Local choir stretches more than vocal chords

Tone Cluster celebrates 10 years

Tone Cluster was never supposed to be the permanent name for Ottawa’s leading gay amateur choir. But almost 10 years after their founding, the name has stuck.

Tone Cluster was founded in 1994 by a group of friends interested in forming a mixed chamber choir for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their friends. The name was taken from a term coined by composer Henry Cowell to describe the dissonant sound when a fist or arm slams down on a piano keyboard.

Now, as they prepare to launch their 10th season, the choir is celebrating more than an anniversary. After years of unofficial non-profit status, the choir achieved official status this summer, which will enable them to take advantage of various tax breaks and provide a substantial budgetary boost The group also has a new board and recently developed a constitution.

Tone Cluster opens the new season on Nov 15 with an evening of lively world music. The first show is officially dedicated to campaigns for GLBT rights worldwide and to celebrating achievements here in Canada.

Liz Benjamin, a founding member of the choir, says that dedication reflects the choir’s beliefs.

“Tone Cluster has always been an activist group,” she says.

“One of the statements that we have used is that ‘we value diversity in life and music’ and Tone Cluster has supported many organizations both in the gay and lesbian community and the wider community.”

The season opener will be the group’s first venture into music from all over the world. Tone Cluster has always had a wide variety of music in its repertoire – from Renaissance madrigals to Manhattan Transfer jazz arrangements – but this will be the first time they have focused exclusively on world music.

West African drumming and dancing group AKPOKLI, directed by Kathy Armstrong, will join the 20-odd person choir.

Although the evening of world music is something a little different for the group, it doesn’t represent a new approach, says Jane Perry, the choir’s musical director since Sep, 2000. Tone Cluster has always been open to trying new things. Perry calls that part of the group’s “eclectic nature.” While other groups might focus on classical music, for example, Tone Cluster’s relatively small size and mix of personalities fits naturally with a diverse repertoire.

Perry says it’s that mix and the choir’s enthusiasm that she enjoys most. “The people in the group are of all levels of ability – as far as reading music or musical background goes – but they have a wonderful time making music together and they’re willing to try just about anything that I throw at them. And I really appreciate that about them,” she says.

Perry had previously been an occasional piano accompanist with the choir.


Tone Cluster will hold a special celebration of its 10th anniversary on Apr 3. The choir has commissioned a new work by local composer Marg Stubington, who was also the choir’s musical director from 1997 to 1999. Non-profit status played an important role in making the commission possible.

Tone Cluster’s final concert of the year will be held Jul 3 and 4 in conjunction with the Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus, with whom Tone Cluster has collaborated with in the past.


Nov 15, 8pm, First Baptist Church, $15; www.gaycanada.com/tonecluster

All performances are at First Baptist Church.

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Culture, Music, Arts, Ottawa

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