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Friday, April 12, 2024

Quadrennial 2SLGBTQIA+ choral festival arrives in Halifax

Held every four years in a different city, Unison/Unisson, arrives in Halifax over the Victoria Day weekend featuring 16 choruses with a combined 600+ singers.

Held every four years in a different city, Canada’s 2SLGBTQIA+ choral festival, Unison/Unisson, arrives in Halifax over the Victoria Day weekend featuring 16 choruses with a combined 600+ singers.

It’s a great opportunity for queer Canadian choruses to celebrate each other’s accomplishments together. – Vancouver Men’s Chorus accompaniest, Dr. Stephen Smith

This year’s festival’s theme is Open Harbour, referencing the Mi’kmaw name K’jpuktuk, meaning “Great Harbour.” It’s an homage to the unfreezing and always-open Halifax harbour, the numerous visitors and newcomers who have come through its port, and a nod to the acceptance of the 2SLGBTQ1A+ community in Halifax. Choruses were invited to incorporate the theme into their repertoire.

Among the choruses attending include the 80-voice Vancouver Men’s Chorus (VMC), the first openly gay chorus in Canada, which formed in 1981.

“It’s a great opportunity for queer Canadian choruses to celebrate each other’s accomplishments together,” says VMC’s long-standing accompanist, Dr. Stephen Smith, who hails from Cape Sable Island.

The Vancouver Men's Chorus are among the 16 choruses attending this year's Unison/Unisson in Halifax.
The Vancouver Men’s Chorus is among the 16 choruses attending this year’s Unison/Unisson in Halifax.

The festival will premiere three original pieces by Canadian composers, funded by the LGBT Purge Fund. The trio of works is inspired by stories told in the course of the LGBT Purge class action lawsuit, brought about by the discrimination, harassment and firing of LGBT members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal public service between the 1950s and the mid-1990s.

Three festival choruses will sing the new works at the closing concert led by conductors Marg Stubington from Ottawa, Deirdre Kellerman, a Nova Scotia native living in Ottawa and Willi Zwozdesky from Vancouver.

In addition, two other choirs from the Atlantic will perform at Unison for the first time, including Halifax’s Polaris and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Spectrum Queer Choir.

The festival has also partnered with Toronto-based Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO), a professional chamber pop ensemble. QSO will perform for delegates and the public in a ticketed event on May 20. The orchestra will also conduct two workshops for festival delegates and provide instrumental accompaniment to the three festival choruses.

Spectrum Queer Choir from Newfoundland and Labrador raised over $15,000 to bring the choir to the festival.
Spectrum Queer Choir from Newfoundland and Labrador raised over $15,000 to bring the choir to the festival.

At the last festival in Calgary in 2018, Halifax choir The Women Next Door successfully bid to bring the festival to Halifax, hoping to encourage more choral participation from the East Coast. This hope proved successful with the formation of the Halifax Gay Men’s Chorus, who have since become co-hosts.

Initially meant to be held in Halifax in May of 2022, the festival was delayed due to COVID, and it has been five years since the choruses were last united. The first festival was in Edmonton in 1998 and has since been held in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Calgary.

“Choirs across Canada have wanted to see this festival come to Halifax for over a decade. That desire, combined with choirs emerging from the devastating restrictions on gatherings and performances during the pandemic, has created a tidal wave of enthusiasm for this particular Unison Festival,” says Kim Vance-Mubanga, president of Unison Choruses Canada and co-artistic director for the festival.

Unison/Unisson takes place at the Halifax Convention Centre (1650 Argyle St, Halifax) from May 19-22. Visit unisonfestivalunisson.ca for tickets and information.

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