The Centre for All Canadians

Queer Songbook Orchestra: Fusing LGBTQ Stories and Pop Music

Collective explore queer narratives; welcome guest narrators Dave Stewart & Rory Starkman  

(Charlottetown, P.E.I.) – Sobeys LIVE @ the Centre is full-steam ahead this month. Confederation Centre of the Arts – dedicated to celebrating Canada’s origins and ongoing evolution – is thrilled to welcome Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO) to make their P.E.I. debut, October 10 at 7:30 p.m. at The Mack.

QSO is a 12-piece chamber group dedicated to sharing queer narratives through the performance of pop music from the past century. The Toronto-based ensemble source their stories from the personal experiences of LGBTQ individuals and the songs that have meant most to them.

Building bridges, one set-list at a time

Carrying the belief that storytelling and song are powerful communicators that can increase understanding and foster community, QSO have been bringing this vulnerability to stages across Canada since 2014. By working with a base of familiar pop songs offered alongside queer narratives, the listener is shown a new entry point into familiar music.

For this show, songs like Blondie‘s ‘Heart of Glass’, Arcade Fire‘s ‘Sprawl II’, and David Bowie‘s Changes’ have been reinterpreted by a team of skilled arrangers. These and other hits are performed by a storyteller, four vocalists, and through cello, violin, trumpet, oboe, horn, guitar, double bass, and drums. This element explores the pockets of memory where songs tuck away, providing comfort, resilience, and a bond amongst community.

Some Island perspective

The LIVE @ the Centre performance will feature special guests from P.E.I.’s LGBTQ community. ”What we’re doing is presenting a number of [collected] personal stories of lived queer experiences and the songs that are most deeply connected to them,” shares Artistic Director Shaun Brodie. “We always find narrators in each city to join us and be the ones to deliver these stories, and these act as intros to the songs.”

Dave Stewart

The Mack concert will include guest narrator Dave Stewart, a Charlottetown-based writer and self-described ‘ad man’. Known to many Islanders for long-running comic in The Buzz, ‘And Yet I Blame Hollywood’, Stewart has contributed to CBC-TV’s ZeD as well as Rue Morgue, Art Decades, Studio CX, and online at RetroSlashers.net., among other creative projects.

“When I saw that QSO were looking for stories about songs that had been key to LGBTQ Canadians, I knew I wanted to share mine,” he offers. “Not that I thought my story would be included in their tour, but I’m really thrilled that Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ will be given the QSO treatment, and I can’t wait to hear what they do with it.”

“It’s a real honour to be invited onstage and to share a couple of stories from other members of Canada’s LGBTQ community,” Stewart reflects. “These are stories that help define our lives, and in many cases, gave us the strength to live those lives.”

To gather and celebrate one another

The October 10 performance will also feature P.E.I.-based playwright, actor, and stage manager, Rory Starkman. A regular collaborator with UPEI’s Vagabond Productions and in the Island Fringe Festival, Starkman is enthused to see more public representation of the Island’s LGBTQ community. “Just the presence of this show, presented by one of the largest arts centres in Canada, is epic,” they explain. “Participating in the QSO is such an honour and also an opportunity to strengthen and uplift our own queer community here.” 

Rory Starkman (NHDT Photography)

“I first moved to Charlottetown in 2010 when the Pride parade consisted of a few trucks, a few banners, and a few protesters,” they continue. “Over the years, there have been ebbs and flows of volunteer queer community organizing here, but these efforts have often exhausted limited resources. Finally, we are beginning to see strong public support and social groups emerge, offering spaces for our oft-isolated community members to gather, share stories, and empower one another to just be themselves; to be ourselves. And there are many of us.”

Starkman concludes, “Events like the QSO are yet another place for queer folks to gather and celebrate one another, and in such a public venue, hopefully our allies outside of the community will see what it is we strive for; acceptance, understanding, and just a place to safely exist exactly as we are.”

One night only

Dubbed “absurdly brilliant” by Noisey, QSO have played some of the most esteemed stages in the country, including the NAC and Luminato Festival; in residence at the Banff Centre; and featured on CBC’s ‘q’. Their collaborative album with artist Vivek Shraya was also long-listed for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize.

Visit queersongbook.com or follow QSO @queersongbook for more. Tickets for this and all other Sobeys LIVE @ the Centre shows can be purchased at the Centre box office, or online. Special thanks are extended to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Province of Prince Edward Island, and the City of Charlottetown, as well to media sponsors Ocean 100, Hot 105.5, and The Guardian.

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