Perth Pride Choir farewell Musical Director Claire Williamson

Perth Pride Choir delivered their end of year concert over the weekend. An event that saw them farewell long serving Musical Director Claire Williamson.

The choir, which comprises over fifty members, delivered two shows at the Dolphin Theatre at the University of Western Australia. The captivating and joy filled presentation saw the collective perform a vast selection of works ranging from songs from Adele, Elton John, Lorde, Queen, Marvin Gaye, Fleet Foxes and a couple of classic show tunes.

Following a theme of renewal the ‘Rise Up’ concert opened with the tune the event drew it’s name from – Andra Day’s gospel tinged RnB song. The choir then worked it’s way through two Adele hits Set Fire To The Rain and Rolling in the Deep.

There were solo numbers intermixed with the group performances, Liz Spry performed the standard Love is Here to Stay, a George and Ira Gershwin song originally from the 1938 film The Goldwyn Follies, but made famous by Gene Kelly in An American in Paris. Allanna Treweek sang Georgia on My Mind, and Jack Richardson gave an energetic rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Singed, Sealed, Delivered.  

In between the musical numbers different members of the ensemble came forward and shared their personal stories of how they got involved in the group, and the sense of belonging and enjoyment it brought them. Some spoke about the many years they had been part of the choir, while others were taking part in the end of the year show for the first time. Others spoke about how it had taken them years to build up the gumption to go along to their first weekly meeting, and then how they’d regretted not plucking up the courage sooner.

A medley of Elton John hits was brought to life in a fun style with accompanist Sammy McSweeney donning a glittery jacket and the entire choir pulling out zany glasses.

The second half of the show saw dance moves breaking out for Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, before the choir tackled Lorde’s Royals – a beautiful rendition.

The team also worked their way through Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine, Barbra Streisand’s People and Fleet Foxes festive ditty White Winter Hymnal. Lisa Buckleton had a solo number singing Times Are Hard For Dreamers from the film Amelie. 

After 13 years leading the choir Music Director Claire Williamson is stepping down from her role. Speaking at the first of two concerts choir members Jude Comfort and Joe Steer spoke about the leadership role Williamson has played, being their guiding light for most of their two decade history.

“We really want to acknowledge what you’ve put into the choir, with your professionalism and enthusiasm you’ve really taken us places.” Comfort said.

“Claire to us, in essence, is love.” Steer told the audience at the first show of the day. “Every time she comes to rehearsals that what she brings with her, every time we sing and look at her that’s what we feel.”

Then it was Williamson’s turn to face the audience and sing a song for the choir members she’s fostered for so many years. Her choice was You’ll Never Walk Alone, while there are many great voices in the Pride Choir, the leader of the pack outshone them all.

The final number was a rousing rendition of John Farnham’s Your The Voice, before the singers returned for two encores.

Speaking to OUTinPerth between the shows Claire Williamson explained why she chose the uplifting song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Carousel as her parting gift to the group.

“I wanted to sing a goodbye song, but a lot of goodbye songs are like ‘see you later – I’m out of here – stuff you guys’, especially musical theatre songs. So I actually want to pick a song that would inspire them and hold them, and this one ticked all the boxes.”

Williamson says the Perth Pride Choir is very special, and different to other choirs.

“I’ve taught other choirs, and they just want to come together and sing, but with this choir there’s a deeper level or a more personal level. Sure they like to sing, but it’s about providing that space, a space to belong.”

Williamson credits the decision to change the groups name from the Gay and Lesbian Singers of Western Australia (GALSWA) to the Perth Pride Choir as a big reason for the influx of new members over the last twelve months.

“I think it is to do with the name change, it’s so much more inclusive. The Gay and Lesbian Singers of WA was a bit outdated on so many levels, now people just felt like it was going to be a safe place to come.” Williamson said.

When it comes to choosing what songs get tackled by the choir, Williamson explained that everyone has the chance to put forward suggestions.

“We put it out to the choir, they all put in their ideas, and then we sit down and work out, what will work, what won’t work, can we find the music for it? Then the committee and I sit down and we have a little chat and we figure it out.”

Williamson also shared she does sometimes exercise a veto on which songs are in the final selection.     

“There was one picked this year and I just hated it, so I just didn’t rehearse it. I didn’t tell anyone, until it was just too late to rehearse it.”

Pushed on which song failed to meet her standards she breaks out in a laugh, “No, I didn’t even bother to learn the name of it, I listen to it once and thought – no.”

Her thirteen year journey with the choir has certainly been a life changing experience for Williamson, after several years of being part of the group she had a revelation about her own sexuality.

“I started off in the choir in a hetero relationship, and when I joined the choir I thought, ‘All these women, I have such good friends, such good connections, and maybe I just needed to immerse myself around women to find that I could have a big range of female friends’, because I didn’t really before then. I had a few, but I used to hang out with a lot of blokes as a teenager and in my early twenties.”

“So I thought it was that, and then I just had a moment when I realised, that it was so much more than that. I think we are very conditioned growing up, so it’s been a huge journey. It’s been a safe space for me to be able to do that.”

Through the choir Williamson also met her wife.

“I did, I didn’t speak to her for ages because I thought she was a ‘bit of a bruiser'” Williamson recalls with laughter,  “I didn’t speak to her for ages, and then we had a little chat, and I thought ‘she’s actually she’s alright, she’s a bit of alright’.”

The choir leader admits she came up with an activity for the whole choir just so she could have more interaction with the mysterious new choir member. “I created this whole activity where we had to walk around the room, and sing, and look into each others eyes.

“I thought I have to find an opportunity to get close to her, and look at her , ’cause she was always up the back brooding and at break time she’d go away.  So yes, I created this whole thing just to have a look into her eyes. That’s so manipulative.”

At the end of the second performance the choir surprised Claire Williamson with a song just for her. For weeks they’d practiced in secret on their own without her knowledge. They sang You Have More Friends Than You Know from Glee. 

The Perth Pride Choir will recommence their weekly sessions in 2022, if it’s among your New Year’s resolutions to join the choir, it’s the year to do it!

Graeme Watson

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