Choir’s changing membership may reflect shift in society

Rainbow Harmony Project Spring concert 2015. /RHP

Rainbow Harmony Project Spring concert 2015. /PHOTO courtesy RHP

True to its name, the Rainbow Harmony Project (RHP) has been an inclusive choir from its inception and has evolved into quite a harmonious group of singers where gay, straight, transgender and two-spirited folk make wonderful fun music.

Together, they create the type of sound on stage for which the RHP is known. It is a labour of love which all comes together after many practices and rehearsals not to mention the concerted effort of the many behind the scenes volunteer efforts of its inclusive Board.

Now in its 18th year, Winnipeg’s LGBT Choir was first publicized at a table set up at the June 1999 Pride. During the first few years, it was not popular to belong to the choir and there were no allies that signed up.

That has changed over the last few years as an increasing number of straight members have joined. This may be an indication that society has changed to some extent.

Linda Rogers. /PHOTO courtesy Linda Rogers

Linda Rogers. /PHOTO courtesy Linda Rogers

Soprano voices being few in this LGBT choir, three straight sopranos were asked to join at the start. Linda Rogers was one of those sopranos. She found choral members so embracing, she asked if she could stay.

“For the first few years, I was the only straight in the choir,” recalls Rogers.

“Besides enjoying the music and the people in the choir, I found that it was a good way to be supportive of the gay community. When people knew that I was a member of a gay choir, they instinctively knew that it wasn’t ok to make gay jokes in my presence.”

Except for two years when she lived in Thailand, Rogers has been part of the choir since 2000. She also helped the choir out as assistant director for a few years.

Sally Papso. /PHOTO courtesy Sally Papso

Sally Papso. /PHOTO courtesy Sally Papso

One RHP member, Sally Papso, who signed up with the choir at its inception, remembers an oppressive atmosphere.

“It was still a relatively oppressive climate of fear and hatred for lesbians, gays and other queer folk at the time,” says Papso.

“It was the right thing to do. The first concert was held at the Walker Theatre in 2000. The place was packed with more than a thousand. Before we walked out on stage there was a thunderous standing ovation and applause and roar,” remembers Papso.

Not one to take commitments lightly, Papso has, to date, attended every single choir practice. That is no small feat considering rehearsals are a weekly occurrence requiring two and half hours of one’s time and energy.

Helping to direct that energy this year and adding youthfulness to the RHP is Justin Odwak who joins the capable, always entertaining and ever youthful Johanna Hildebrand as co-director. He is only the second ally in the organization’s history to take on the role of director.

A true mensch, the encouraging Odwak brings new ideas and techniques as well as his smooth tenor voice to guide choral members.

In her introduction of Odwak to the choir, Hildebrand joked, “He has an impressive resume, even more impressive than mine – which is hard to beat.”

You can check out his bio and that velvety voice on the following website:

The reputable choral group typically receives more requests to sing at concerts than it can fill over the course of the year. Every year, the RHP can be counted on to sing at two annual concerts, in December and a spring concert in May.

The Many Gifts concert will take place Sat. Dec. 10, 2016 at Knox United Church – 400 Edmonton St. at 8 p.m. Expect violins to accompany the chorus on a couple of songs at this upcoming performance.

The fourth annual fundraiser dinner, The Red Carpet, is set for Sat. Feb. 25, 2017 at the Roblin Centre, Red River College Exchange District Campus – Cocktails at 6 p.m. followed by Dinner at 7 p.m.  As per tradition, the evening will be interspersed with performances by the RHP and an art auction will be held. Earlybird tickets are $125, until Jan. 20, 2017.

Tickets to both the Many Gifts concert and The Red Carpet event are available either online or from choir members.

To obtain up to date information on upcoming RHP events, visit their Facebook page:

Armande Martine


Armande Martine is a provincial civil servant and the mother of 3 adult children and married to her same sex partner, Nelle Oosterom since January 2016.

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