Stronger together after 30 years of harmony

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir is turning 30. Image: supplied.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir has been singing an a capella soundtrack for the LGBTQI+ community for three decades. The Sentinel spoke with musical director Adam Majsay about highlights, pandemics and the upcoming milestone. By Rita Bratovich.

“I’m so grateful we get to sing again given it’s such a significant year for the choir,” says Adam Majsay, referring the several month hiatus they had to take due to Covid-19, which thankfully ended in time for the choir to plan and rehearse for the anniversary concert. 

Majsay has been the musical director of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir (SGLC) for three years, and with the choir for five. That puts him a long way behind the longest serving choristers. 

“We do still have some members that were foundation members of the choir,” he explains. 

In fact, the choir originator, Rob Holland, is still a singing member. It was his 1990 letter in the Sydney Star Observer that started it all. Some early participants who are still singing include Mardi Gras ’78ers. 

The 30th anniversary concert, entitled Stronger Together, will commemorate the choir’s past, visiting key points in its history by way of song. 

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir singing at AIDS Candlelight Memorial 1994. Image: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir/Facebook.

“For the most part, it’s a retrospective of some of the significant musical moments that the choir’s had,” says Majsay. “SGLC has commissioned quite a number of new works by Australian composers, so we are going to be bringing some of those pieces back to the stage, which is really, really exciting.”

Among those is a song-cycle written in 1997 by Elena Kats-Chernin called Talk Show. It’s based on the true story of an infamous talk show stunt in which a gay man declares his love for a straight friend on live television, only to have that friend kill him days later. They’ll be performing the first song, ‘Got A Secret’.

Another commissioned work is Turing Believes Machines Think by Gordon Hamilton. It is a score set to the syllogism Alan Turing wrote at the end of a letter to a friend, shortly before he pleaded guilty to a charge of “gross indecency”. 

The program for the concert spans styles from classical to pop and includes many crowd favourites such as ‘True Colours’, ‘Seasons Of Love’, ‘Home’, and ‘A Million Voices’ as a stirring finale.

Special guest, screen and stage star Caroline O’Connor will join the choir for two songs and sing one out front on her own. O’Connor and the SGLC first melded voices at the end of 2018 when the choir backed O’Connor for a concert in the City Recital Hall. 

Special guest Caroline O’Connor. Image: Jeff Busby/supplied.

“That experience was incredible. Just a delight. She’s just a lovely, lovely person,” says Majsay. O’Connor told them if they ever wanted her to be involved with them in future, all they had to do was ask. And they did. 

Also returning as a special guest is former SGLC musical director, Jonathon Welch. He’ll be singing a song he wrote called ‘Grateful’ during an in memoriam tribute to choir members from the last 30 years who are no longer with us. The tribute will include videos of past performance and historical footage. 

Special guest Jonathon Welch. Image: supplied.

For Majsay and many choir members, the past three decades have been about  delivering a message of LGBTQI+ acceptance through music. When the choir was barely a year old, it competed in the 1992 Australian National Choral Championship in Wagga Wagga. The squeamish organisers requested they change their name to something more vague, but the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir competed proudly and resolutely under its own name – and won! 

From then until now there have been many tours and competitions, but ultimately the choir is about unity and inclusion – you don’t even have to audition to join.

If previous concerts are anything to go by, Stronger Together promises to be a real treat. 

“It definitely will be lots of fun,” says Majsay. “It’s a choir that sings from the heart so there definitely will be some moving moments, but a lot of levity in there as well. Hard to avoid that with us.”

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the lockdown in Sydney being enforced until July 9, this performance has been rescheduled to July 17.

Stronger Together: 7pm Saturday, July 17, at the Seymour Centre (York Theatre), Cnr Cleveland St and City Rd, Chippendale. Tickets ($37 to $55 plus booking fee) available at www.seymourcentre.com/event/stronger-together/.