Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Queer Songbook Orchestra – Anthems and Icons

Queer Songbook Orchestra – Anthems and Icons (independent)

This project is exactly what it sounds like: a small chamber orchestra, with guest singers, performing songs by queer composers—closeted at the time or otherwise—as well as songs that have been widely adapted by the LGBTQ community. Sometimes the choices are obvious, like k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” or Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to My Window” or Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” (sadly, the latter is not on this debut album, although the QSO does a spectacular arrangement of the ’80s hit live). Sometimes the choices are not so obvious: neither Anne Murray nor songwriter Gene MacLellan were gay, but there’s an interesting take on their classic “Snowbird” here—because, why? Because for years people thought Murray was a lesbian? Not that it much matters, as the arrangement here keeps the song’s pretty melody but the chordal structure underneath it is jarring and occasionally dissonant—which underscores the aspiration and longing and distance between the narrator and the title subject.

Music is just part of the mission for the QSO. They also collect stories and testimonials from queer voices across Canada about how music was a source of strength and often a lifeline when living in intolerant communities. (If you have one, they want to hear from you: The mere fact this orchestra exists and is doing this work is inherently political; they are working closely with the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives on their storytelling project. Every song here is accompanied by a compelling story either about the composer (Billy Strayhorn, Joe Meek) or a personal tale of a queer person’s connection to the song. One track, written by Gentleman Reg, “Last of His Kind,” is dedicated to the late Toronto DJ and activist Will Munro.

But the music is just as interesting—often for what it isn’t rather than what it is. When Alanna Stuart of Bonjay sings “Constant Craving”—and knocks it out of the park, by the way, which is no small feat—the arrangement behind her is relatively conventional and recognizable. On the other hand, the Etheridge song, in a lush arrangement by avant-garde composer Nicole Lizée, is reduced to the sole lyric: “Just to reach you.”

Considering the breadth of material this ensemble performs live, and with so many guest singers, it’s mildly disappointing that the debut enlists only four singers and a small sampling of the material they already have arrangements for. But there’s a lot of life in this project, and no shortage of interesting source material—and incredibly talented Canadian musicians from across the country willing to lend a hand. (June 15)

Stream: “Constant Craving,” “Snowbird,” “Lush Life”

UPDATE: Full Canadian tour is on for this fall, from Whitehorse to St. John's
Sep 30 - Yukon Arts Centre, Whitehorse, YK
Oct 3 - Artesian, Regina, SK
Oct 4 - The Lyric Theatre, Swift Current, SK
Oct 5 - The Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon, SK
Oct 6 - West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg MB
Oct 9 - Venue TBD, Fredericton, NB
Oct 10 - The Mack, Charlottetown, PEI
Oct 11 - Venue TBD, Sackville, NB
Oct 12 - Highland Arts Theatre, Sydney, NS
Oct 13 - Venue TBD, Halifax NS

Oct 15 - St John’s Community Market, St John’s NFLD

No comments: