Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Tone Cluster reverberates

Ottawa's queer choir surges into 2012

Tone Cluster performs on March 3 at First Baptist Church

Get out your umbrellas and rubber boots and prepare to get wet. Ottawa’s queer choral group Tone Cluster is back with a splash.

And speaking to Tone Cluster’s president, Rob Bowman, about the group’s upcoming show, it’s truly as if a dam has burst.

Bowman is very excited about the list of songs the choir will be performing at its next concert, the aptly named Rhythm of the Water.

It will be the group’s first show of 2012 and its second with new musical director Kurt Ala-Kantti.

Thematic shows are a mainstay of Tone Cluster’s repertoire, and this event’s focus is on music that evokes the sounds of water — a fitting theme for March, arguably the drippiest month in Ottawa.

Spring also being the season of change, it’s a fitting time to usher in new faces. After a debut at Tone Cluster’s holiday concert, the choir’s new musical director now embarks on a foray into largely uncharted waters.

“He brings some really wonderful qualities to the choir, and he’s taking us in some really interesting new directions musically,” says Bowman of Ala-Kantti. “Every conductor brings their own personal style to the choir. With him it’s very much about the dynamics. He’s kind of shaping it all the way through.”

The process of finding a new director began last summer with the departure of Jane Perry, who had directed Tone Cluster since 2000. Applicants went through interviews, auditions and even a fake rehearsal. Ala-Kantti, who had helped found Harmonia and conducted several youth and church choirs, was eventually chosen.

Bowman says one of the things that drew Tone Cluster to its new director is his eclectic musical base, giving the group plenty of room to explore.

Exploration is key to Rhythm of the Water. The pieces are diverse, comprising everything from “Storm on Georgian Bay,” a song inspired by the famed Group of Seven, and the East Coast–influenced “Song for the Myra” to African-themed numbers. Also featured are a number of songs on the theme of rain.

“It’s funny when [Ala-Kantti] says in the rehearsal, ‘Pull out the one for rain,’ because we all go, ‘Which one?’” Bowman laughs. Rhythm of the Water will also feature a Council of Canadians speaker who will talk about water as a precious resource.

Bowman says the group is looking forward to showing off its new songs in July, when the choir will participate in the Gala International Choral Festival in Denver.

“About every second year it works out so that we can go to a festival,” Bowman says. “We’re really happy with this opportunity, because I know they have choirs there with a million-dollar budget and 50 to 60 members, and then we’re Tone Cluster with 20 members.”

The five-day festival will feature approximately 6,500 singers, with each attending choir given a 20-minute concert slot. “It’s a great way to hear a lot of different choral pieces and decide what you’d like to bring back with you,” Bowman says.  

Through it all, the choir remains uncompromisingly queer-identified, maintaining itself as a safe and welcoming space for singers from all communities. As Bowman explains, “There’s a real warm feeling and a real sense of community. We’ve been to each others’ weddings, we’ve been through each other’s health issues . . . there are so many unexpected joys to being in this choir.”