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Nocturne 2018: Queer Songbook Orchestra

The Toronto-based outfit reinterprets queer classics and hidden gems.

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Exhibit 404
Portia White Atrium, Citadel High, 1855 Trollope Street

A few years back, Shaun Brodie was freshly rejected from journalism school. He'd left his freelance life as a trumpeter—for the likes of The New Pornographers, Basia Bulat and Dan Mangan—but he still wanted to do a project that connected those interests, music and storytelling, that explored them in tandem with his own queerness.

Thus the Queer Songbook Orchestra was born. The 12-piece outfit plays newly rearranged and reinterpreted songs from the likely suspects—kd lang, Melissa Etheridge—and from lesser-known musicians like Billy Strayhorn, an openly gay man who played in Duke Ellington's band for 30 years. "Duke and the orchestra didn't care, they loved him," says Brodie, the Orchestra's artistic director, from a stop in Swift Current, SK. "He wasn't in the spotlight so he was protected—people didn't know he was queer, because they didn't know he was there in the first place." (Stayhorn wrote Ellington's most famous song, "Take the 'A' Train.")

For its Nocturne performance in the Citadel High cafeteria, the Orchestra will be doing something a bit different. After spending the summer gathering queer stories from across the country, they've whittled it down to 11 stories and will play companion songs chosen by the storytellers. (Some are available to read at queersongbook.com/stories.) Local narrators and performers, not yet confirmed at press time, will be on the bill too.

"There's textural layers, it's not the way you know the songs—it's reinterpreted, it gives it a dreamy quality," says Brodie. "Much like memory and the way we remember these stories—memory can be faulty or unreliable—hearing the songs in this way that you're not used to, it's putting it through a memory filter as well."

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