Arts & Entertainment
1 min

Repression in rhapsody

The Queer Songbook Orchestra performs songs that capture the experience of being closeted

Work by the closeted Lorenz Hart will be featured at The Queer Songbook Orchestra’s inaugural concert, Companions for Your Closet. Credit: XTRA FILE PHOTO

We can all think of songs that conjure up memories of particularly emotional periods in our lives, such as the closet. These songs will be part of the focus of The Queer Songbook Orchestra’s inaugural concert, Companions for Your Closet.

Shaun Brodie came up with the idea to form the QSO late in 2013. It’s a 12-piece chamber ensemble dedicated to compiling, reinterpreting and performing songs that have “shaped the queer community.” This includes songs that have affected queer people in important ways and songs that were created by underappreciated queer musicians. The numbers will all be arranged specifically for the QSO, altered to better reflect either the experience of the listener or something compelling from the life of the musician who created them.

The first concert will focus on the closet. “It’s a common experience among queer people, but you go through it alone. You feel really isolated and often take solace in music,” Brodie says. In line with their mandate, the QSO will perform songs that some people have associated with their time in the closet — anything from The Mamas & The Papas to Tori Amos — and songs by musicians who were closeted because of the time in which they lived, namely the 1930s to the ’60s.

One such song is Rodgers and Hart’s Blue Moon (1934). Various versions of the song have been produced over the years, so most people are unlikely to know that the original came from Rodgers and Hart, let alone Hart’s difficult story. “He was a gay man and miserable,” Brodie says. “In the lyrics of the best-known version of the song, he’s standing outside, waiting under the light of the moon, wishing he had someone to love. It’s very sad, but then someone comes along, and he’s found this person he can have. But that never happened in Hart’s life. We’re doing an older version of Blue Moon that’s a bit darker and, I think, more revealing of Hart’s experience.”

To help the QSO shape future concerts, people are invited to email with theme suggestions or stories of how particular songs have affected their lives.

All proceeds will be donated to The Rainbow Railroad.