Skip to content

Guelph’s Rainbow Chorus set to hit the Big Apple

LGBTQ-friendly community choir will participate in tribute to young musician who committed suicide after being bullied

Members of the Guelph-based Rainbow Chorus of Waterloo-Wellington are honoured to have received an invitation to participate in a mass choir event in New York City next summer.

They will perform in a rendition of Tyler’s Suite at the Lincoln Center on June 4, joining over 200 other members of choruses from around the world to perform the nine-piece choral movement, written as a tribute to Tyler Clementi, a talented young musician who committed suicide after being bullied by his roommate because of his sexual orientation.

The invite was extended to the LGBTQ-friendly community choir by Distinguished Choirs International New York (DCINY); about a third of its 75 members plan to attend.

“It’s an honour to be asked, to be part of something of this scale, and the background on what the piece is written for – Tyler, anti-bullying – makes it a great thing to participate in,” says Rainbow Chorus’ chair, A.J. Ashley.

The choir will receive valuable workshop training led by Tim Seelig, a conductor, singer and teacher, as well as artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, on vocals, projection, blending voices in unison, breathing and subtle aspects of the piece to ensure the styles of various choruses come together in tight, solid way, members say.

“It’s a lot of voices to bring together,” says Kim Lyons, adding it’s invaluable training that the group is excited to be able to teach to the rest of the choir upon their return.

According to the Tyler Clementi Foundation website, the message behind Tyler’s Suite gives performers the opportunity to unite against bullying in all forms. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to the hearts of Rainbow Chorus’ members.

“Tyler was severely bullied (before he took his own life),” Lyons says. “It’s not a unique experience in the queer community. I’m really proud of this choir to be contributing to this movement that says 'that’s enough,' to (provide) a safe environment and build familial community and inclusivity, not just within this chorus, but in our events for the public.”

Nicole Hanna says the homophobic bullying she experienced at Tyler’s age profoundly affected her mental health and that without the support of her family and friends, she could have had a similar outcome.

“It’s important to be part of something that works towards preventing bullying; it’s very emotional and it feels good to contribute towards anti-bullying and homophobia, promoting inclusivity and diversity. (The concert) is so large scale, with people from around the world in a huge city, that it makes it feel like you have more power,” Hanna says.

“Music speaks to the deepest part of us. It’s mysterious. It has an aspect that kind of feeds our soul,” adds James Lockhart, marketing director.

The Rainbow Chorus was founded in 1994 and is a non-auditioned chorus, open to anyone with a desire to sing. Membership numbers have doubled in the last two years to 70 members strong.

The group says it’s important that designated times and events such as Anti-Bullying Week and Tyler’s Suite exist, especially in today’s digital age where it tends to be more prevalent and covert to bully from behind a screen.

“There’s no human side attached as they don’t see the ramifications of their actions,” Ashley says.

Instead, the group says, they prefer to redirect the attention away from bullying, and it happens each week when they show up to rehearsal, within the safe space they’ve created.

“(Members) come into the space where we know. We’ve had some amazing transitions here. People are free to be who they are, that (they) can’t be at work, with family, etc. Here, for two hours a week, they can. It’s freeing for a lot of people. It’s relief in day-to-day life,” Lyons says.

To support this opportunity, the chorus is presenting a series of fundraisers throughout the 2016-17 season to help with travel expenses.

Their next event is the Gala Dinner and Radio Show on Sunday, Dec. 4, from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at Harcourt Memorial United Church (87 Dean Ave.). It includes a three-course dinner and a live theatrical recording of It’s a Wonderful Life, adapted for radio play and performed on stage in period costume by professional actors from Cambridge’s Working Reel Productions.

Individual tickets cost $50 and tables for 10 people are available for $450.