There's a place for us

Issue 

Something to sing about

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir recorded live by the ABC

Larrikin records, $25 (proceeds to the AIDS trust of Australia)

Reviewed by Karen Fredericks

One of the things I really regret missing this year is the performance, at the Sydney Lesbian and Gay Mardi Gras party, by Julian Clary and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir, of the Judy Garland classic "Somewhere over the rainbow".

It would also have been fun to have been a fly on the wall next to the governor-general, Bill Hayden, when the choir became the first gay and lesbian choir ever to have performed for a head of state, at the opening of the Centre for Gay and Lesbian Research at Sydney Uni in June.

Something to sing about is a live recording of the SGL Choir's Mardi Gras concert at the ABC Centre earlier this year. While Julian Clary's charming but tuneless lead vocal does not appear, and neither does Bill, the recording has many magic moments, some highly camp, some highly serious, and all heartfelt.

To compensate for the absence of "Somewhere over the rainbow", the recording contains a rendition of Leonard Bernstein's soaring, yearning composition simply titled "Somewhere". I thought the two Bernstein tunes ("Somewhere" and "One hand, one heart") were the best of this extremely eclectic collection. (Eclectic, that is, within the confines of almost entirely Latin and Anglo traditions, with a nod to Afro-American sources and one Macedonian trad.) The interpretation of these two beautiful songs of love by more than 100 voices reveals a whole new depth to the lyrics.

This reinterpretation effect is skilfully exploited in some other tracks, including SGLC musical director Stephen Schafer's arrangement of the ABBA hit "Dancing Queen", and even more mischievously in the Sesame Street favourite, "Rubber Duckie".

Schafer's composition, "These candles we burn", written for the AIDS Council of NSW candlelight memorial rally earlier this year, provides a tremendous opportunity for the choir to harness its warm tones and emotional energy for a rousing call to political action by lesbians and gay men. The piece owes more than a little to Pachabel's famous Canon, revealing Schafer's list towards traditional Anglo choral music. Perhaps this preference also explains the somewhat ponderous treatment of the aforesaid ABBA number, a song which, I think, could have borne a more relaxed, tongue in cheek treatment.

The SGL choir won first place in the National Choral Championships last year, and third place this year. They have been important contributors to the gay liberation movement in Sydney and have given time and money, generously, to a wide variety of organisations which are facing up to the AIDS crisis.

Something to sing about preserves their talent and energy for posterity, gives us something to sing along to at home (though it's a pity they didn't put the lyrics in the CD sleeve) and also gives buyers the chance to contribute financially to the AIDS Trust of Australia.