Every year I look forward to concerts by the Rainbow Harmony Project, Winnipeg's GLBTT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit) community choir. The reason is simple: they are a total blast. Everyone onstage seems to be having such a terrific time and the audience catches that fervour. Plus there is always a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour injected into every show. I always leave their performances with a smile on my face.
In preparation for their spring concert, Stand Together, Saturday, May 25 at 8 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, they are rehearsing hard and practising some unique choreography.
"The dedication of the choir members is a good testament to this choir," said director Johanna Hildebrand. "They have great enthusiasm, fitting rehearsals into their busy schedules... every person has to pull their weight. There is a unique sense of community."
This is Hildebrand's first year as the group's conductor/director. She took over for outgoing director Vic Hooper, who led the ensemble for the past nine years. "Vic agreed to stay on as artistic director and to help me with the business side of things," said Hildebrand.
Music is in Hildebrand's blood. She says she has always been involved in choirs and has performed and studied music since her earliest days. She earned her bachelor of musical arts degree from Canadian Mennonite University and bachelor of education from the University of Manitoba. Her parents, Ed and Millie Hildebrand, are well known and respected members of the Manitoba choral community. Hildebrand teaches choir and fiddling at âcole Constable Edward Finney in the Seven Oaks School Division, where she has 550 choral students and more than 400 fiddlers.
The opportunity to take on the Rainbow Harmony Project meant her first foray into working with an adult choir.
"The choral conducting community is small," said Hildebrand. "Vic was away in February (2012) and they needed someone for three weeks to prepare the choir for the upcoming WSO Pops concert. I developed a rapport with the group and it was lots of fun. I was also a soloist in their concert last spring."
So Hildebrand was the obvious choice when Hooper decided to retire. She's enjoyed every moment, even if it was a little daunting at first.
One look at the repertoire for Saturday's concert and you can see that there is something to please all musical tastes. RHP has a music selection committee, but Hildebrand still gets a say.
"I have stacks and stacks of music at home," she admitted. "I bring in stuff that I want to do, but we chose the music together. We take the audience's interests very seriously but also perform what we like to sing. It's a feast for the eyes and ears."
Selections include three songs fondly called "Vic's Picks," which Hooper will conduct. American singer/songwriter Holly Near's I Ain't Afraid, the moving spiritual Deep River and Randall Thompson's peaceful setting of Robert Frost's poem The Road not Taken (with contemporary dancer Brett Owen) comprise this trio of favourites.
The church will shake with the sounds of traditional gumboot dancing in two South African songs: Amavolovolo and Ahmabicycilie. Singers wearing rubber boots will slap alternately with clapping and stomping. The century-old practice originated with South African miners and can be seen to this day in tourist areas on streets and plazas.
Local baritone Stephen Haiko brings a classical work to the stage, with an aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, followed by a selection from the Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Fleet Street.
The title work, Stand Together by Jim Papoulis is especially meaningful to Hildebrand. Papoulis is a New York-based composer/conductor and co-founder of the Foundation for Small Voices, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to encourage the use of music, literature and art as a means to help children of all ages come to believe in themselves as capable, creative and compassionate individuals. He works with underprivileged children from around the world and even includes their lyrics in some of his songs.
Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody features Hildebrand's sister, Madeline, on bass, electric guitarist Matthew Harder and drummer Paul Cirilli.
Longtime accompanist Rob Lindey will be at the piano and two guest artist groups, Lesbian Potluck and Gay Gourmet will present a couple of songs each.
RHP's concerts are well attended for good reason. There is a joyful spirit to the group's singing that you don't sense at many choir performances.
Tickets are $15, available at McNally Robinson Booksellers, The Happy Cooker, the Rainbow Resource Centre, at Kwiktix.ca and at the door.