Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hootin' an' hollerin'

Minneapolis, Minnesota

What a perfect way to end July!

Gabe, our Scottish terrier, and I went wild watching Game 4 of the Minnesota Twins / Chicago White Sox series played tonight at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. What a team the Twins are, fighting back from a four-run deficit to win the game 10 to 6, sweeping the series 3 to 1, and moving into a half game out of first in the A-L Central!

The Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, was ejected for the fifth time this season, after protesting a strike called against a batter who was hit by the pitch. When Gardenhire kicked his cap in the air on his way out, fans in the stands threw theirs onto the field, after which Chicago's manager pulled his team off the field. Real ugliness was promised but avoided.

The game also featured two, three-run homers by Twins Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, and the Twins' scoring of seven runs off four hits in two innings. It was one of the best games this season. Chicago's boys of summer are welcome in our town any time!

Y'all come back!

Walking with ghosts

Minneapolis, Minnesota

My father's last-surviving first cousin was buried in Kansas on Tuesday at age 102. This cousin's mother, who was one of my grandfather's older sisters, was born in Illinois before traveling with her parents by train to Dodge City to take up homesteading in Meade County KS in 1885. Many years later, this county was ground zero for the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Although it remains one of the country's most arid regions, the land continues to produce winter wheat and corn in great abundance.

People in olden times did not make life changes and set out to endure the natural or man-made challenges of the frontier because they expected anything to be easy. They had a hope that life could be different and better. Instant gratification was an unknown concept.

Every remembered detail and nuance of their lives is information, caution, and inspiration for how we might take action, engage change, and assume risks in order to make life in our day different and better.

Serendipitous summer

Minneapolis, Minnesota

After a late-winter and spring filled to over-flowing with attendance at dance performances, my summer diversions have shifted to various kinds of choral music – lots of it! – particularly in films.

One must not miss Meryl Stree
p's lead role of Donna in MAMMA MIA! The film, shot in London and Greece, also features Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, and Dominic Cooper. A pure and entertaining delight!

I finally caught Young at Heart, a documentary of sorts about the Young@Heart Chorus. It is a thoroughly charming, poignant, and inspiring story of senior citizens in Northampton, Massachusetts, who perform contemporary and classic rock and pop songs in concerts around the world. A DVD will be issued in mid-September.

Then, there was The Singing Revolution, starring the people and music of Estonia in the story of their enduring work toward freedom.

Finally, of course, I attended nine days of awesome music in Miami performed by 5,000 members of GALA Choruses.

... Baseball: The consistent inconsistency of this year's Minnesota Twins baseball team remains a subject of some puzzlement. Given the opportunity, they simply cannot dislodge the Chicago White Sox from first place in the American League Central! The Twins took the first two games in this week's homestand against the Sox, pulling within a half-game of first before losing last night. Regardless of the outcome of tonight's game at the Metrodome, Chicago will leave town with its lead intact.

... Politics: Who cares if Obama has a rock star persona? McCain's latest ad attacking Barack for being a celebrity is a fabulous waste of money and a strong argument against financing campaigns with tax dollars. It is great that the U.S. is regaining a positive image in the world. For the next 90+ days, I want to see and hear both candidates in their best ground game mixing it up with voters – up close and personal – about real issues. Throw in a convention and a few mass rallies on both sides, and keep the airwaves free of paid insults to voters's intelligence.

... Arts and culture: While catching up with, I came across The Arts and a Generation of Whiners, a blog entry. This post reports on a survey by the Pew Research Center that says the 76 million baby boomers are the most pessimistic, disappointed, and self-entitled generation of the 20th century. That survey would seem to echo a report on social trends from the University of Chicago, also cited in the blog. That report says boomers have never been happy. Overall, we don't collaborate but we confront with an attitude of conflict not compromise, and we do it from a position of ideology and not pragmatism. My musing: We did not necessarily need surveys to tell us this. Could this explain the ascendance of talking heads on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and talk radio as our generational spokespeople? Are they the priests and priestesses who intercede with the gods of our discontent?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fringin' and dancin'

Minneapolis, Minnesota

If you have not submitted your advertising banner to the website of the Minnesota Fringe Festival by now, you are out of luck. It is one of the lowest cost deals in town and, between now and mid-August, the Fringe's will be one of the top five most active websites in Minnesota!

The festival runs 11 days, July 31 - Aug. 10, at numerous venues in the Uptown, West Bank, Northeast, and North Loop neighborhoods of Minneapolis. At least 1,000 artists will present more than 800 performances of 156 different shows, aided by 400 volunteers.

As a sassy teenager of 15, the Fringe has outgrown the pangs of its 1993 birth, delivered with a loan from the Cedar Riverside Business Association. It now is the Midwest's largest performing arts festival, and the largest nonjuried and uncensored Fringe in the U.S.

As my friend, John Munger, noted on his blog, Going Through the Movements, the Fringe "offers more dance in 11 days than any part of the [Twin Cities] dance community offers at any other time of the year." He has the statistics to prove it. I intend to see at least three of this year's dance offerings.

Live Action Set is creating some of the freshest and most engaging work in town these days. Its show, Deviants, will play at The Soap Factory, with a cast including Noah Bremer, Megan Odell, Robert Rosen, Galen Treuer, and Vanessa Voskuil. These are the folks who brought us the 2005 Fringe hit Please Don't Blow Up Mr. Boban.

Last year, Penelope Freeh presented one of the strongest shows in the Fringe. This year's offering is small aïda, a two-woman show for herself and Stephanie Fellner, to be performed at Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

DRP Dance will make its third Fringe appearance with Modern Muses at the Southern Theater. It features four women performing choreography by Danielle Robinson-Prater.

The maximum ticket price for any Fringe show is $12, plus a one-time button purchase for $3. A complete schedule for the festival is at

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rose-colored realities

Miami, Florida

This past week, July 12-20, has been my third visit to Miami, occasioned by the quadrennial GALA Choruses Festival. The festival was a week of 15-, 30-, and 60-minute performances by more than 140 GLBT choruses and smaller ensembles presented and attended by 5,000 singing delegates from around the world.
Members of the South Florida public also attended. The logistics of making it all happen were a wonder to behold. The organizers did a great job.

All of it was more than a person could absorb or process. I fear it will become a surreal blur of memory in short order. All of my Miami visits have had a surreal quality. Unlike travel to New York, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and other coastal cities, Miami feels like a different planet.

My first trip to Dade County started on a Sunday afternoon, July 2, 1972, as the principal driver of a new, black Oldsmobile 88, equipped with a mobile telephone. Four other staffers of Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign and I were driving south from Washington, D. C., to the Democratic National Convention; the oldest of us was 21.

We passed through Richmond, Virginia, well before dusk and continued through the night. Around 4am, the darkest time before dawn, we managed to get lost somewhere in southern Georgia. Although we had a letter of introduction from the U.S. Secret Service, we had been warned not to stop along the way unless it was imperative. Unwilling to ask directions, we gutted it out for what seemed hours until we found our way across the Florida state line around 6:30am.

If you must drive the length of Florida quickly and can avoid using A1A, do so. Although this often scenic highway runs along the coast, it passes through every stop light and traffic jam in every village and city along the way. We were getting nowhere in a great deal of time when someone pulled out a map and noticed there was an interstate freeway running parallel to us about three miles inland.

Although sleep-deprived and loathe to miss my first glimpse of the fabled scenery of Cape Canaveral, Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and the rest, I yielded. It was one of many occasions when I have had to accept that a group’s wisdom might exceed mine.

We arrived at our hotel headquarters, in the vicinity of 69th Street and Collins Avenue, before dinner, and called our Secret Service contact in Washington to check-in only a few hours past our expected arrival time. From there, we jumped into doing whatever passes for important work at a national convention. Democracy was never intended to be a tidy and rational process, and political campaigns embody that reality.

My memory of those two weeks is a mix of blurred and disparate images. I recall the press conference where HH withdrew from contention for the nomination; the ocean's aquamarine color; our dorm-like accommodations; strawberry pie at Pumpernik's deli; kissing a young woman on the beach at night; ferrying people to and from the Miami airport endlessly; a party on a boat; and passing out souvenir booklets at the convention center.

I also recall feeling totally grateful that a young man traveling from Germany turned-up and offered to drive the Oldsmobile back to D.C. (Two weeks later, he and I, with another friend, from Australia, drove the car and a U-Haul from D.C. to Minneapolis.) There was one campaign charter flying back from Miami to Washington on July 14. After the desolation of losing the nomination fight I was desperate not to be left behind on the ground.

The next time I saw Miami was six years ago, in June 2002, while attending a Dance/USA Roundtable conference. About 400 dance artists and administrators from around the world gathered at the Marriott Miami Biscayne Bay for several days of workshops and networking. While I attended conference activities, my partner, James Davies, spent time across Biscayne Bay figuring out how Miami’s South Beach works. We took part of a day to tour the Art Deco District, the Jewish Museum of Florida, and other sites. One evening, all of us toured the facilities of the Miami City Ballet, and on a number of nights we attended performances of the Florida Dance Festival. At the conclusion of the Roundtable, James and I flew to Jacksonville to visit relatives.

During this past week, we again lodged at the Marriott. The Trinity Episcopal Cathedral stands across the street and next to the Venetian Causeway. Organized in 1896, it is the oldest church within the original city limits of Miami. The cathedral's distinctive Mediterranean appearance derives from Romanesque, Byzantine, and Italianate elements combined by the architect, Harold Hastings Mundy. The building is on the Register of National Historic Places. James woke early on Monday and Wednesday to volunteer with the Feed My Sheep program that provides breakfast for 150 homeless people at 6:15am.

Some of us attending the GALA Choruses Festival discovered the S & S Diner four blocks from the Marriott. Part of a small, local chain hailing from 1938, the S & S is located across the street from the Biscayne Park Cemetery. Its 23 seats at a horseshoe-shaped counter make it a great place to have breakfast or lunch for less than $8 and to hold a neighborly conversation. The wait-staff knew more about the Festival gossip than we did.

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is two huge structures situated across Biscayne Boulevard from each other: the Knight Concert Hall and the Ziff Ballet Opera House. Located three blocks south of the Marriott, both buildings are stunning, particularly the Knight. Although the Miami community spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the center, it required an infusion of $30 million earlier this year from Adrienne Arsht, a banker and philanthropist, in order to stabilize its finances. Things that still need fixing: (1) doors leading into both auditoria make an inordinate amount of noise when opening and closing – new closer hardware should fix the problem, and please get rid of the noisy rubber seals where the edges of two doors meet; and (2) the electrical outlet receptacle, located center stage at the base of the lowest riser in the Knight needs to be rotated (or removed!) so an extension cord can be plugged in without being seen by the audience. God lives in the details.

It is billed as "an international phenomenon" where "St. Tropez meets Miami chic." It claims a reputation as "a party playground for jet-setters, celebrities, VIPs" and others. Nikki Beach is a large, oceanfront complex with an outdoor beach club and a restaurant and night club. The Friday evening concert by gay Billboard sensation Ari Gold was fabulous, and it was great to dance 10 feet from where he was singing. Nonetheless, I just don't see the glamour of it all. I was glad to have passed through the gates of what is simply a state of mind for people who don't sweat – except for Ari. Most of the time, that glistening moisture on their bodies comes from turquoise pool or sea water.

The World Erotic Art Museum in the Art Deco District displays 12,000 square feet of erotic art from all cultures and time periods. The Wolfsonian showcases American and European decorative and fine arts produced between 1885 and 1945. While contemplating an exhibit of New Deal art, tears came to my eyes accompanied by a nostalgic feeling for an era I did not live through.

My visits to Miami have provided many blurred memories which are becoming a treasure trove of rose-colored and emotion-laden realities.

BraveSouls & Dreamers

Miami, Florida

The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon, was the setting, June 16, 2007, for the premiere of BraveSouls & Dreamers, the latest of many choral works commissioned by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus since its founding in 1980. Composed in 10 movements by Robert Seeley, the lyrics by Robert Espindola were inspired by the words of Gandhi, Jesus, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Isaiah, Jimmy Carter, Confucius, Buddha, and the Qur’an.

Portland's artistic director, Bob Mensel, led an orchestra and 70 singers, including Seeley and Espindola, in a Thursday morning performance this week in the Symphony Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Miami.

Written for men’s chorus and orchestra, the cantata reflects on the tragedies of war and contrasting hopes for peace. Featured soloists included Jennifer Gill, mezzo soprano; Steve Fulmer, bass; Derek Becker, tenor; and Brian Robertson, baritone.

The performance of BraveSouls & Dreamers was part of the week-long Festival 2008 in Miami. The work is available on CD.

The Festival’s second, Thursday afternoon concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House included the Hampton Roads Men’s Chorus from Virginia. Arthur Broadbent III led 22 of the group’s 40 singers through Vows, a recent commission from composer Scott Henderson. The 23-minute work comments on the state of gay marriage in the U.S., asserting the need to love fully, faithfully, unconditionally, and forever.

The Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus, approaching its 10th season, brought 12 of its 48 singers to a GALA festival for the first time. Conducted by Michael Robert Patch, the black-tie-clad group presented five selections with a crooning and barber shop sound and feel: Vive L’amour (traditional; Paker & Shaw, arrangers; Edward Sell, soloist); Over the Rainbow (Harold Arlen, composer; Mark Hayes, arranger; E. Y. Harburg, lyricist); Send in the Clowns (Stephen Sondheim, composer; Michael Martin, arranger); You’ve Got A Friend (Carole King, composer; Chuck Cassey, arranger); and Open Wide Your Eyes (John David Earnest, composer; Mervyn Goldstein, lyricist).

After attending GALA’s 2004 festival in Montreal, François Monette issued a call to form the Montreal Gay Men’s Chorus. Thirty one of the new group’s 40 members stepped-out lively on Thursday with an ambitious mix of singing and dancing to tunes from the movies. It will be interesting to watch them grow in strength and cohesion. The songs, in English or French, included I’m Gonna Wash That Man… (Oscar Hammerstein, composer; Richard Rogers, lyricist); En Courant (Goffin Gerald, composer; Masser Michael, lyricist); Can’t You Read My Mind – Love (John T. Williams, composer); Les Moulin de mon Coeur (Michel Legrand, composer; John Dawkins, arranger); Die Another Day (Mirwais Ahmadzai, composer; Madonna, lyricist); My Heart Will Go On (Horner James, composer; Jennings Will, lyricist); and One (Marvin Hamlisch, composer; Edward L. Kleban, lyricist).

Artistic Director Aric Henson and CHARIS – The St. Louis Women’s Chorus opened the Thursday evening concert block at the Knight Concert Hall. The group is celebrating its 15th anniversary and last appeared at a GALA festival 12 years ago. Seventeen singers, attired in a variety of chic evening wear, marked the return with four pieces from a recent concert, presenting Jubilant Song (James McCray, composer and arranger; Walt Whitman, lyricist); My Love Walks in Velvet (Gwyneth Walker, composer); The Gender Polka (David Maddux, composer); and Still I Rise (Rosephanye Powell, composer; Kendra Ellen Henry, soloist).

A program sung by 23 members of the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus included two recent commissions, one of them a world premiere. The premiere, Come Share Our Pride (Mark Hayes, composer), celebrated the inauguration of New Jersey’s civil union statute under which seven chorus members got hitched. The other commission, Wild Nights! (Joel Phillips, composer; Emily Dickinson, lyricist), was followed by Shoshone Love Song (Roger Emerson, composer); Walkin’ to School (Robert S. Cohen, composer; David Javerbaum, lyricist; Leyland Brenner, Tom Myers, Michael Schwarz, Ron Pae, Richard Alagona, Tomaso Collik-Migliaccio, and Joe Pisano, soloists); If Music Be the Food of Love (David Dickau, composer; Henry Heveningham, lyricist); and Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (Negro Chain Gang Song; Robert DeCormier, arranger). Steven A. Russell conducted.

Everyone loved the boys from Germany in their fourth appearance at a GALA festival. Schola Cantorosa – Schwuler Männerchor Hamburg is 21 years old. Its performance stops have included London, Paris, Stockholm, Zürich, Amsterdam, Tampa, San Jose, and Montreal. Conductor Matthias Weickert led 15 singers – in blue satin pants, white tennies, and chamois-colored shirts slit to the navel – through a set of tunes, exercises, and dances. Selections included Paradise Cruise (Maury Alan Yeston, composer; Lutz Schubert, arranger); Clubdance (Jaques Offenbach, composer; Hans Peter Reutter, arranger); Aqua Fitness (Raymond William Froggart, composer; Dirk Früauff, arranger); The Party’s Over (Jule Styne, composer; Schubert, arranger; Betty Cowden, lyricist); Ich gehör nur mir (Sylvester Levay, composer; Sebastian de Domenico, arranger; Michael Kunze, lyricist); and There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin, composer; Sebastian de Demenico, arranger).

The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego closed the evening with four selections honoring the past, present, and future. Gary Holt conducted 50 singers, accompanied by piano and cello, in Song of Democracy (Howard Hanson, composer; Maurice E. Ford, arranger; Walt Whitman, lyricist); Last Letter Home (Lee Hoiby, composer; Jesse Givens, lyricist); How Glory Goes (Adam Guettel, composer; Steven Withers, arranger); and Something In Mind (Roger Bourland, composer; Adrienne Rich, lyricist).

The Southwest Florida Gay and Lesbian Chorus from Cape Coral opened the afternoon concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Fri., July 18. Led by Kevin S. Halesworth in their first appearance at GALA, 13 singers delivered friendly and spirited renditions of Bidi Bom (David Eddleman, composer); Benedictus (Brian Lewis, composer); Who Knows Where the Wind Blows? (Joseph M. Martin, composer; Joseph Martin and Pamela Martin, arrangers and lyricists); I Got A Name (Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, composers; Jay Althouse, arranger; Norman Gimbel, lyricist); Everybody Rejoice (Luther Vandross, composer; Andy Beck, arranger); and Hand In Hand (Dawn Rodgers and Tricia Walker, composers; Kirby Shaw, arranger).

The Harrisburg Men’s Chorus from Pennsylvania just finished its 21st season. The group last sang at GALA for the 2000 festival in San Jose. Thirteen singers presented six songs conducted by David Walker. Soloists David Payne and Ed Diel sang with particularly good voice in Seasons of Love (Jonathan Larson, composer; Roger Emerson, arranger). The program also included Step to the Rear (Elmer Bernstein, composer; Chuck Cassey, arranger; Carolyn Leigh, lyricist); Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day, composers; Mike Taylor, arranger; Armstrong, lyricist); Harriet Tubman (Walter Robinson, composer; Kathleen McGuire, arranger); Fare Thee Well (traditional American folk song; Vicki Tucker Courtney, arranger; Ed Diel, soloist); and – performed with gusto – We Shall Be Free (Stephanie Davis, composer; Keith Christopher, arranger; Gary Brooks, lyricist; Eric St. Clair, soloist).

Patriotic themes informed the program offered by the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus, formed in 2001. Twenty singers, wearing black suits and shirts with red rose boutonnieres, and led by Rebecca Gruber, gave a strong rendition of In Our America (Ben Allaway, composer; Julianne Allaway and Ben Allaway, lyricists), along with Libertatum and We All Have a Right (both works Jim Papoulis, composer; Francisco J. Nunez, arranger); The Quest Unending (Joseph M. Martin, composer; Alfred Lord Tennyson, lyricist); and The Colors of Love, from “We, the People” (Mark Koval, composer).

From Rhode Island, Terry J. Lindsay brought 17 singers of the Providence Gay Men’s Chorus. Decked-out in light blue polo shirts and khaki-colored slacks, the group started well and grew stronger in sound, confidence, and command of their material. They sang Freedom, from “Shenandoah” (Gary Geld, composer; Peter Udell, lyricist); Sky-Born Music (Carl Johengen, composer; Ralph Waldo Emerson, lyricist); The Dodger (Aaron Copland, composer; Irving Fine, arranger; Steve Isherwood, tenor soloist); Over The Rainbow (Harold Arlen, composer; Mark Hayes, arranger; E. Y. Harburg, lyricist); Will You Love Me Tomorrow (Carole King and Gerry Goffin, composers; Jerry Barrow, arranger); and Love Gone Wrong (Benny Andersson, composer; David Maddux, arranger; Bjorn Alvaeus, lyricist).

Of the 27 concert blocks offered at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts this past week, the one that I am glad not to have missed by virtue of overall artistic excellence took place Friday afternoon, July 18, in the Knight Concert Hall. The five choral groups in the segment all commanded their material and audiences, entertained engagingly, and displayed awareness of top-notch production values. From a strong beginning, the block crescendoed to the end.

From Seattle, five members of The BEARatones made their GALA debut performing songs from their “Bear With Me” CD, including The BEARatones (Bear Patrol) (Charles Baker, composer; Aaron Rodriguez, soloist); California Dreamin’ (John E. A. Phillips and Michelle Gilliam, composers; Chris Blain, arranger); Miami Habañera (Charles Baker, composer); Giving You a Cuddle for Christmas (Chris Blain and Loz Blain, composers; Aaron Rodriguez, soloist); Bear With Me (David Maddux, composer); and Tap That Secret Code (Charles Baker, composer; Tony Gilkinson, soloist). The last was an over-the-top ode to the Minneapolis airport and those waiting for a flight to Boise from Gate 14 on the Gold Concourse.

Most pleasantly surprising were the 19 men and women of One Voice Chorus from Charlotte, North Carolina, conducted by Kathryn Mahan. Their soloists were especially fine singers in a set that included Yonda’ Come Day (spiritual; William Appling, arranger); I Know Where I’ve Been (Marc Shaiman, composer; Shaiman and Scott Wittman, lyricists); For Now, from “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, composers; Mac Huff, arranger); For Good, from “Wicked” (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Mac Huff, arranger; Madeleine Bock, Jerry Gardner, soloists); what matters (Randi Driscoll, composer; Kevin Robison, arranger); and I Need to Wake Up (Melissa Etheridge, composer; Mark Brymer, arranger).

Thirty minutes with the men of the Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus were not enough. I wanted more! This smooth and accomplished group of 32 singers were, to a man, very comfortable with their choreography as they delivered a bright, clear and soaring sound. Under the direction of Daniel Hughes, and backed by piano, percussion, and bass, their rep included Come Travel with Me (Scott Farthing, composer; Walt Whitman, lyricist); Eres Tú (Juan Carlos Calderón, composer; Galt Johnson, arranger; Ray Tovar, soloist); Swing Set (In the Mood/Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy) (Joe Garland and Don Raye, composers; Daniel Hughes, arranger; Bette Midler and Hughie Prince, lyricists; Ray Mendonca, Bill Russell, Keith Byron, first trio; Brian Cagadas, Eric Tooley, Phil Boyer, second trio); Sto mi e milo (Macedonian folk song; Daniel Hughes, arranger); Grace (Mark Hayes, composer); and Wana baraka (Kenyan folk song, from Barack Obama’s ancestral village; Shawn Kirchner, arranger; Yvonne Farrow, choreographer).

For those who like their men really tall and handsome, the Gateway Men’s Chorus from St. Louis is the ticket! Gearing up for their 22nd season, 20 singers directed by Al Fischer made good choreographic use of the bright red lining on their tux jackets while singing Lady Luck Review (The Lady is a Tramp/Luck Be a Lady/A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody) (various composers and lyricists; Rich Cook, arranger); Try To Remember (Harvey Schmidt, composer; John R. Anderson, arranger; Tom Jones, lyricist); The Nearness of You (Hoagy Carmichael, composer; Harold B. Anderson, arranger; Ned Washington, lyricist); More, theme from “Mondo Cane” (R. Ortolani and N. Oliviero, composers; Stanley Lebowsky, arranger; Norman Newell, lyricist); Fever (John Davenport and Eddie Cooley, composers and lyricists); Sway (Pablo Beltran Ruiz, composer; Kirby Shaw, arranger; Norman Gimbel, lyricist); and Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard, composer; Neal Richardson, arranger).

