The Qwire story began in 1993 when a small group met in a suburban garage filled with tools, gardening supplies and a whole lot of musical promise.
Their mission was to bring like-minded LGBTIQ+ folk together and form a Canberra community choir where members could express their pride through the power of song.
It’s been 30 years since then, and Qwire has grown into one of Canberra’s largest LGBTIQ+ community groups, with a membership of over 120 singers. Over the years, Qwire has performed locally, nationally and internationally.
Leading up to their ‘Singing Out with Pride’ anniversary concert on 11 November, we asked the Qwire team a few questions about their love for singing, history and plans for the future.
Congratulations on your 30th anniversary. Can you tell us how many original founding members are still with the Qwire?
We have six founding members who have been with the Qwire for 30 years. They are mostly still active members, while others pop in and out for special occasions. You’ll get to see some of them at our upcoming anniversary concert.
Qwire Canberra 2023
Tell us a bit about your very first performances.
When we first started out in 1992, we had a number of smaller performances, including our very first World AIDS Day, which was held in Garema Place in the city centre. Our first ticketed concert was on 26 November 1994 at the Street Theatre; the show was aptly called ‘A Choir is Born.’
It was the next year we first performed on a national stage in February 1995, singing “Together Forever” with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir and the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus in the Eugene Goossens Hall in Ultimo, Sydney.
It sounds like they were exciting times during your first years. When was it that Qwire first performed on an international stage?
Our first overseas trip was to America. In June 1998, we performed at San Francisco Pride in California alongside other fantastic US LGBTIQ+ choruses. After that, we went to Oregon, where we were chorus guests performing concerts for the Portland queer community.
Apart from Judy Small, who you’re performing with at your anniversary concert, who are some other celebrities that Qwire has shared the stage with?
We have collaborated with many other famous artists, choirs and individuals, including the opera singer Deborah Cheetham, Moya Simpson, Canberra Union Voices, Peter J Casey, Strange Weather Gospel Choir and Justice Michael Kirby.
2006 Qwire performing at a AFP Gay & Lesbian Liaison Officers event in 2006 with Justice Michael Kirby in attendance.
What do you feel has been Qwire’s most celebrated event, and what accolades has Qwire had over the years?
Probably our most celebrated moment was our organisation of the ‘Out and Loud’ Choral Festival back in 2019. We hosted nine national and international queer choirs in a major festival here in Canberra, which was held across our many iconic venues. With 300 singers over four days, we made Canberra very proud.
Can you share a standout moment that has happened during the past 30 years?
A really memorable moment was when Qwire was singing on the back deck of the ferry, crossing from Pacific North West USA to Canada, with Mt Olympus in the background. We included some fun choreography in this impromptu performance and astounded our fellow passengers. Yes, we will sing anywhere!
We heard that there have been some stories of love and friendship that have developed over the years.
Oh yes, several of our singers have formed relationships, sometimes even leading to marriage. Our current Musical Director Lachlan and his partner Roger, and Assistant Music Director Leanne and her wife Michelle are prime examples. Qwire has provided members with lifelong friendships. For many of us, Qwire is our chosen family.
Qwire in 2010 holding their large rainbow coloured musical notes.
Do you think Qwire members have a favourite song?
We have heaps of favourites. One we always enjoy singing is “Home” composed by Holden and Pearson. This song has a great beat, and when we sing “Home”, we celebrate the safe and loving place that Qwire provides, and our audiences love it!
In the Qwire’s early days, when we were much less certain of public acceptance, we used to sing “Keep on Walking Forward” at the end of our rehearsals. It gave us courage and lifted our hearts.
How do you choose the songs that you sing, and do they always have queer roots?
Our music team chooses our repertoire, often drawing on suggestions from Qwire members. We trust their expertise in selecting a range of songs, from the classical to the modern. The songs do not always have an obvious connection to the queer community, but they are about humanity and love, so they apply to us.
Lachlan Snow (musical director), Karen Wilden (assistant musical director), Leanne Lismore (assistant musical director) & Jessica Stewart (accompanist).
Are there roles in Qwire for folk who can’t sing?
Yes, we often rely on friends of Qwire who assist us with organising and managing events, and the wide range of tasks that go into running an organisation of our size. We have over 100 members at this time. The partner of one of our long-term members has become our unofficial ‘bag lady’ looking after our belongings at events.
Does Qwire also perform for the wider community?
Absolutely, we have sung at Floriade, The National Folk Festival and Enlighten. We were also honoured to represent our community by singing at the Canberra Centenary Celebrations in 2013.
What are Qwire’s aspirations for the future?
We hope to remain a thriving organisation for another 30 years, bringing people together from all parts of the LGBTIQ+ community. We want to challenge stereotypes and build bridges with the non-queer community. Qwire also intends to adapt to change and provide a joyful environment for young queer people and for the older, maybe wiser generations. Mainly, we hope the Qwire will continue to be huge fun for everyone involved.
‘Coming Together’ concert with Deborah Cheetham.