Brace yourselves, because it looks set to be a colourful ride as Malta’s first queer community choir – led by queer people, for queer people, allies and friends – is officially happening. Musically-led by Luke Saydon, with music arranged by Matteo Depares, the choir is a unique safe space for people to come and be who they want to be, feel warmly welcomed into a community and express themselves freely through the joy of music. Cherry on the cake? It’s audition-free – so the words ‘no-one’s judging’ aren’t just an empty phrase. Ever since watching the stunning Teatru tal-Miskin, I’ve been a massive fan of Luke’s work, so I caught up with him to find out more about this latest project.
What inspired you to establish Kor Kwir?
Any opportunity to open any kind of LGBGTQI+ safe space in our country should not be double guessed for one second. Just do it. This project has been a dream of mine for years. Music and LGBTQI+ empowerment are never far away from any piece of work I tend to produce. And with EuroPride around the corner and them keen to work with Saydon Studio, this project could not be any more timely.
Community choirs have been a huge part of my life. As a member when I was young and as a musical director for these last eight years. In the UK I run choirs for communities from every corner of society, from pop commercial choirs, to family music groups all the way to dementia choirs. A community choir has this unique capacity to bring joy. An LGBTQI+ space has the capacity to bring safety and welcoming care to someone who might not be experiencing it at this stage of their life. So that is my inspiration – to create a welcoming safe space, for everyone, with music at its heart.
How does the audition-free aspect of the choir foster a more inclusive and welcoming environment for potential members?
I believe the words ‘community’ and ‘audition’ never belong in the same process. Any community excluding someone is not really community spirit is it? When members sign up for choir they’re asked to either chose their voice part of chose the “don’t have a clue” option. The latter selection describes over 45% of our members. And I cannot be happier.
Because this means that these people would not have an opportunity to sing in a choir elsewhere. Sure maybe the sound that we are going to create is not going to break ground, but what is definitely going to be an experience is every single rehearsal where that member who’s never sung before feels welcomed, supported – and able to sing their head off.
How do you plan to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to express themselves through music?
In our taster session last March we had people coming out. Some people came out as queer and others came out as never sung before. Who knew singing and queer life had so much in common? Kor Kwir – officially shattering feelings of shame since March 2023!
As a team we are organising brand new arrangements of iconic pride anthems which from the start encourages self expression to run wild. This is safe space for LGBTQI+ individuals because, if you had to put one mission behind the choir, it is just that. That every member of our community is fully aware that this is a place where they can move, look, feel, talk and sing in anyway they feel complete.
In one focus group we did leading up to the launch, a trans man shared with me how they want to belong in a male group (which we tend to associate with tenors or basses) but probably has the voice of an alto. And he spoke about how pressuring that could be. We actively took this on board, scrapped any soprano/alto/tenor/bass formation and instead split the choir in harmony parts not defined by voice range. It’s so easy to eliminate any barriers that people might feel.
How do you envision Kor Kwir to promote greater understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ issues within the wider Maltese community? Will you be organising events, concerts etc?
I think the title is one of the biggest statements of it all. It baffles people so much when you brand something as queer (it kills me). On a more social level, this is a platform that will unashamedly counteract for LGBTQI+ hate that is among us. The ‘straight pride’ movement that spend most of their time on social media ridiculing me and my loved ones. They are people going out of their way to spread hate and erase our identity. I think this is the form of queerphobia that gets to me most. Because it is so frightfully accessible.
So every Kor Kwir session, we will sing a note for every single one of those hateful comments – and balance out the world. No big job. After five months of sessions the choir will come together to perform on the EuroPride stage. And even though we’re still at the beginning of bringing this together I know it will be something special.
Some audience members will roll their eyes at our camp moves, some will squint their eyes at the amount of colour we will have – but one young person with lots of questions will happen to see us and feel a sense of hope about growing up queer in this country.
What were the biggest challenges in setting up the choir?
So far it has been the smoothest process ever. Possibly the biggest challenge for me is commuting from London every month to run the sessions. But it pales in significance to the pride I feel after running sessions like these.
The challenge that we as organisers are continuously on the look out for is to protect our members. I distinctly remember a protest prayer vigil that happened in Valletta to pray for gay men’s sins last year. If they come to protest against us, I hope they do it in harmonies at least.
Most of us shrug this off, but for some of our members this might mean a lot. So that will be the biggest challenge – ensuring that at every stage, members feel empowered and able to be themselves despite the challenges that the rest of the world will inflict.
What kind of music can we expect! And will you be performing anything from your recent Teatru tal-Miskin?
Oh my gosh I didn’t think about that. Dressing an entire choir up like the Buffi from Ħal Fern? Why didn’t I think of this before? But no, what we’ve got in store is far more exciting. We have asked the choir about their most guilty pleasure pride anthems. And we have mashed them all up to create the most exciting programme. We have disco classics, Miley, Lady Gaga, Eurythmics, Adele, Cher, Gloria Gaynor, Pink, Britney – and some Maltese classics as well. Putting the queer in queer choir.
How do you engage with other local and international LGBTQ+ organizations or choirs to foster connections and collaborations?
My own partner happens to be part of the London Gay Men’s Choir, and plenty of my friends and collegues run or form part of queer choirs. I think being part of EuroPride is the biggest gift we could have as a startup, because people from all over the world will be experiencing our gig in September. May we foster new connections, but mostly may we inspire similar projects. The world is in desperate need of them.
How does one become a member? And how can allies of the LGBTQ+ community support and get involved with Kor Kwir and its mission?
Registration is through saydonstudio.com/korkwir. Anyone can join. Allies are also free to join. Our partners EuroPride and StoreRoom have even made it free to join – for which we are so grateful. Our mission is very simple. Make the world a safer place for the LGBTQI+ community. Our call to arms is music. A queer choir. If your mission is not as musically complex as ours, may it bring as much hope as we are hoping to generate.
Kor Kwir is commissioned by EuroPride as part of the Arts Programme. The project is also supported by StoreRoom.