Call me a patsy for the (at least, seemingly!) suave and sophisticated, but Men Alive: The Orange County Gay Men’s Chorus from Laguna Hills, California, was first class! An army of 120 black tuxedos and gray vests grabbed the stage and did not let go. This was the group’s second appearance at a GALA festival since its formation six-and-a-half years ago. These guys are cool! These guys are hot! Rich Cook directed them through seven delightful numbers, including Don’t Rain On My Parade (Neal Richardson, arranger; Bob Merrill and Jule Styne, lyricists); Glamorous (Bob Gunn, arranger; Will Adams, Elvis Williams, Stacy Ferguson, Jamal Jones, Christpher Jones, lyricists); Defying Gravity (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Gunn, arranger); Finlandia (Jean Sibelius, composer; Rich Cook, arranger); Always Look On the Bright Side of Life (Eric Idle, composer; Neal Richardson, arranger); Time To Say Goodbye (Cook, arranger; Francesco Sartori, Lucio Quarantotto, Frank Peterson, lyricists; Andre Chasse, exquisite soloist); and River Deep, Mountain High (Cook, arranger; Jeff Barry and Ellie Barry, Phil Spector, lyricists; Joe Tish, soloist).

Following this concert block, American Coaches mobilized its fleet of buses to transport Festival 2008 delegates to a night of escape at Club Nikki Beach. [Another post will follow.]

Friday, July 18, 2008

if you only knew...

Miami, Florida

What would you do – if you only knew – that you are beautiful?

That ambiguous and unresolved question lingers in the air and a listener's mind as Through a Glass, Darkly fades into silence. It is a question that substance abusers confront in "the silence of beading sweat" when they have exhausted indulgence and options.

The Twin Cities Gay Men's Ch
orus commissioned Through a Glass, Darkly from composer Michael Shaieb, and presented it for the first time at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, March 29, 2008, where it was filmed for broadcast on Twin Cities Public Television and turned into a DVD. Its subject is methamphetamine addiction and the effects it has on meth users and everyone they know.

One hundred TCGMC members, led by Dr. Stan Hill, reprised a fully-staged version of the 47-minute rock opera in two performances, Wed., July 16, at the Symphony Ballroom of Miami's Hilton Hotel. The three character leads were acted and sung dramatically by tenors Paul Brekke, Justin Scharr, and Bryan Fisher. Enthused audience members were drawn from 5,000 delegates to GALA Choruses Festival 2008.

Meth is highly addictive and tolerance to it develops quickly. Its most prominent effects include depression and physical decay. Its use among some gay populations on the North American coasts reaches 13%, but it is not confined to gays. In Minnesota, 69% of the state's 87 counties report that child protection cases have increased due to meth abuse. The Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force reports that 90% of the state's financial crimes, including identity theft, are connected to meth or crack abuse. In 2004, meth treatment accounted for almost 20% of all admissions to Twin Cities hospitals. The Minnesota County Attorneys Association maintains an informational website on the subject.

TCGMC's chief aim in creating and disseminating Through a Glass, Darkly is to grant people permission to talk about addiction. According to a rumor circulating in the Festival hallways, the work will be presented by choruses in Washington, D. C., San Diego, and San Francisco. All DVD copies of the TCGMC production were sold out within hours of Wednesday's performances.

The concert halls of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts were silent Wednesday afternoon and evening as delegates took an afternoon break to gather at the Miami Convention Center for a 25th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of GALA Choruses. Buses then transported everyone to an evening of picnic and play at Miami's Jungle Island.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Siren songs

Miami, Florida

Flying House Productions is the third largest of Washington state's music organizations in budget, audience exposure, and ensemble size. The organization houses the Seattle Men's Chorus -- the largest community chorus in America, and the largest gay men's chorus in the world -- and the Seattle Women's Chorus. It also operates a publishing arm and a concert presenting series. More than 40,000 people attend its annual subscription series.

Formed in 2002, the Seattle Women's Chorus has grown to more than 200 singers, more than 100 of whom traveled to Miami this week for GALA Choruses Festival 2008. The Chorus joined with women's music legend Cris Williamson to present Siren Song, a morning concert of Cris's work, Tue., July 15, in the Symphony Ballroom at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Miami.

Lori Surrency arranged the selections, which included Waterfall, Sweet Woman, Songbird, Sister, Mercy, Blue Rider, If I Live, Peter Pan, Midnight Oil, Live Wire, Sound of the Soul, and Lullabye.

A group of 21 gentlemen from Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill opened that evening's concert block at the Ziff Ballet Opera House. Formed in 1995, the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus, in black formal wear with long black ties, performed a pleasing set led by Artistic Director John-Philip Mullinax. In a GALA premiere, Kevin Michael Tillman soloed in "Winter Before the Fire," a movement from his composition Where is Love. The program included When I Hear Music (Michael G. Martin, composer); How Do I Love You (Penny Rodriguez, composer; E. B. Browning, lyricist); The Quest Unending (Joseph M. Martin, composer; words by Alfred Lord Tennyson); In Whatever Time We Have (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Mac Huff, arranger); and Holy is the Lord (Jeffrey I. Ames, composer).

Half of the 50-member Capital City Men's Chorus made the Miami music scene. Directed by Dr. Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, this fun group from Austin, Texas, will celebrate its 20th anniversary next season. Their performance opened with Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy (Tchaikovsky, composer) and was followed by Stars I Shall Find (David Dickau, composer; Sara Teasdale, lyricist); A Love That Will Never Grow Old (Gustavo Santaolalla, composer; Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, arranger; Bernie Taupin, lyricist; John Lopez, soloist); Resurrection (Karl Logue, composer; George Klawitter, lyricist); Live-A-Humble (traditional spiritual; Peter Bagley, arranger; Timothy Ryan, tenor, James Gaeta, baritone, soloists); and There Won't Be Bad Hair Days In Heaven (Jerry Garrison, composer). Gaeta and Freddy Herrera, Jr. added fine solo touches to The Parting Glass (Irish traditional; Jones-Ragona, arranger).

I really liked the Calgary Men's Chorus from Canada's Alberta province. The group embodies a sepia-tinted classicism. Jean-Louis Bleau conducted a quintet of strings and piano, an angelic boy soprano, and 22, tux-clad singers. Their perfectly lovely set of offerings in English or French included Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen, composer; Roger Emerson, arranger); Caresse sur l'Ocean and Vois sur ton Chemin (both works: Bruno Coulais, composer; Christophe Barratier and Coulais, lyricists); and One Voice (Greg John, composer; Greg John and Heather John, lyricists). Dancer Gessuri Gaitan performed the modern dance role of Sebastian in Homage a Sebastian (John Bouz, composer; R. McGinnis and L. Montgomery, lyricists).

Audience members waving green, white, and orange Irish flags greeted Gloria, Dublin's Lesbian & Gay Choir as it took the stage for its third GALA appearance (previously seen in San Jose and Montreal). John Francis Murphy directs the group, formed in 1995. As always, it was nice to hear Danny Boy (Weatherley, composer; Jonathan Rathbone, arranger). The 32 singers also presented Pai Duli (composer unknown; Steven Samitz, arranger); Change The World (Kirkpatrick/Kennedy/Sims, composers); Virga Jesse (Anton Bruckner, composer); Wanting Memories (Ysaye Barnwell, composer); Don't Stop Me Now (Mercury, composer); and Dúlamán (McGlynn, composer).

The men from Lakewood, Ohio, beamed individual character and oozed sex appeal in a playful set. Accompanied by percussion and piano, 42 of 100+ members of the North Coast Men's Chorus, dressed in black pants and pink polos, entertained with tunes conducted by Music Director Richard Cole. The line-up included Think Pink (Roger Edens, composer; Ralph Raymond Hays, arranger; Leonard Gershe, lyricist; James J. McPeak, soloist); Gonna Build a Mountain (Leslie Bricusse, composer; Norman Leyden, arranger; Anthony Newley, lyricist); You Made Me Love You (Joe McCarthy, composer; Robert W. Thygerson, arranger; James V. Monaco, lyricist); In What Ever Time We Have (Stephen Schwartz, composer; Patrick Sinozich, arranger); Coffee in a Cardboard Cup (Kander and Ebb, composers); Stand Up for Love (David Foster and Amy Foster, composers; Steven Milloy, arranger; Stephen Adams and Virgilio P. Fajardo, soloists). Twelve singer-dancers employed pink and white feather fans in Let Me Entertain You (Jule Styne, composer; David Maddux, arranger; Stephen Sondheim, lyricist).

The evening finished with Michael Shaieb's Through a Glass, Darkly, edited closely to fit the 30-minute limit. Commissioned and performed by the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, led by Artistic Director Stan Hill, the work examines the effects of methamphetamine addiction. A filmed version of the March 2008 premiere has been broadcast multiple times on Twin Cities Public Television in Minnesota and is available in DVD format. Two full stagings of the work will be presented on Wednesday morning at the Hilton Hotel. [Another posting to follow.]

Before taking the stage of the Ziff Opera House, 20 TCGMC members attended the One Voice Mixed Chorus performance in the Knight Concert Hall across the street. Directed by Jane Ramseyer Miller, the men and women of One Voice presented TJAK! (Stephen Hatfield, composer; lyrics from Balinese Ketjak ceremony); How Can I Keep From Singing? (Robert Lowry, composer; Gwyneth Walker, arranger); Sicut Cervus (Giovanni Palestrina, composer; lyrics from Psalm 42); A Palette to Paint Us as We Are (Elizabeth Alexander, composer; Gerald Rich, lyricist); Distinctions (Kevin W. Wojahn, composer; Shams Tobriz, lyricist; commissioned by One Voice in 2006); I am Flying (Nan-Chang Chien, composer; Britt Abel and Joy MacArthur, soloists); and Musical Risotto (Jonathan Willcocks, composer; Darcy Juhl and Kristen Schweiloch, soloists).

Don't ask, don't tell

Miami, Florida

The music making in downtown Miami continued apace on Mon., July 14, with a 90-minute presentation by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and Community Women's Orchestra.
Dr. Kathleen McGuire serves as conductor for both organizations. The morning performance at the Hilton Hotel's Symphony Ballroom, part of GALA Choruses Festival 2008, was standing-room-only.

The performance settings of Festival 2008 are the first outside of California for the Community Women's Orchestra. The all-volunteer, all-woman ensemble opened its set with Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, a three-minute work by Joan Tower (b. 1938, New Rochelle, New York), commissioned and first performed by the Houston Symphony in 1987. It was followed by Impressions d'Ardenne, symphonic sketches by Juliet Folville (b. 1870, Liége, Belgium; d. 1946, Dourgne, France); the first movement of Symphony No. 3 in E flat by Robert Schumann (b. 1810, Zwickau, Germany; d. 1856, Endenich, Germany) and edited by Clara Schumann; and Y.M.C.A. by Jacques Morali (b. 1947; d. 1991).

More than 100 sailors from the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus joined the Orchestra on stage to reprise the group's first musical, U.S.S. Metaphor or, The Lad That Loved A Sailor. This one-act operetta is an original adaptation of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic, H.M.S. Pinafore. The highly entertaining and hilarious work received its premiere performance at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, April 30, 2007. Set aboard a ship in Boston's harbor, the story includes the on-shore marriage of two male ensigns along with other hijinks that take dead aim at the military's 15-year-old policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

A Monday evening concert block at the Ziff Opera House opened with in Harmony, eight singers from Ft. Lauderdale, offering up Alle, Alle, Alle (Will Schmid, arranger; Maureen Schaffel, Liz Von Ache, and Tom Sukowicz, soloists), a Jamaican folk song. The group, founded in January 2007, presented excerpts from its recent "Imagine" concert. Artistic Director Randall Leonard led the four men and four women through Yo Vivo Cantando, I Live To Sing (Jay Althouse, composer); Agnes Dei Canon (Donald Moore, composer; traditional Latin); Wakati wa Amani, A Time of Peace (Sally K Albrecht, composer); Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon, composer; Mark Hayes, arranger); Embrace The Music (Greg Gilpin, composer; John Lewis, soloist); and The Music of Life (Althouse, composer).

After 18 years, the Orlando Gay Chorus retains 12 of its charter singing members. The group sent 82 male and female delegates to Miami. Singers, attired in black tie formal wear, opened with a Donna Summer Medley (various composers arranged by David Maddux) followed by Proud (Peter Vettese, composer; Jedediah Daiger/Eisenberg, arrangers; Heather Small, lyricist); Can You Feel the Love Tonight (Elton John, composer; Mac Huff, arranger; Tim Rice, lyricist); and Courage Lives! (Mark Patterson, composer). Conductor Mark W. Hardin also led Epitaph and Affirmation (Justin S. Fischer, composer; John Patrick Day, lyricist), a work commissioned to commemorate Matthew Shepherd and performed for Shepherd's mother in January.

Soon entering its 10th season, Caballeros, The Gay Men's Chorus of Palm Springs, made its second appearance at a GALA festival, featuring 30 singers directed by Alan Scott. The men work hard to sing each song in the dialect from which it originated. This was most evident in Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal, a traditional hymn from Appalachian Tennessee and West Virginia arranged by Alice Parker. In cadence and sound, this glory song bore echoes of Ojibwe pow wows I have heard broadcast on WOJB radio from Lacs Courte d'Oreilles in Wisconsin. The program also included Cantique de Jean Racine (Gabriel Faure, composer; K. Lee Scott, composer); Seize the Day (Alan Menken, composer; Roger Emerson, arranger; Jack Feldman, lyricist); Stars In The Night (Barry Manilow, composer; Alan Scott, arranger; Bruce Sussman, lyricist); Extraordinary Miracles (Christopher Winslow, composer); and Ain'a That Good News (William L. Dawson, composer).

The Wall of Sound pioneered by 1960s music producer Phil Spector has nothing on the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, led by Dr. Charles Beale. With just 100 of the group's 250 members present, the men proved that the human voice can generate tangible, physiological power. Their musical style is discussed and debated within and without the ranks of the 28-year-old chorus. While many might want to follow a wall of power into a battle, it is less certain if any would want to cozy up to such an intimidating force for sensual fun.

Nonetheless, the program was strong and striking, and included Zadok the Priest (Handel, composer; Steve Milloy, arranger); ManEater (Nelly Furtado, composer; Milloy, arranger); Aslanuri (traditional Georgian folksong; Eric Saggesse, Lamont Mundell, and Dan Baillie, soloists); Tree of Peace (Gwyneth Walker, composer); Take the A Train (Billy Strayhorn, composer; Alan Broadbent, arranger; Johnny Mercer, lyricist); and Vibrate and Beautiful Child (both works: Rufus Wainwright, composer; Raman Gutteridge, arranger; Mark Silverstone, soloist). One song, Africa (Jonnah Speidel, composer; Tom Morell, soloist), reduced much of the audience to tears. It is one piece that works well with the wall-of-sound treatment, and should be in the repertoires of every men's chorus. The New York group's ASL interpreter was terrific -- his name should have been listed in the printed program.

One rarely will find unanimity among any group of gay men, but consensus may be found frequently. A strong consensus seems to have developed in the hotel and concert hall corridors about the Heartland Men's Chorus: it touches the heart consistently and has one of the richest sounds at Festival 2008. Dr. Joseph P. Nadeau, artistic director, brought 130 singers from Kansas City to their fourth GALA appearance. Attired in blue-tie-and-vest formal wear, the 22-year-old group put on a fine, fine show. Most of the selections are from a new CD, "Quest Unending," and include Khorumi (Mamia Khatelishvili, composer; Robert Grady, soloist); Dies Irae (Z. Randall Stroope, composer); Live Your Dream (Greg Gilpin, composer; Rumi, Lao-Tzu, and Henry David Thoreau, lyricists); Carmina Ricotta (Eric Lane Barnes, composer; Mike Sigler, Robert Grady, John Edmonds, soloists); and Here's Where I Stand (Michael Gore, composer; Neal Richardson, arranger; Lynn Ahrens, lyricist; Todd Gregory, soloist).

