It’s a year of changes for the Rainbow Harmony Project, Winnipeg’s gay community chorus. This year, artistic director Vic Hooper begins transitioning his role to newcomer Johanna Hildebrand. But Hooper isn’t ready to retire just yet.
“This season, Johanna will be the conductor responsible for leading rehearsals and performances,” Hooper explains. “I will remain for one year as artistic director and will work with Johanna, the music team, the board and the concert production team to provide input and help with the transition.”
The Rainbow Harmony Project (RHP) has come a long way under Hooper’s tutelage. As he notes, RHP started as the city’s “gay choir,” but has evolved into a strong musical entity that just happens to consist of a bunch of queers (and a few straight allies).
This evolution is the result of years of experience, pushing the envelope musically and artistically and competing – and winning – against other choirs in various music competitions.
“In 2007, we sang at the Winnipeg Music Festival for the first time and were awarded the Helga Anderson Trophy,” says Hooper. “In 2008, after winning it again, we were invited to be the representative choir at the festival’s gala concert, which was comprised of winners from all areas of the festival. It was a very proud moment.”
The Helga Anderson Trophy recognizes the most outstanding performance by an adult community choir. RHP won the trophy for a third time in 2011.
Among Hooper’s proudest moments are also performing at the Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference of the United Church and singing this past spring with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in their Broadway Rocks concert.
“Broadway Rocks may have been our most significant concert to date, as it meant so much to all of us to be asked to perform at this level, being recognized as a choir capable of performing with the WSO and the outstanding soloists who were also featured in the concert,” Hooper says.
This summer RHP also performed at the GALA Choruses International Festival in Denver, where they were invited to sing with the Desert Voices choir from Tucson, Arizona in the festival’s Legacy concert in front of an audience of more than 3,000 people.
But, all good things come to an end and Hooper is ready to kick back and clear his schedule a little.
“I always planned to retire when I turned 65, which happens in April 2013,” Hooper says. “So I started keeping my eyes and ears open to find a replacement.”
A couple of years ago, he crossed paths with Johanna Hildebrand, a graduate from the University of Manitoba’s school of music. Hooper invited her to help with sectionals last season, when it became clear she was ready, willing and able to start directing the choir on a more permanent basis.
With her outstanding musical talent and upbeat personality, Johanna will bring a fresh new feeling to the choir. The choir members who attended GALA in Denver will also be returning this season with an infectious enthusiasm.
Also bringing a fresh perspective to the upcoming season is long-time RHP member Paul Sullivan, who will be the choir’s new administrator. His experience as a past board president and production director will bring a whole new level of management to the RHP team.
As for getting involved in the RHP, Hooper acknowledges Alan Blanchette, who first asked him if he would help the choir by sharing the director responsibilities with himself, Scott Naugler and Linda Rodgers in 2003. He also tips his hat to long-time accompanist Rob Lindey.
“In the summer of 2004, 19 of us went to Montreal and performed at the GALA Choruses International Festival. After that, I was absolutely hooked on the power of music,” Hooper says.
“I could see how a gay choir gives support and empowerment to its singers through sharing experiences and a common interest, in developing musical skills and in communicating ideas, feelings and our stories through singing.”
For more information about RHP, including rehearsal and concert times and locations, visit www.rainbowharmonyproject.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or join their Facebook group.
– Scott Carman is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer and communications specialist.