2 min

‘It’s a powerful experience’

Unison festival unites singers and audience in community pride

'MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL GOOD.' Dave Hicks and Colleen Welsh are preparing for Unison 2004, Vancouver's biennial festival of song-and community. Credit: Jacques Gaudet

Dave Hicks still remembers the day Mrs Preston, his Grade 4 teacher, told him to stop singing and start lip-synching. “It’s stuck with me ever since,” laughs the producer of this year’s upcoming Unison concert.

Hicks might confine his own voice to the privacy of his shower these days, but the people he’s bringing together Feb 28 certainly don’t.

For one night every two years, Unison draws Vancouver’s six gay and lesbian choirs and its Rainbow Concert Band to the same stage to make music, and community, they wouldn’t normally make apart.

And the audience loves it.

So do the performers, for that matter. “It’s an incredible experience,” says Natalie Prichard, who directs the rainbow band. “It’s a powerful experience to hear all these people singing together-you can hear the pride in their voices.”

There are many different ways of having pride, says Hicks. Some people prefer clubs, some like drag, many march down the street-but for him it’s all about music.

“Music makes me feel good,” he explains, “and it really makes me proud of who I am.”

Hicks still remembers listening in awe to all the choirs as they performed their last piece together at the end of Unison 2002. It was a song called This is My Home, he says. “And it was breathtaking.”

Colleen Welsh agrees. She produced the last few Unisons and is co-producing this one. She, too, has fond memories of Unison 2002’s last song. That performance was so special because gays and lesbians don’t always feel like this is their home, she explains. “Here in this environment, with this group of people and the enthusiastic audience out there, it is a feeling that you have come home, that you are with family.”

Family, community and good music-that’s what Unison is all about to Hicks and Prichard, as well.

“It’s totally about community,” says Prichard. “The music is great and it’s entertaining and everything, but the reason we choose the selections we do-they’re chosen to reflect community and oneness.”

Unison is definitely about connecting music with the community, Hicks agrees. “Having togetherness of all the gay and lesbian choirs and having one big event. It’s a musical celebration of our pride.”

For Prichard, the highlight of Unison 2002 was listening to the GLASS youth choir sing. Their music is “so poignant because I think it calls out to our own personal struggles to grow into who you are, to find that identity wherever it takes you,” she says. “We all understand it, the struggle to find your own self.”

It’s a struggle audiences certainly seem to understand, if their usual, enthusiastic response to GLASS is any indication.

The pieces may change over the years, but what always brings Unison audiences to their feet are the familiar songs about family, says Welsh. That, and Broadway show tunes, she laughs.

As always, this year’s Unison will also be a fundraiser. In the past, proceeds have benefitted The Centre, Youthquest and several other community organizations. This time, the money will go back to the band and choirs themselves, to support their work and to help pave the way towards the cross-Canada gay choral festival they’re hoping to host in Vancouver in 2006.

UNISON 2004.

Feb 28. 7:30pm.

St Andrew’s Wesley Church. 1012 Nelson.

Tickets at Little Sister’s. $20.

Information call 604. 687.1758.