The emotional highlight of the evening was provided by Last Letter Home. Before deploying to Iraq, Pfc. Jesse Givens composed a letter for his wife to read if he did not return. He was killed 10 days later. The words of his letter, set to music by Lee Hoiby, expressed thanks to his wife for the million years they had enjoyed together, and hope that his son would have a son as fine as he did. I was told later that the performers had been unable to sing the work without tears until, at a rehearsal, Nadeau told them to hold hands, which they did in concert.

From the heart and the heartland.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sea of Tranquility

Miami, Florida

Thirty nine years ago today, Apollo 11 lifted off from its Florida launch pad carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon.

Four days later, Sunday, July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin steered Eagle, their lunar module, to a landing on the moon's Sea of Tranquility while Collins remained in overhead orbit in his command module. Within six and a half hours, at 10:56pm EDT, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on another world.

In four days more, the three men splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, fulfilling the nation's commitment to land on and return safely from the moon before the 1960s ended. In announcing his support for the Apollo program to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John Kennedy said

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Five moon landings subsequent to Apollo 11 ended in 1972. We have not been back since. Some say we should not make the trip, and others say we never will.

I think we should and hope that we will.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Opening...Sunday afternoon and evening

Miami, Florida

The Miami Gay Men's Chorus, founded in 1999, took the stage of the Ziff Ballet Opera House shortly after noon on Sun., July 13, to launch the first of this week's 27 concert blocks at Festival 2008. With 67 delegates, led by Conductor Anthony Cabrera, the group presented a lovely rendering of Bobby McFerrin's 23rd Psalm. The 30-mi
nute program also included My Own Creation, composed by MGMC's Chris Lobdell, with lyrics by Jerry Chasen; Amor de mi Alma (Z. Randall Stroope, composer); The Masochism Tango (Tom Lehrer, composer); and Alleluia (Paul Basler, composer).

Twenty seven members of the New Orleans Gay Men's Chorus, founded in 1982, gave the group its strongest GALA presence in years, presenting excerpts from their spring concert, "HOME." Under the baton of Artistic Director Cedric Bridges, the men offered In His Eyes/My Friend (Chuck Effler, composer); What a Wonderful World (George David Weiss, composer; Effler, arranger; George Douglas, lyricist); Opening Medley (Effler, composer); and Family (Henry Kreiger, composer; Effler, arranger). NOMGC's vice president voiced his members's thanks to GALA Choruses for the tangible and moral support they have provided in the three years since Hurricane Katrina.

In a reflection of good karma, the website of the New Orleans chorus encourages visitors to join in donating assistance to The Quire, a GLBT chorus affected by recent flooding in Eastern Iowa.

The MCC San Francisco Worship & Praise Team has some great male and female soloists among its 21 delegates. Gary Colman and Jill Sizemore composed and soloed in Gloria and I See You, God, respectively, while Rick Rosser and Larry Novida poured it on in Surrender (Cheri Toney, composer). The program also included Benedictus (Ilyas Iliya, composer). Music Director Stephanie Lynne Smith heads the Gospel ensemble.

Conductor Jerry Foust and the San Diego Men's Chorus provided a rousing finish to the afternoon set with highlights from Jersey Boys (Bob Gaudio, composer; Mark Brymer, arranger; Gaudio and Brymer, lyricists); He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother (Bobby Scott, composer; John Coates, arranger; Bob Russell, lyricist); Trashin' the Camp (Phil Collins, composer; Moses Hogan, arranger); and Stayin' Alive–Bee Gees Medley (Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, composers; Teena Chinn, arranger). Let It Be (John Lennon/Paul McCartney, composers; Antonio Barazza, arranger) featured soloists Antonio Barazza and Jeff Crawford.

They have played in Europe and at Carnegie Hall, and now the five members of Uptown Express can add Miami's Ziff Opera House to their resumes. With a pop repertoire covering the last 80 years, the e
nergetic lads presented selections from their new CD, "Walk Like A Man," backed by percussion, bass, and piano. John Followell, music director, arranged most of the tunes, including Who Loves You (Bob Gaudio & Judy Parker, composers); It's All Right With Me (Cole Porter, composer); Goin' Out of My Head (Randazzo/Winstein, composers); Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Gaudio/Crewe, composers); Come To My Window (Melissa Etheridge, composer); I Want Love (Elton John, composer; Bernie Taupin, lyricist); Constant Craving (k.d. Lang/Ben Mink, composers); Never Can Say Goodbye (Clifton Davis, composer); and Love Grows Here (Gross/Koutrakous/Perreaux, composers). Soloists Christopher Caswell, John DePalma, Alex Goro, and Brad Parks were terrific, respectively, in the Etheridge, John, Lang/Mink, and Davis.

Full group dancing, in platform shoes, lent a comic, 1970s flair to the 14 singers from the Connecticut Gay Men's Chorus, led by Greg McMahan, guest music director. In its 22nd year, the group presented selections from its spring concert, including Dancing Queen: The Best of Abba (Andersson & Ulvaeus, composers and lyricists) and Seventies with a Twist (various composers, arranged by Mac Huff).

Now in its sixth season, Our Song: The Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chorus brought 34 singers, resplendent in black tie formal wear, to Miami to deliver several short tunes, directed by Dr. Robert Glor, artistic director. The selections included My Spirit is Uncaged (Paul Rardin, composer; Walt Whitman, lyricist); Breath of Heaven (Chris Eaton & Amy Grant, composers; Lloyd Larson, arranger; Eaton & Grant, lyricists); Whirligig (Chuck Cogliandro, composer; commissioned by Our Song); Bonse Aba (Traditional Zambian Song; Andrew Fischer, lyricist); Bach (Again), Come Sweet Death (J. S. Bach, composer; Rhonda Sandberg, arranger); There Will Be Rest (Frank Ticheli, composer; Sara Teasdale, lyricist); and Ain't That Good News (William L. Dawson, composer and lyricist).

Sixty one singers of the 100+ member Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus also made the scene in black ties, accompanied by the Community Women's Orchestra from San Francisco. Artistic Director Joseph J. Buches led the group through Open Road (Robert Maggio, composer); Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon, composer; Kirby Shaw, arranger); and Joyful, Joyful (Beethoven, composer; Warren, arranger; Emerson, adapter).

The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus holds a special place in GALA Chorus history. Established in 1978, a month following the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, it was the first chorus to include the word "gay" in its name. Choruses formed in New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and other cities between 1979 and 1981. In 1981, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus went on tour, visiting 12 cities around the country. The tour inspired the formation of many new lesbian and gay choruses, including the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus in 1981.

San Francisco's artistic director, Dr. Kathleen McGuire, led a delegation of 129 delegates to Miami to close out Sunday's performances with highlights from its recent seasons. The singers upped the sartorial ante, attired in white tie formal wear complete with white pocket handkerchiefs and sailor's hats for excerpts from U.S.S. Metaphor (Sir Arthur Sullivan, composer; Kathleen McGuire, arranger).

The program also included Gay vs. Straight Composers, abridged (Eric Lane Barnes, composer and lyricist, with help from many); Love (David Conte, composer; Philip Littell, lyricist); and "Tonight" from West Side Story (Leonard Bernstein, composer; McGuire, arranger; Stephen Sondheim, lyricist).

A commissioned work by Ilyas Iliya, Safeer el-Layl (Ambassador of the Night), addressed a powerful plea for freedom to Muslims around the world, sung in Lebanese Arabic "so they can understand it."

Standing ovations for everyone!

Miami, Florida

This is one place where it is OK to do it for ourselves -- and for each other. Deliver standing ovations. Lots of them. In fact, one or more for everyone!

Living in Minnesota, I should have joined the crowd long ago to deliver the customary standing ovation for everything. The way I learned it, we were to hold back and save standing ovations as our highest acclaim for the truly exceptional accomplishment. Cultural cur that I sometimes am, I believed that if everything was special, then nothing was.

