April, 2014 / Author:

GLBTQ* members and straight allies stand together in Rainbow Harmony Project 

For the past couple of seasons, the Rainbow Harmony Project (RHP) choir has used “Stand Together” as their signature song at concerts. “Side by side we could be, growing hopes and dream. If we could stand together, we will sing forever of the dreams growing in our hearts,” and so the lyrics go. Those aren’t just cheap words for this inclusive choir; both straight and GLBTQ* members do indeed stand together, singing side by side at practices and concerts. And you can see their interaction for yourself at the upcoming RHP Spring Concert in May.

Lola Whonnock and Edward Cloud, one of two straight couples in the choir, have been part of the RHP for a year. They moved to Manitoba from B.C. and are working as substitute teachers in and around Winnipeg. As a teacher, Whonnock said she makes music a part of her classroom instruction. When moving here, she was looking into joining community bands and choirs when Cloud met RHP artistic director Johanna Hildebrand while on an apartment search. “Hildebrand was open and welcoming about including new members, regardless of background or orientation. It sounded friendly and fun so we went to check it out,” said Whonnock.

And check it out they did. “There was a real effort to take a new member of the choir under their wing and make sure that we were all feeling supported. That effort certainly made me feel welcome,” said Whonnock. “The choir feels like an intentional community. I think the members of Rainbow Harmony Project are great role models for LGBTQ youth and singers at large.”

Another straight couple, Kendra Gowler and Nicholas Burns, joined the choir five years ago after meeting RHP members in another choir. Burns, a freelance artist, grinned as Gowler recalled the time when her best girlfriend, Bev, and several of her friends who hadn’t yet met Burns attended an RHP concert. Bev asked her friends if they could pick out was the straight guy in the choir. After several unsuccessful guesses, Bev finally pointed out Burns to them. They replied, “Oh, not the one I would have picked.”

Burns and Gowler, a teacher who specializes in math, used superlatives to describe their experience with RHP. “Great, people, great fun! Awesome! Some of the most amazing experiences of our lives have been because of singing with RHP…all priceless!”

Lori McCarville, a business analyst for an IT consultant firm, plays many roles in the choir, including that of an alto leader. Her skills can be seen at the May 24 RHP Spring Concert, where she will accompany the choir during one song, along with Hildebrand on fiddle and Rob Lindey on piano. McCarville has been singing with the choir for 13 years—almost as long as the choir has been around—and on occasion will sing solo. “After about five or six years, I auditioned for a solo and started singing out a little bit,” she said. As a GLBTQ* member of the choir, McCarville believes the presence of straight members adds to the strength of the choir.

Until two years ago, Laura Donatelli, another straight ally with the RHP, had not heard of the choir. She was inspired to join after hearing a straight friend rave about her experience and how much fun it was. Her tone became enthusiastic when asked about her own experience since joining. “I find this group an incredibly warm, welcoming community of friends. This has been a real joy… I just look forward so much to coming here and I leave feeling great, even if I’m having a really tough week,” she said.

Donatelli added that at first she wrestled a bit with the fact that she was a straight person joining a GLBTQ* choir and felt like she was “coming here under false colours.” She approached the previous artistic director with her concerns prior to joining, informing him that she was straight but had GLBTQ* family members. Even after being assured that she was welcome, she refrained at first from full participation by not auditioning for solos or volunteering for a position on the board.

Donatelli said she doesn’t feel that way anymore. “I just feel that this is a very accepting group of people, in all ways,” she stressed. “No one knows the journeys that the others take in this room and that’s just fine. I feel I’m just another person up there.” 

Ben Forest, a GLBTQ* choir member, has been singing with RHP for 3 years. He was asked to be on the music team after his first year. “They wanted a perspective from a younger member, someone who could bring some more ideas to the table,” said the 28-year-old. This being his first choir, he said he didn’t feel comfortable with it at first. By the end of the second year, Forest continued. “I was happy to do it. I had gotten to know some of the members by then.”

In regards to including straight members in the choir, Forest said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for everyone to mingle. Honestly, I don’t even know who belongs in which category,” he chuckled. “Sometimes it makes for funny bouts of conversation because I’ll assume that someone has a partner of a certain gender and it turns out to be the opposite,” said Forest. “Everyone’s happy so it’s all positive.”

As the conclusion to the “Stand Together” signature song suggests, “Hope will find a way…” 

Come and check out for yourself how well the group works together. The RHP Spring Concert will take place at 8 p.m. on May 24, at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. Tickets are around $15 and can be purchased from RHP members or by emailing rhp@rainbowharmonyproject.ca.

– Armande Martine is a provincial civil servant and an enthusiastic GLBTQ* RHP member.

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