Queer Songbook Orchestra are crossing the country to share their mission of LGBTQ love

After this fall's Tour of Heart & Mind, the ensemble will have shared in songs and stories with every province.

After this fall's Tour of Heart & Mind, the ensemble will have shared in songs and stories with every province

Queer Songbook Orchestra. (Tanja Tiziana)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

From Whitehorse to St. John's, the songs and stories of the queer experience are about to have a cross-country moment unlike ever before. Because after four years of spreading their love in Canada's biggest cities, the Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO) are heading on the Tour of Heart & Mind, which will bring the group to 11 small to mid-size cities across the country from September 30-October 15.

For those unaware, the group — a 12-piece professional chamber pop collective — formed in 2014 under the guidance of artistic director Shaun Brodie with a mission to explore and uplift queer narrative through the last century of pop music. Essentially, they source their material through the personal stories of LGBTQ folks and the songs they connect to those stories. The result has made its way to many stages and festivals — and garnered considerable attention and acclaim, including getting long-listed for the 2018 Polaris Prize for a collaboration with Vivek Shraya — but the Tour of Heart & Mind marks a QSO first.

Queer Songbook Orchestra. (Tanja Tiziana)

"We decided to go to places we had not been yet," Brodie tells CBC Arts. "We've been able to go to the places where there is more community and visibility like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver...So the idea was to go to the places that are harder for us to get to and maybe don't have the infrastructure or queer festivals to bring us to them."

Those places include the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse (September 30), The Artesian in Regina (October 3), the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg (October 6), The Mack in Charlottetown (October 10) and the St. John's Community Market (October 15).

Brodie and the QSO did a special story submission campaign, asking queer folks from across the country to send them stories to incorporate into the shows.

"We had people send stories from Victoria to Charlottetown, all across the country," Brodie says. "And then we had a panel get together and pare it down to 11 selections. And that's what were building this new show out of. So we don't even pick the songs, really...The songs are chosen by the people who have sent the stories in."

People are sharing these really personal stories that at one time were very secret, and now they're being put out in the open.- Shaun Brodie, Queer Songbook Orchestra

A particularly personal stop on the tour for Brodie is Regina, where he grew up. 

"I was always in the closet there, and I never go back," he says. "I have no family there anymore and I haven't been in a dozen years. So to kind of go home now with this very visible queer project...It's exciting, but it makes me kind of nervous."

The poster for Queer Songbook Orchestra's cross Canada tour. (Queer Songbook Orchestra)

Brodie's excitement is less curbed by nervousness when it comes to the tour's capacity to bring these stories of queer lives to so many places — "not only that," he adds, "but accompanied by a highly skilled ensemble who will deliver a high-end performance. We've noticed, through doing shows for a few years now, that there's this sort of common feeling or vibe in the shows of this intimacy and vulnerability that's present in the room. It feels like a safe space. People are sharing these really personal stories that at one time were very secret and now they're being put out in the open."

Brodie thinks there's a real likelihood that this tour could bring together a real bond among the community that's in the room.

"And for people outside the community who are in the room as well," he says. "There's an opportunity for a deeper understanding of queer experience." 

Queer Songbook Orchestra. (Tanja Tiziana)

As for the future, Brodie hopes to spread that opportunity even farther and wider as the Queer Songbook Orchestra enters its fifth year together in 2019.

"By this time next month, we'll have played in every province and one territory across Canada — so it kind of feels like the next thing is to go beyond," he says.

As many a Canadian can already attest, the world would be better off if they do just that.

The Tour of Heart & Mind. Featuring the Queer Songbook Orchestra. September 30-October 15. Various locations across Canada.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.