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From ‘Drag Race’ to symphony stage: Thorgy bridges classical and LGBTQ culture

Jan 16, 2020

By Courtney Devores, The Charlotte Observer 

She may not have come in first as a competitor on Season 8 of "RuPaul's Drag Race," or on Season 3 of "RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars," but Brooklyn musician Thorgy Thor is winning now: Thanks to a segment on "Drag Race" where she played violin and shared her aspirations to lead an orchestra, Thorgy and the Thorchestra is a reality.

A classically trained violinist, violist and cellist-turned-drag performer, Thorgy joins the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday nights with back-to-back shows that bridge Beethoven and Bruno Mars.

When Thorgy offhandedly floated the idea of touring to play with "Thorchestras" following an impromptu classical performance on "Drag Race," she didn't expect it to materialize.

"I got 500 emails in my inbox. 'Hi my name is Katie. I live in Edinboro. I play harp and want to be part of your Thorchestra.' I realized I said something right for people and professional players," says Thor (whose real name is Shane Galligan).

Her initial idea was to find other drag performers with classical chops.

"I started doing drag 17 years ago, and since Day One I was a violinist and a musician. I wanted us to be able to sit down and play Strauss really well," explains Thor, who would teach private lessons and play in orchestras by day and perform drag at night. "I couldn't find other drag queens that were at that level."

Instead, Thorgy performs with resident orchestras throughout the U.S. and Canada. She made her U.S. debut in June with the Pittsburgh Symphony and often appears during Pride season.

Composer Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, artist-in-residence at Symphony Nova Scotia, contacted Thorgy and helped her put together "The Thorchestra," which debuted with two sold-out dates in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2018.

The show combines LGBTQ history through its selection of composers (including Aaron Copland) and gay rights supporters (like Lady Gaga and Madonna), Thorgy's signature humor, and wild costumes.

"I have to win the audience over, but I also feel like I have to win the orchestras over," she says. "I used to sit in the back of the orchestra and everything is very serious and quiet. Half the orchestra is usually willing to have a little fun with me, and it takes a little bit of time to win the rest of them over."

"A lot of my drag nightlife friends say, 'Thorgy, you could play the D string and Twinkle, Twinkle and (drag fans would love it),'" she adds. "I want to play the concert master. I'm playing for musicians, not for people who don't know music."

She also wants to introduce classical music to LGBTQ youth who might not find it elsewhere, while promoting queer culture in a new environment and providing fans with a safe space to enjoy the arts.

"I want to meld these two worlds," she says. "So some of the kids that see me on a TV show can come and see Tchaikovsky."

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