The Halifax Queer Orchestra
In July 2019, Wayves interviewed Halifax-based arts group Classical Queers organizer Jacob Caines about the new orchestra.
Why did you decide to create a queer orchestra in Halifax?
I started the group as a way to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk. I have been running a website called www.classicalqueer.com for a year. I interview artists from the classical fields from around the world and discuss their thoughts on art, life, and being queer in the arts. After a year of talking to these amazing performers about being queer artists working in a largely heterosexual world, I figured I should start something of my own. My day job is as a conductor and teacher at both Dalhousie's Fountain School of Performing Arts and at the Maritime Conservatory, so an orchestra seemed like a natural fit.
What kind of music will the orchestra be playing?
One of the other main reasons for starting the orchestra was to highlight the music of queer composers. So, in addition to being played by an orchestra of self-identifying queer people, we play music by exclusively queer composers. Edith Smyth, Tchaikovsky, Britten, Lully, and Sondheim so far. Of course there are many more queer composers that I'm excited to get to in the near future.
Will the focus be on learning, performing in private, or doing concerts?
I think our focus is mostly about building community. It is more important to me that there is a place where people can feel safe and welcome while playing great queer music. Often orchestras are very hierarchical and imposing groups filled with rules, etiquette, and tradition. I really wanted to form an orchestra that brought people together as its primary function and removed as many of those barriers as possible. We do have concerts planned, and I think getting out into the community is important for visibility (and fun), but as long as people are enjoying playing music together and building a safe space to make friends while doing it, then we have achieved something wonderful.
Do you have a rough time span in mind for a first concert?
We have two concerts already planned! Our first is July 30th at 7 pm at the Maritime Conservatory. The second is August 24th with a location TBD. We even have special guests for both shows. The cello duo VC2 is on tour and will be joining us. The August concert will feature vocal soloists, a poet, and a few other surprises in addition to the orchestra.
Have you established a relationship with a practice or performance space?
The group is very lucky to have the kind support of the Maritime Conservatory. I'm not exaggerating when I say that within 10 minutes of me sending out the first call for musicians in May, the Dean of Music Jack Bennett, sent me an email asking if we would consider having our rehearsals at The Conservatory free of charge. That speaks volumes to me. Conservatories are often organizations that has been closed off for so long and have felt like a bastions of elite arts to many. For the Dean to approach me asking for this group of marginalized and othered people to be a part of that community is so important. I can't thank them enough for the support
Why did you choose the word “queer” as opposed to LGBT or some other acronym, or “rainbow” etc?
I believe that there is an inherent politicization as soon as we start any group like ours. All gay men's choruses, LGBT concert bands, Rainbow orchestras, and all variations and permutations, are involved in an act of standing up, being proud, and making ourselves be known (and heard!). I also didn't want anyone with any identity to feel excluded. I wanted to be intentionally inclusive to non-binary, trans+, LGBT, 2S, questioning, and all in between. Queer seemed like the most unifying term. We still have so much work to do even within the community to bring in all voices to the discussion. The last thing I wanted to do was start a group that (even if only in its name) was for certain subsets of the queer community.
What level of experience does a performer need to join?
The wonderful thing about the group so far is that we have everyone from professional orchestral musicians, to high school students, to people who played in high school decades ago. So long as someone plays an orchestral instrument, reads music comfortably, and is willing to try their best, I am very happy to have them.
Will there be lessons for beginners set up as part of the orchestra?
At this moment in time we don't have that system in place. Possibly in the future!
How can people get involved?
In many ways! We're at the very beginning of our organizational set-up. We still are looking for players, but we would love anyone interested in helping us promote the group, publicize for concerts, plan future growth, take tickets at the door for shows, or even sit on a board. If you have experience grant writing, book keeping, fundraising, or publicizing experience, we'd love to hear from you. Or, if you just enjoy music and would like to hear us play, you can come to our concerts and support us that way!
The official web site is www.classicalqueer.com. There are interviews there, as well as an orchestra tab. They can also like us on FB of course - just search classicalqueer.