Tone Cluster taglines themselves as "quite a queer choir." Image: Tone Cluster/Provided.
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The list of composers includes 2SLGBTQIA+ composers from the nineteenth century to present

On Saturday, Jan. 28, the Ottawa choir, Tone Cluster, will be putting on a show featuring 2SLGBTQIA+ composers. Being able to have a concert made entirely of composers from the community is a significant moment for representation in music and for choir members themselves.

The list of performers spans from contemporary Canadian and American composers, including Joan Szymko, Mari Esabel Valverde, and Joshua Shank, to Samuel Barber (1910–1981) and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) from the early 20th century. Predating even them, a piece by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797–1828) will be performed by the group.

“[It] usually comes as a surprise to people that Schubert was a queer composer, so it’s pretty cool to be able to highlight composers from different eras and styles,” said artistic director Deirdre Kellerman. “There are lots of composers from the classical era that people just don’t know were queer … there isn’t necessarily a mass of information to validate it, because it was a completely different time.”

This weekend’s concert will be a milestone for Tone Cluster. Concerning representation, Kellerman said, “It’s so refreshing in this day and age to see composers that are able to be open about their sexuality and/or gender. And also be able to write specifically from that perspective, because that is so much more meaningful to us when we’re singing words, singing music that was written by someone in our community about our own experiences, as well.”

Tone Cluster is open for auditions from members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and their allies. In Kellerman’s time as artistic director, the choir has grown from 30 to 45 members in the current season.

“[I’ve] been trying to prioritize making Tone Cluster a bigger part of Ottawa’s queer scene,” Kellerman said. She credited the choir’s involvement in events like Capital Pride in 2022 as part of the reason for Tone Cluster’s expansion, in addition to being able to do a fully in-person season and sing for a live audience again.

This year, for their 29th season, Tone Cluster will be putting on three shows, as well as the annual Showtune Showdown, a musical theatre competition that fundraises for the choir.

Joining Tone Cluster at the First Baptist Church this Saturday will be Ryan Vis. A violist and music performance graduate student at the University of Ottawa, Vis also manages the school’s Symphony Orchestra. Kellerman is “excited to be both collaborating with Ryan, but also being able to offer him a platform.”

“Something that is personally really important to me is making sure that Tone Cluster can give opportunities for queer artists at any stage in their career, but especially for emerging artists … it doesn’t get to happen a lot in the classical world, where there’s a lot of structure and spoken and unspoken rules. So it’s really exciting to be able to work with this really talented individual who is able to bring their whole self to their performance.”

Tone Cluster and Ryan Vis will be performing at 140 Laurier Ave W on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available on their website.