive director Natasha Wilson.
“Our goal is to create a warm and welcoming space where everyone who enjoys singing and learning can just come out, find a place to belong and have fun.”
The group, some 120 strong, holds two annual concerts. The upcoming concert is dubbed “Not Another Fa-La-La,” which Wilson says is a nod to the fun and unexpected approach the group takes to its performances. And despite celebrating its silver anniversary, it continues to grow and change by recently hiring its first choreographer to incorporate dance into its performances.
“The one thing that hasn’t changed over 25 years is that — using music as a medium — these are people who share their voice, their pride, their identity with the broader public,” Wilson says.
Howie Dayton came out later in life and originally joined the choir to connect with his newfound community.
“It is a great outlet,” he says of the group.
And after almost a decade of singing, he now serves as the president of the organization’s board of directors. He continues to stay involved because it helps hone his vocal skills but it also allows him to expand and strengthen his social circles. And sometimes these circles widen outside of the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2012, Dayton was part of a Singing Out delegation to a United Church in North Bay. The church was in the midst of voting whether or not to become an affirming church that would accept LGBT members. Following the performance, the congregation decided to vote to include everyone into the parish.
Dayton acknowledges that singing — especially in public — might evoke fear in many but suggests that nervous would-be members come out to the first few rehearsals and see if it’s for them. They also have non-singing members that support the organization without performing.
He says that the group is always looking to better reflect the diverse queer community in Toronto.
“We’re working hard with the trans community to outreach and make sure that we both understand the issues that our community experiences and respond to them through song.”