The Queer Songbook Orchestra is a Toronto-based 12-piece chamber pop ensemble making their Yukon debut on September 30. The group formed in 2014 and has been dedicated to exploring and elevating queer narrative in pop music.
“I was at loose ends after several years freelancing in the indie pop music scene in Canada,” said Shaun Brodie, artistic director (trumpet and flugelhorn). “I felt I wanted to go deeper with a project and always had an interest in storytelling, particularly in the personal histories of individuals, how people have coped and arrived at wherever they are today.
“I wanted to have a project that would align stories of queer experience with the music most connected to it.”
With the “queer lens” intact, they are looking through the last century of popular music and bringing forward obscured lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) historical narratives, as well as the personal stories of members of the community and the songs connected to them.
“One should expect an evening of music and storytelling that explores the nuances, hardships, joys and universality of queer experience,” said Brodie. “The beauty, I feel, in the work of the Queer Songbook Orchestra, is how deeply collaborative it is.
“We source the stories we tell from queer individuals—in this case, from all across Canada, and so they represent a wide range of experience and perspectives. And in each city that we visit, we find local collaborators to act as narrators, bringing to life these very personal stories.”
Their show will travel across Canada, from the Yukon to Nova Scotia, celebrating the last century of popular music through a queer lens and queer stories. “We have not performed in the Yukon before,” said Brodie. “Some of our members have performed in the Yukon before with various projects, such as at the Dawson City Music Festival and the Magnetic North Festival; but, as a group, the farthest north we have performed previously is Edmonton. For me, personally, it is also my first time in the Yukon and I am very excited for the trip.”
Holding the belief that story and song are powerful communicators that have the potential to increase understanding, promote dialogue and foster deeper community, they have been bringing their adaptive take to the stage.
“The concept of a queer songbook was initially playing off the idea of the [Great] American Songbook,” said Brodie, “but with the idea of developing a book of songs that have queer experience as their connecting point. Not necessarily even written or performed by a queer individual, but a song that touched a queer life in some such way is all that is required to become part of the book.”
By working with a base of familiar songs, drawn from pop music of the last century and re-interpreted and offered alongside their narrative stories, the listener is allowed a new entry point into familiar works. “’Tour of Heart and Mind’ is the name we came up with to call this tour across Canada,” said Brodie. “An apt title, I feel, as our show is a journey through emotional and intellectual terrain. But we also borrowed the name from a Joni Mitchell song, ‘Woman of Heart and Mind,’ which may or may not be part of the show.”
They are partnered with the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the largest independent LGBTQ archives in the world, which, by agreement, provides a permanent home for all recordings, stories and research, and the group receives charitable donations on the archive’s behalf.
Their show will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday, September 30 at the Yukon Arts Centre. You can visit their website for more details (http://www.queersongbook.com) or purchase tickets at the Yukon Arts Centre.