Thursday, July 17, 2008

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, LiƩge, 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.

No comments: