Unison/Unisson Choral Festival Heads to Halifax – Tickets on Sale Monday April 3, 2023

For the first time in its history, Canada’s 2SLGBTQIA+ choral festival, Unison/Unisson  (unisonfestivalunisson.ca) is heading east. The Festival, held every four years in a different city, is happening in Halifax on the Victoria Day weekend, May 19-22, at the Halifax Convention Centre. At the last festival in Calgary in 2018, local choir The Women Next Door, successfully bid to bring the festival to Halifax in the hopes that it would encourage more choral participation from the East Coast. This hoped proved successful with the formation of the Halifax Gay Men’s Chorus, who have since become co-hosts. In addition, two other choirs from the Atlantic will be performing at Unison for the first time, one from Nova Scotia and another from Newfoundland. The. The 2023 Festival is presented in partnership with the Nova Scotia Choral Federation.

The theme of the Festival is Open Harbour, referencing the Mi’kmaw name K’jpuktuk, meaning “Great Harbour.” It’s an homage to the unfreezing and always-open Halifax Harbour, the numerous visitors and newcomers who have come through its port, and a nod to the acceptance of the 2SLGBTQ1A+ community in Halifax. Choruses were invited to incorporate the theme into their repertoire.

Kim Vance-Mubanga, President of Unison Choruses Canada and Co-Artistic Director for the Festival, said “choirs across Canada have wanted to see this festival come to Halifax for over a decade. That desire, combined with choirs emerging from the devastating restrictions on gatherings and performances during the pandemic, have created a tidal wave of enthusiasm for this particular Unison festival.”

The Festival was meant to take place in May of 2022 but was delayed due to Covid. It’s been five years since the choruses were last united, and they’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Unison Festival  when they unite in Halifax. The first festival was in Edmonton in 1998 and festivals have since been held in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Calgary. The inaugural Unison Awards for individuals, choirs and organizations that have enriched and improved their communities through choral music and friendship will be given out in Halifax.

Unison received funding from the LGBT Purge Fund (lgbtpurgefund.com) to commission three original pieces by Canadian composers, receiving their premieres at the Festival. Three Festival Choruses  (SATB, SSAA, TTBB) open to both delegates and the general public will sing the new works at the closing concert. Conductors for the Festival Choruses are Marg Stubington from Ottawa (SATB Chorus), Deirdre Kellerman, a Nova Scotia native currently living in Ottawa (SSAA Chorus) and Willi Zwozdesky from Vancouver, (TTBB Chorus). This free concert promises to be a highlight of the Festival.

The three news pieces are inspired by stories told in the course of the LGBT Purge class action lawsuit, shining a light on the tragedy and the toll of the LGBT Purge in Canada. The new works are Hushed Injustices by Leslie ArdenBefore You Even Knew by Mark Sirett and

The Commanded Heart by D. Geoffrey Bell. The Purge Fund was set up following the discrimination, harassment and firing of LGBT members of the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and the federal public service between the 1950s and the mid-1990s.  Nova Scotia native, Michelle Douglas, ED of the LGBT Purge Fund and a Purge survivor from the Armed Forces, will also be speaking at the closing concert.

The festival has also partnered with Toronto-based Queer Songbook Orchestra (QSO) (https://www.queersongbook.com/) a professional chamber pop ensemble dedicated to utilizing story and song to express, honour and elevate 2SLGBTQ+ experience, while providing opportunities for mentorship and other supports to queer, trans, questioning and allied youth. QSO will be performing for delegates and the public (ticket required) on Saturday evening (May 20th) and will also be conducting two workshops for festival delegates and providing instrumental accompaniment to the three Festival Choruses. 

Some choirs will be headed to the Bluenose Marathon to sing to runners and raise funds for Unison. Social events, a drag show, Queeraoke and a dance party round out the Unison schedule for delegates.

A full schedule is available on the Festival’s website and social media. Tickets to the general public go on sale Monday, April 3,  through EventBrite. The opening concert on Friday, May 14 is $40, and the four concert blocks on Saturday and Sunday (20th and 21st) are $25 each. The closing concert is free, although a ticket is required and a Festival pass to all concerts is $120. Tickets are limited so concertgoers are advised to book tickets soon. https://www.eventbrite.com/o/59685412633

Unison thanks its donors and funders, and acknowledges that the festival will take place in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.  This territory is covered by the Treaties of Peace and Friendship first signed in 1725.