Artistic Director Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus
Summer Dialogue Scholarship Recipient
In the realm of societal interaction that has become in 2021, I have to tell you, attending ACDA Summer Dialogue seemed intimidating. I mean, having conversations in general in 2021 is intimidating. Will I say the wrong thing? Will I say the right thing but in a way that will make the PC police nail me to the social media cross – because in 2021, people will be offended by the way the breeze blows? Will I “be enough” because I didn’t graduate from one of the mighty “choral cults” in the land of 10,000 choirs? Did any of that strike a “chord (horrible pun intended?)” The world is pretty polarized right now. Everything seems so black and white. You’re on my side, or you must be on the side that is the most far-removed from my point of view. We fail to see the commonalities among us and we bite at the opportunity to align ourselves in belief-camps that comfort us that our views are “the right ones.” And, yes, all of that divisiveness melts away when we sing together – maybe, a song like “The Awakening,” or when we are suddenly found in groups of soon-to be not-strangers where we have to create kinesthetic poetry.
We as choral conductors may at times come across as intimidating to our singers, but I can assure you that even your colleagues feel that at times. When I think of choosing sides, I can’t help but think that it would be so easy if we all chose the side of love. Maybe, like me, you’ve been scrambling to figure out what to sing this fall. What repertoire will speak to the “now?” How will I get the singers to sound like they did in 2019 (Ha! They might not, and that’s OK)? Will my repertoire choices reflect all the ADEI work that I was taught? It’s a lot. When I center my thoughts on “choosing love,” choices are easier, and my vision clearer.
Two of the most memorable moments at Dialogue were indeed centered around choosing love. Jason Max Ferdinand told us the powerful story of community coming together in the midst of tragedy, and Amanda Weber told us about creating community in an environment seemingly void of hope. First of all, I haven’t ugly-cried in a long time. In the middle of Amanda’s presentation, something in me needed to cry – to have that catharsis that allowed me to be human – but in front of all these professional colleagues? Nope, not doing it. Then, however, I did the “just be cool, and see what other people are doing side head-turn.” OK, all good to cry. The entire auditorium was ugly-crying.
Jason’s presentation inspired a long walk through the woods (I have the mosquito bites to prove it). It was there that I focused on what was really important this fall: the fact that we were even going to be singing together in the first place. All other thoughts had to become subservient to that reality. After Amanda’s presentation, I was reminded that the choral art is just as much about community as it is about communal singing. I believe Jason said, “It is harder to build than to destroy.” I immediately began jotting down ways I could take out repertoire from our fall and put in more community-building exercises.
This past week, all of my ACDA Summer Dialogue revelations were put to the test. On Tuesday, I received an email from a concerned singer (yes, it was one of those “God, help me use my best CSR voice when replying to this email” emails). The singer emailed me a diatribe about the poor decision that was made for our chorus to rehearse in a Catholic church. Truly, the LGBTQ+ community and the Catholic Church have historically had a strenuous (to say the least) relationship. But, what this singer failed to do was to see the common good between our chorus and this particular church. This particular church has several LGBTQ+ ministries, and they were even among the first organizations in the Twin Cities to provide care and housing for the HIV/AIDS communities during the AIDS crisis. This church often invites us to be a part of its concert series. While not dismissing their feelings as invalid, I invited them to see the commonalities.
Thursday of the same week, I arrived at my office at 6am! I’m going to do all the things so I can go on a restful vacation (Yes, God has a sense of humor). At 8:30 am, I get a call from the aforementioned church: “Our priest has decided that no groups over 10 can be in the church.” Thank God, I wasn’t physically in a church at the time, because the 4-letter words were flying after that phone call. I became enraged. “We require vaccinations, made masks mandatory, bought air purifiers, spaced out the recommended six feet, planned to sing for only 30 minutes in each space, etc.” Then, I was reminded: it is harder to build than to destroy. What destroyed my morning in two minutes was going to take some time to build back. Our office staff started making calls and, by noon the same day, we had a new rehearsal home. Is this new home perfect? Yes, in fact, it is, because it will allow us to do what really matters: create music and community.
This fall, try choosing love. I know it sounds trite and (aging myself) very “Up With People,” but it really does bring you back to the heart of the matter.