However, not one to stand, or sit, on principle when a rhetorical and relative point can be made, I am modifying my thinking. Standing ovations are not about, or mostly not about, the objects of our applause. They are about us: the clappers and the ovationers. All of us are accomplished and exceptional!

Ovations are part of fun, carefree celebrations. Sometimes, they even are about accomplishment. If you are present, you just know.

Standing Os are happening, on average, every 30 minutes in Miami this week as 5,000 choral delegates gather in concert halls and ballrooms to hear each other's best musical efforts and to cheer each other on.

Festival 2008, is the eighth and latest quadrennial gathering sponsored by GALA Choruses. No person could attend all of the 140+ performances happening at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the nearby Hilton Hotel. All of us are giving it our best shot, and standing to cheer our people along the way.

While we are at it, we can cheer Miami's new performing arts venues, opened in 2006.

Designed by Cesar Pelli, and 20 years in the making, The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County is one of the world's largest such centers. It is owned by Miami-Dade County and operated by The Performing Arts Center Trust. Two main structures occupy two city blocks along historic Biscayne Boulevard.

One building is the 2,400-seat Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House. The other is the 2,200-seat John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. The complex also includes the 200-seat Carnival Studio Theater and
the Carnival Art Deco Tower, a restored architectural icon from one of Miami’s oldest Art Deco buildings.

The total project cost $472 million, with $150 million coming from a private capital campaign. Philanthropist Adrienne Arsht contributed $30 million, and gifts of $10 million each were received from Carnival Corporation, Sanford and Dolores Ziff, and the Knight Foundation. [Click here to read some background about the exercise of these naming rights.]

Singers are filling the venues with music, and I am organizing my notes about some of their performances and am off to hear more....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Beside Biscayne Bay

Miami, Florida

Twenty five years ago, GALA Choruses, the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, took flight on its mission to serve the fledgling GLBT choral movement.

Now, with 120 member organizations in the United States, Europe, and Australia, ranging in size from five singers to 250, GALA represents the artistic, communal, and political aspirations of 7,500 singers and, by degrees of separation, their audiences.

More than 5,000 of those singers are gathered in the center of Miami this week for Festival 2008 to celebrate and perform from a growing body of GLBT choral work as well as "mainstream" standards.

The assembled ensembles will present 141 performances in 27 concert blocks at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through July 19.

I traveled here from Minneapolis on Sat., July 12, with 122 delegates of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and 38 delegates of One Voice Mixed Chorus. Most of us are lodged at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, Double Tree Hotel, or Hilton Hotel, located within a block of each other.

They build structures tall and skinny here to maximize views and income potential. James Davies and I are on the 18th of the Marriott's 31 floors, with a balcony view of the marina below and across a sparkling Biscayne Bay to South Beach. We stayed here in 2002 while attending Dance/USA's Roundtable conference.

While many more are under construction, I am told there are 40,000 condos for sale in the immediate area; people can't or won't pay for the hurricane insurance.

Saturday's opening ceremonies, sponsored by acfea Tour Consultants, featured engaging and spirited performances by Ann Hampton Callaway and the massed choruses of Florida.

There are lines everywhere for everything. Surprisingly, despite the scale of its convention and hospitality facilities, Miami feels under-prepared in some respects to handle 5,000 people; there is a degree of "not quite right." Maybe, it is just us.

People have located the IGA grocery store, four blocks from the hotels, and are stocking in-room refrigerators. Everyone is settling in for the duration.

The positive energy is infectious!

Dance review: SOLO, Southern Theater, Minneapolis

Miami, Florida

Since 1997, the McKnight Foundation has funded annual fellowships for individual dancers as part of its system of support for Minnesota artists. The fellowships, $25,000 each, recognize three artists at mid-career and beyond whose work has exceptional merit and who have created a substantial body of work. The cash comes with virtually no strings attached.

Fellows are selected through an application process and vetted by a panel of five arts professionals.

Knowing that few dancers would decline the opportunity for a star turn, the foundation sweetened fellowships with a second component several years ago: funds for each fellow to commission a solo for him/herself from a choreographer of the fellow’s choosing.

The upsides for the community include a biennial opportunity to view and reflect upon its professional dancers in a solo context and to experience a variety of choreographers with whom one might be unfamiliar.

Premiere performances by the 2006 and 2007 McKnight dancer fellows opened to a sold-out audience July 11, running to July 13, at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Many, including me, failed to call ahead for tickets and did not see the show, so here is my review:

Each of these performers is a credit to dance in America and merits our affectionate regard for high artistic achievement.

Mifa Ko, dancer
Prelude to a Swan

Music: The Protecting Veil by John Tavener. Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; Yo-Yo Ma, cello.

Costume Design: Jerry Opdenaker

Mifa was born in Tokyo, Japan, and trained at the Matsuyama Ballet School. She also has studied in Monaco at the Academie de la Danse Classic Princess Grace and in Moscow at the Bolshoi Ballet School. In the United States, Mifa has danced with the Boston Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, Minnesota Dance Theatre and, most recently, with Ballet Florida. She has performed as a guest in several ballets, including Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker.

Jerry Opdenaker, choreographer, hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from the University of the Arts and danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet. He also performed as a soloist with the Kansas City Ballet, and with Ballet Florida from 1992 to 2006. He now leads Ballet Florida’s choreographic workshop. Jerry’s choreography has been presented by Ballet Florida, Ballet Builders in New York City, and by the New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute.

Laura Selle Virtucio, dancer

Can You Look Me in the Eye?

Original Score: Mio Morales

Video: Gregg Holtgrewe
Costume Design: Angie Vo

Laura began movement training as an athlete in her native Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She holds a BFA in Dance from the University of Minnesota (1999) and has enjoyed long performing relationships as a member of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (since 1999) and Shapiro & Smith Dance (since 2001). She recently joined Black Label Movement. Laura has served as an affiliate faculty member in the dance programs of the University of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota, and received a 2007 Sage Award for best performer.

Colleen Thomas, choreographer, moved to New York from Miami 20 years ago. She has danced with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Bebe Miller Company, Nina Weiner Dance Company, Donald Bird/The Group, Kevin Wynn Collection, and others. She holds a BA degree in psychology and an MFA in dance. She serves as a principal of Bill Young/Colleen Thomas and Co., and is an assistant professor at Barnard College of Columbia University. Her choreography has been performed at numerous domestic and international venues.

Abdo Sayegh, dancer

Traces of After
Music: Follias 1700
Composer: Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Performance: Jordi Savall (Music CD)
Costume Design: Claire Brauch

Originally from Venezuela, Abdo trained with Ballet Nacional de Caracas Teresa Carreño School. Early in his career he performed with both of Venezuela’s leading companies: the Ballet Nacional de Caracas, under the direction of Vicente Nebrada, and Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas, under the direction of Zhandra Rodriguez. He has danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre for 14 years, becoming a full-time company member in 1998, and artistic associate in 2006. Abdo has performed as a guest for many companies in the United States and Venezuela.

Toronto-born Gioconda Barbuto, choreographer, danced with the Minnesota Dance Theatre, and for 16 years with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. She also has performed with Danse Théâtre de Montréal, Fortier Danse-Création, Margie Gillis, and Nederlands Dans Theater III. As an independent choreographer, Gioconda’s works have been performed by companies throughout Canada and the United States. She received the Clifford E. Lee Choreography Award in 1996.

Karla Grotting, dancer

Vocal Performer: Natalie Nowytski.
Music: Slavic Soul Party. Sound Design: Cody Anderson.

Set Design: Dean Hawthorne.

Hoop Consultant: Risa Cohen

Rehearsal Directors: Joe Chvala, Peter O’Gorman

Karla is an original company member of Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum. She began performing with Zoe Sealy’s Minnesota Jazz Dance Company in the 1970s, and continued her career in New York City and Minnesota, including seven years with JAZZDANCE by Danny Buraczeski. She has performed a wide range of styles for many choreographers. Karla’s own choreography draws on her tap and jazz experiences. She received a BFA in Dance and a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota, where she currently serves on faculty.

