Haliburton's Outloud Womyn’s Voices marks 20 years united in the love of song
By Darren Lum
Published Sept. 18, 2018
Like it has been for two decades, Haliburton’s Outloud Womyn’s Voices Chorus sang as one, unified in joy and love for one another at their 20th anniversary celebration.
Close to 30 women’s voices carried to the ceiling of Abbey North where the celebration was held on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
The choir is a diverse mix of women from a variety of backgrounds. They have always been inclusive, never demanding attendance or particular expertise in singing.
Founder Beth Johns called this a “landmark” anniversary.
“The big thing with this singing group is that you didn’t have to be able to sing,” she said “It came out of the early women’s movement. That’s where I learned all this music. When I moved up here I was really missing it. I had been part of a choir [in Etobicoke] and I knew all this music. I came up here and really missed it.”
Original member Lee Gauthier said Outloud’s milestone anniversary is a culmination of her life.
“I’ve gone through ups and downs and really it’s the emotional support of this group that really has been the thread that has kept me in for 20 years,” she said. “Now it means the same thing to these women that are in it even though we meet at Beth’s house – we don’t meet at the church at all. We’re a much smaller group and there is at maximum, 10 or 12 now.”
The celebration was hosted by Outloud member Thea Patterson, who opened her home to a group that consisted of original members and relatively new members, who came to reminisce, sing and rejoice.
Before Outloud there wasn’t any other group like it in the Highlands.
Gauthier can still hear Johns singing solo at an open mic at the former Wild Oats Cafe 20 years ago.
Before they met at that pivotal solo, the Outloud story begins in the 1980s when Johns was struggling.
She was living in Etobicoke in an unhappy marriage and had two young children.
She had also experienced betrayal from a female friend and her sister was in the process of coming out of the closet.
At a leadership training program she met Mary MacEachern, who encouraged her to attend a monthly women’s group in Toronto.
Six months passed before she attended her first meeting. As a result, a whole new world opened up for her.
It introduced her to ideas about women and their place in the world, to sisterhood, to the power of music by feminists and it gave her a new perspective to “spread my wings.”
Learning the empowering music of Carolyn McDade, Carole Etzler, Coleen Fulmer and others, “filled my heart and soul with wonder, and over the years I went every month, to a place where women met together to struggle with being feminist in the church.”
This discovery led to another opportunity to meet more women and to bolster the strength of song.
She was asked to go to a women’s spirituality conference in Waterloo where 500 women sang together.
Johns ended up helping organize this biennial conference, as a member of the planning committee several times.
Outloud Womyn’s Voices Chorus founder Beth Johns, laughs while addressing some 30 women at the 20th anniversary celebration for Outloud on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at Abbey North, located close to Eagle Lake./DARREN LUM Staff
“It was a rich opportunity to work with women, both gay and straight, as we all struggled together to find our way,” she said.
Then in 1998, she moved to Haliburton with her new husband Norris Turner and didn’t have the same connections she did before.
After singing solo at the “women’s voices open stage” at the Wild Oats Cafe in Haliburton, she knew she didn’t want to do it alone again.
She was confident that if any women wanted to learn the songs by the likes of McDade and Etzler she could teach them.
Gauthier remembers how Sue Shikaze spoke to Johns about starting Outloud, and how the group first came together at the YWCA when it was in Haliburton.
The group met each week in the evening for years there and enabled working women and retirees to join.
“And so Outloud Womyn’s Voices was born ... a group where you didn’t have to be able to sing, no auditions, all women were welcome ... and we sang, and sang outloud! Sue Shikaze designed our T-shirts, Liz Doble’s son-in-law printed them for us, and we went public in our purple shirts!”
The Outloud group has sung all over the Highlands from the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion to the landfill.
They’ve protested, singing at a peace rally in response to the Gulf War at Head Lake Park, and standing unified against the extension proposal for the runway at the Stanhope Airport.
They marched in solidarity at Take Back the Night and stood, warmed by each other’s voices on cold street corners to memorialize the 14 women who died during the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique.
Eight of the group even went to Boston and helped record a CD, My Heart is Moved, with McDade back in 2007.
The group has evolved to now include dance. It has been as small as six people and as large as 40.
They have had everyone join them in song from babies to seniors.
Outloud has not performed publicly for some time. However, the group will be singing at the upcoming Take Back the Night in Haliburton on Thursday.
For all these things there has been one constant, a connection they all have with one another.
“And always we sing with our hearts and souls, deeply connecting with each other and with our beautiful earth home,” Johns said.
Johns concluded her speech with a poem by Pat Brown: When women sing.
“So it is with a very full heart that I gather here today with you, my dear friends, to celebrate this journey we’re on together ... it’s ever changing, and always exciting, and I am filled with deepest gratitude for the presence of each and every one of you in my life. So let’s sing.”