Connecting through singing in lockdown

Members of a trailblazing community choir have stayed connected in lockdown through online video performances.

Founded in 1990, the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Choir (MGLC) is Australia’s longest running community choir for members of LGBTIQ+ communities. The choir has supported the establishment of shOUT Youth Chorus - Australasia’s first queer youth choir.

Together, they unite a diverse group of Victorians, says Lawrence McDonald, a member of the chorus committee.

“I came out relatively late in life, and choir is one of those rare spaces in the queer community where it’s people of all ages, all identities. They’re there for the love of singing,” he says.

“We have members in their 80s, and we have members who are 18. For many of the younger people in the chorus, it’s the first time they’ve met older queer people.”

In 2020, MGLC prepared to celebrate its 30th year with a special anniversary concert, but due to the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the choir pivoted its activity online.

Despite early technical difficulties and limitations – an entire chorus can’t just sing simultaneously in a video chat – more than half of the group’s members regularly attended rehearsals.

The choir soon realised that recorded performances would give everybody a project to focus on. MGLC successfully applied for a grant from the Let's Stay Connected Fund, a Victorian Government initiative which provided grants of between $5,000 and $200,000 to support innovative, community-led initiatives that built connection during the pandemic.

The grant enabled the choirs to pay multimedia professionals to produce video performances while they were unable to sing together in person. “It encouraged members of the choir to keep coming to rehearsals, feel connected and that they’re actually doing something practical,” McDonald says.

“It also reached out to the broader community and demonstrated [that] we’re still here. We’re still resilient, we’re still performing, and eventually we’ll get back to live performances.”

The videos include renditions of Fields of Gold and the inspiring Home, which also includes the group’s reflections on what home means to them. The shOUT Youth Chorus performed a stylised rendition of Radiohead’s classic indie anthem Creep.

Two of the videos feature Auslan interpretation, engaging the deaf and hard of hearing community. Together, they have accumulated thousands of views across social media.

Alex Callahan joined MGLC as a member of shOUT Youth Chorus in 2013. For the past eight years, the group has been the most important way she connects socially with other people. While she struggled in the early stages of the pandemic, she says the opportunity to create video performances re-energised her commitment to the choir.

“It actually made me feel really emotional when I heard us sing together for the first time since lockdown began, even though it was a recording. It made me feel so proud of how resilient we had been despite the hardship of restrictions.”

Ultimately, the videos will be a powerful, ongoing reminder of the group’s enduring connection in a challenging time, McDonald says.

“These three videos really are now the record of our experiences during lockdown. They are a permanent record that the chorus stayed together, stayed rehearsing and actually performed.”

Watch the video performances on the MGLC Facebook page.