Max Pollak, choreographer, started his career in music and dance as a drummer in his native Austria. He moved to New York in 1991, and graduated from the New School University. He has taught and performed in Cuba for 10 years. He also teaches and performs with his group RumbaTap. Engagements have included venues in Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Greece, Japan, and the United States.

Tamara Nadel, dancer

Anandavarshini Ragam
Ragam (musical scale): Amritavarshini / Talam (rhythmic cycle): Adi

Musical Composition by L. Murphy, commissioned by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy

Musical Arrangement by Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy

Padari Varuguthu
Ragam: Kambodhi / Talam: Roopakam

Musical Composition by Subbarama Iyer

Musicians: Lalit Subramaniam (vocal), Aparna Ramaswamy (nattuvangam/cymbals), Murali Balachandran (mridangam/south Indian drum), V.K. Raman (flute); recorded at Wild Sound, Minneapolis.

Tamara is a graduate of Macalester College, with a degree in Religious Studies and Dance. She has been performing and teaching with Ragamala Music and Dance Theater at domestic and international venues since 1994. A student of Bharatanatyam, the south Indian classical dance form, under Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, Tamara gave her solo debut performance (arangetram) in 1998. She has received a Minnesota State Arts Board Career Opportunity Grant and a Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant for travel to India.

Ranee Ramaswamy, choreographer, founded Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, and has been teaching and performing Bharatanatyam in the Twin Cities since 1978. She is a disciple of Alarmel Valli, the world’s leading exponent of Bharatanatyam. Ranee’s work has been supported by numerous fellowships and grants from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, the St. Paul Companies, Arts International, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, The National Dance Project, and the Japan Foundation. In 2004, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named her one of the "Artists of the Year.”

Aparna Ramaswamy, choreographer, is a protégé of Alarmel Valli, and has been featured as a solo performer at prestigious domestic and international venues. She has been awarded fellowships from the McKnight and Bush Foundations, and grants from Arts and Religion in the Twin Cities, the Jerome Foundation, Arts International, the Lakshmi Vishwanathan Endowment Prize from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai, India), and a Sage Award for Best Dancer. She graduated from Carleton College with a degree in International Relations and a concentration in Political Economy.

Colette Illarde, dancer

Music: “Rondeñas del Aguelo” by Juan Diego courtesy of Bujío Producciones.
Singer: Rachel Milloy.
Guitarist: Trevor May

Costume Design: Colette Illarde; created by Lola Almela, Madrid

Colette began ballet training in Chicago with Edward Parish and at the Boitsov School of Classical Ballet, and danced with the Joel Hall Jazz Dance company. In 1991, she discovered flamenco with Dame Libby Komaiko and danced for five years with the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. Since relocating to Minneapolis in 1996, she has performed with Rincon del Flamenco, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, Trio Flamenco, and Ballet Minnesota, and formed FUEGO Flamenco with guitarist Scott Mateo Davies. Colette has received grants from the Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, St. Paul Companies, and COMPAS. She has served on the Cultural Advisory Committee of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and is the artistic liaison for the City of Minneapolis’s MOSAIC festival.

Manuel Reyes, choreographer, was born in Córdoba in 1974. He studied in Madrid at Amor De Dios, Ballet Nacional, and with Luis Fuente and Carmen Roche. He began performing with the National Ballet of Spain at age 10. He has toured the world and worked with José Granero, Joaquín Cortes, Antonio Canáles, Concha Velasco, Blanca del Rey, Merche Esmeralda, Belén Maya, and Rafaela Carrasco. Manuel’s choreography has been recognized by the Sociedad General De Autores. In 2007, he received the Certamen de Coreografia de Danza Espanola Y Flamenco.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Inspired by potential greatness

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Every now and then I encounter a performing spectacle of such depth of talent, passion, and excitement that I am slapped awake and reminded why I got involved with the arts.

Such was the case last September when I attended the
Performing Arts Exchange, a booking conference sponsored by the Southern Arts Federation, in Louisville. I encountered the Irish music group Celtic Crossroads; they occupied the exhibit booth next to mine.

They came to "own" the entire exhibit hall, especially after starting a round of showcase performances during most days and evenings of the conference and generating a huge amount of buzz.

Based in Galway, Ireland, the seven musicians of Celtic Crossroads play 22 instruments among them. Their musicianship dazzles and prompts one to think they should be called world class.

Their producer, Kevin Crosby, tells me that their U.S. tours in 2008-09 will have them performing all over the East Coast, in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Their
website will post the specific dates and locations. They also will showcase at the Arts Midwest booking conference in Kansas City, Sept. 17-20.

Whenever you have the chance, treat your heart to the youthful energy of this amazing team of engaging artists.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Singing Revolution

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Can culture save a nation?

This question is posed and answered resoundingly by James and Maureen Tusty in "The Singing Revolution," their 2006 film celebrating the non-violent process leading to the re-establishment of Estonian independence in 1991.

The film will show at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis through July 10. I learned of it and attended at the invitation of a friend who fled from the communists in Estonia in 1945. After years in other countries, my friend was admitted to the United States in 1964.

Estonia is the most northern of the three Baltic states, and is bordered by Russia on the East, the Baltic Sea on the West, and Latvia on the South. After maintaining relative independence from 6,000 B.C., Estonia succumbed to a 19-year invasion by the forces of Pope Innocent III in 1227. Thereafter, it endured domination by aggressors from all directions.

Music has been a central part of Estonian culture for centuries, and the Great Awakening of the 1860s led to establishment in 1869 of the music festival called Laulupidu. The festival is held in July every five years in Tartu, and features 25,000 to 30,000 singers massed at the same time on an outdoor stage.

The first festival introduced "Land of my Fathers, Land that I Love," a national poem set to music that became a staple of the country's cultural life.

Estonians took advantage of the chaos surrounding Russia's Bolshevik Revolution to establish their independence from Russian rule in 1918. Russia renounced "in perpetuity" all rights to Estonia's territory in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.

Estonia blossomed culturally, politically, and economically for 19 years.

Until. Among other provisions, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 23, 1939, divided the territory of Europe between the empires of Adolf Hitler's Germany and Josef Stalin's Soviet Union. After Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, Stalin invaded Estonia and took over the government of its one million inhabitants. In June 1940, the Russians rounded up the country's political and business leaders and killed them outright or shipped them to hard labor in Siberia.

In 1941, the Germans invaded while on their way to Russia. By 1945, the Russians returned. At the end of World War II, a fourth of Estonia's population had been lost through execution, imprisonment, deportation, and escape.

The first, post-war Laulupidu was held in 1947. For the occasion, Gustav Ernesales composed a revised version of "Land of my Fathers, Land that I Love." It slipped past Stalin's censors and became the country's unofficial national anthem. Subsequent festivals concluded two days of odes to the glories of socialism with a round of Estonian folks songs culminating in mass singing of "Land."

That did not change even for the festival's centennial in 1969 when the Soviets banned the song. At the end of that year's festival, 25,000 singers refused to leave the stage until tens of thousands of people sang "Land" several times.

The festivals kept hope alive in the nation's soul. In the years following the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as president of the Soviet Union in 1985, the Estonian people put his policies of perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (free speech) to the test, first emboldened to sing forbidden patriotic songs at public gatherings.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had never been recognized by international law, was challenged openly, and assertions were made that Estonia never had ceased to be an independent nation.

Jump ahead to 1991 and the death throes of the Soviet Union. Soviet renegades placed Gorbachev under house arrest in Moscow. Competing factions in Estonia united to declare independence before the arrival of Soviet troops sent to crush the independence movement. Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia, faced down the military to declare Russia's secession from the Soviet Union.

The rest is becoming ancient history.

The Tustys mix interviews, archival footage, and filming from the 2004 Laulupidu to tell an inspiring story of patient endurance and triumph. In one climactic scene, unarmed people link arms to confront tanks and rifles at the television tower to keep "what is really happening" on the airwaves.

One wonders how many Americans would stand up to tanks to keep CNN, Fox News, and the rest of them broadcasting.

"The Singing Revolution" received its first showing in Tallinn, December 1, 2006. The film's website contains history, music, and more.