The Rainbow Harmony Project’s lead duo connects past to present through choir
The young dynamic duo behind the Rainbow Harmony Project (RHP) choir is Johanna Hildebrand, the new artistic director/conductor, and her friend, Jenni Magnus, who acts as production manager.
Hildebrand, 32, has a positive and entertaining way of getting her point across during choir practices. She makes comments such as, “Am I making people mad?”, “That was nice but let’s do what’s on the page”, when bringing up music theory, “Can I tell you boring things?”, or as an introduction to an anecdote, “Tell me if this is funny.” She also has a rebellious side. At choir practice, she teachers members such things as the tritone, which is a restless interval termed ‘diabolus in musica’, (the devil in music) that the Catholic church avoided from at least the early 18th century, although it is used in songs sung by the RHP.
Being the offspring of two known choral conductors in the Steinbach area, Hildebrand has music in her blood. Both parents ran their own choirs, while Hildebrand played violin. Speaking about the Mennonite area, which is known as unfriendly to GLBTQ* people, Hildebrand said, “I actually loved growing up there… I felt accepted there and I think everywhere you go, there are going to be the naysayers and the ones who accept you.” She also described Steinbach as having “a rich choral tradition” with lots of choir concerts, especially around the holidays. Holiday activities such as singing around the piano and attending choral concerts started right after Halloween for the Hildebrand family.
Many other members of Hildebrand’s extended family are musically inclined and some of her aunts are also choir directors. Hildebrand, who is the oldest of the family brood, spent most of her holidays making music with her extended family. She brings that enthusiasm and openness to working in collaboration to the RHP.
RHP members learn, often at the last minute, movements or gestures to accompany some of the songs they sing at concerts. As production manager, it’s Magnus’ job to develop the choreography and it’s evident that along with a unique little accent, she has a flair for music. Some of the choir’s favourite songs are derived from Magnus’ birthplace of Cape Town, South Africa.
Magnus said growing up gay in South Africa was overall a good experience. “I loved growing up in South Africa. I do believe that growing up in a country where apartheid had an impact on all of our lives helped me to understand that we are all the same and different in our own way.” It also meant that Christmas was during the summer. One of Magnus’ fondest memories of family activities during the holidays is called ‘carols by candlelight’. Magnus, 34, remembers going to a gorgeous wine farm where a choir would sing and hand out sheets of music and candles to everyone, who would then perform by candlelight. “Everyone would come with their picnics and you bring a blanket and everyone would kind of picnic on this huge field.”
Magnus has spent some Christmases with her friend, Hildebrand, and Hildebrand’s family since moving to Winnipeg 14 years ago. Her holiday time is spent primarily singing with the kids in her classroom and attending choir concerts.
In terms of their friendship, Hildebrand said, “We’ve never discussed how our growing up experiences could have potentially impacted our friendship. We’ve bonded over our shared love of skiing, music and the fact that we’re both teachers.” The two teach in the Seven Oaks School Division, an affirming school division.
The RHP choir’s holiday concert is at 8 p.m. on Dec. 7 at the Knox United Church, 400 Edmonton St.
– Armande Martine is a ‘newly out’ provincial civil servant and an enthusiastic RHP choir member.