There’s something about Ottawa that seems to bring gay choirs out of the woodwork. The city has three queer choirs, and two of them have major events planned for May.
Greg MacIntosh, the founder and director of Iole, says he doesn’t know what makes Ottawa such fertile ground for choirs, but he’s impressed.
“I think it’s very bizarre,” he says. “There are a lot of bigger cities that don’t have as many choirs. There are a lot of creative go-getters in Ottawa.”
Iole is heading to Vancouver in May to participate in a national gala of choirs. Their repertoire will include Italian and German numbers, along with a French punk rock piece.
Most recently, Iole performed at the National Arts Centre on Apr 5. The highlight of the show was a flashlight choreography piece depicting a gay man being bashed.
“It’s really powerful, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” MacIntosh says.
It’s also the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus and, as the group’s president, Seamus Chapman can barely contain his excitement about their May 6 concert celebration.
It’ll be an homage to the last 20 years combined with a vision of the next 20.
“We’ve selected songs from different eras,” Chapman says. And then there’s the international flavour, which includes a Welsh hymn with a personal connection to Chapman.
“We’re doing a Welsh piece that’s a really well-known hymn,” he says. “My grandmother used to sing it to me as a lullaby.”
In the past the Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus (OGMC) has performed songs in Spanish, Italian, Latin and French.
“We’re on our way to becoming a multilingual choir,” Chapman says.
OGMC has a sense of purpose: helping queer people affirm their identity. Another goal is to promote queer Canadian artists and sing their work.
OGMC would also like to stoke the fires of awareness throughout the community and raise their membership — something Chapman cites as their biggest challenge. Although membership has increased in the past year, Chapman says they are in desperate need of the new blood and energy that comes with youth.
“The average age is early 40s in the chorus,” Chapman says. “I really want to get some youth in here. One of my goals is to go to Algonquin College and Ottawa U and circulate there and try to get a buzz of interest.”
As for keeping audiences interested, Chapman continues to promote OGMC by working with local organizations.
“I think by getting our name out there and working with other groups like PTS and Pride, they may become aware of us,” Chapman says.
When asked what makes choirs fun, Chapman laughs that the break during rehearsals is what does it for him. Just kidding; it’s the people who surround you that really makes it fun.
“There are some people in the choir who didn’t know how to read music and they’ve picked up that skill from being in the group. There’s an element where everybody’s learning.”
Over at Iole, there’s no shortage of fun times in their rehearsal space.
The nine Iole members leave their maturity at the door, something MacIntosh says is essential to their success. He says that the wrong members can poison the group’s free-spirited dynamic.
“When people come, they’re adults but they leave their adult negativity, if they have any,” MacIntosh says.
“I work with kids primarily, and kids are always open, they never doubt they can do anything. While adults, or usually after the age of 12, people go, ‘Oh, I can’t do this’, or ‘I can’t do that.’ You know like when you’re a kid and you have no worries, that’s what it’s like.
“When I give them ideas they’ll try anything I say. There’s never ‘Oh no, I’m uncomfortable.’ The whole goal is to challenge stereotypes. We can show that two men can dance together, but in a gentle way, not a shocking way.”