Gay Men’s Choruses

Hola a todos. The DC Gay Men’s Chorus — well, their official name is the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington — is one of the best of these type of Queer choral ensembles.

A brief rant (well, brief for me): Now for one of my pet peeves having lived in the District. Since the official name of the nation’s capital is the District of Columbia (and not Washington DC since there is no Washington in DC), the Chorus should be named the Gay Men’s Chorus of the District of Columbia since again, there is no “Washington” in DC. DC and Washington are synonymous; they mean the same thing for the stupid people who show up here. The residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia call the nation’s capital the District, DC or Washington. It’s the sheeple, tourists and corporate media who call it “Washington DC” in part, because they don’t know any better! I suspect most people don’t know what the DC part means. It’s always good to cater to ignorance, isn’t it? [sarcasm intended] And if the nation’s capital were called by its official name which is District of Columbia, there would be no need for one to say, “Washington state” every time one refers to one of the 50 states located on the West Coast of the non-United States. End of rant.

So, the main question here is: Are gay men required to sing show tunes, music from Broadway musicals and little tacky ditties and be like a “Show Choir,” rather than perform the more serious and beautiful (symphonic) choral repertoire? Apparently so. That’s the impression one is left with. It reminds me of the stereotype that when a Black person dies, it’s required that gospel music be dragged out and played at every Black person’s funeral for some reason. I don’t remember seeing an exception to that.

Reminds me of the stereotype with Black people:

Black People = must sing gospel music and have it played at their funerals.

Gay men = must sing Broadway musicals and other choral ditties.

(roll eyes) Sigh. So tiresome.

I read this online:

“The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW), is one of the oldest LGBT choral organizations in the United States.”

Oh here we go with that revisionist history LGBT alphabet soup rubbish. The thing is: There are no lesbians in the Gay Men’s Chorus so why is the Chorus described as one of the oldest “LGBT” (UVWXYZ+++++?) choral organisations, instead of oldest GAY or QUEER choral organisations? Are there any trans choristers in the Gay Men’s Chorus? Are there any genuine bisexual guys in the Gay Men’s Chorus? Then none of that “LBT” nonsense applies either. Why is everything today labeled “LGBT?” Because that’s the corporatist way that the Gay and Lesbian Movement sold out to. “LGBT” is like a brand name. As I’ve written before, heterosexuals/straights don’t have any long train of silly letters with plus signs at the end. Why do Queers need that? The Chorus is called a Gay Men’s Chorus, so call it one of the oldest GAY choral organisation in the non-United States. Is that so difficult, stupid people? I have very little no patience for this nonsense.

Now someone will likely rush to defend the Gay Choruses by saying — without knowing anything about my choral training and Orchestra Chorus experience (see Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus and Margaret Hillis’s/Vance George’s San Francisco Symphony Chorus) — “there are different types of choral ensembles.” Well yes I know that. I’m thoroughly aware of that. But that’s not the point. My point is why do the Gay Choruses have to continue to promote queeny, nelly and feminine stereotypes about Queers by most of the repertoire they programme? “If you’re gay, you must be into Broadway musicals?” I never was. The gay guys I knew in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus were into the same symphonic choral repertoire that I was/am into. I don’t remember them ever talking about show tunes or Broadway musicals or the like.

Awhile back, when I was telling mi amigo/my friend about my experience with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, he asked me if I ever had any interest in being in the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. I stalled and slowly said, “No, not really.” He asked: Well you were in the best Chorus weren’t you? Just like when you lived in the District with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the University of Maryland Chorus . They were the best performing regularly in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the National Symphony Orchestra. Isn’t the San Francisco Symphony Chorus supposed to be the best Chorus in the Bay Area? I said: Yes, it’s equal in excellence to that of the San Francisco Symphony. That’s why we/they are the Orchestra’s own Symphony Chorus.

I remember in the early 1980s, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus went on tour and performed in the Kennedy Center shortly after I had moved to San Francisco from the District. They were a very polished, stellar Chorus at that time and (I think it was iconic Paul Hume of The Washington Post) who compared them to the DC Orchestra Choruses regarding choral excellence: Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s renowned University of Maryland Chorus and Robert Shafer’s Oratorio Society of Washington were the dominant three that performed with the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra and other (inter)national guest orchestras. I explained to mi amigo that I’m a symphonic choral person and I don’t know of any Gay Men’s Choruses that are symphonic choral ensembles for some odd reason. I don’t know why that’s the case. Also, because I have no interest in the stereotypical repertoire that seems to be expected of a Gay Men’s Chorus, and the repertoire that they do. Some of that repertoire our High School Chorus performed when I served as piano accompanist for them. And I can remember back in elementary school singing some of this stuff. Are we back to “Row, Row, Row your boat” in three-part harmony with a Gay Men’s Chorus? At least we sang with a straight tone in elementary school. No annoying noticeable vibrato.

The fact is: Not all choral music or choral music arrangements are good music and some of the stuff that these choral directors select is, well, rather tacky. I know from experience that there’s a lot of tacky music out there but it “swoons the hearts” of the sheeple audience. The sheeple don’t know good music from bad music when they hear it, and that can also be said about some choral directors. Some choral directors don’t believe in the concept of perfect intonation — one of the foundations of choral excellence — so they let their choristers sing any old way they want to, in part, because it’s easier that way. It’s far less work for the lazy and possibly inept and incompetent Chorus Director who doesn’t know how to achieve choral excellence with his or her Chorus because they don’t have the training. Even with the training, some Chorus Directors allow their Chorus to sing however they want. Take the late John Oliver, for example, and his Tanglewood Festival Chorus. He had the training. Presumably that’s why Seiji Ozawa named John Oliver the Director of Vocal and Choral Activities at Tanglewood and asked him to start (what became) the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), the Official Chorus of the BSO and Boston Pops Orchestra. The TFC was one of my favourite Orchestra Choruses in their early days. But after awhile, the TFC became to receive criticism. I remember hearing a reduced (Chamber Chorus size) Tanglewood Festival Chorus sing in Washington National Cathedral for Senator Kennedy’s funeral. I hadn’t heard them in years and I said to myself, “Well good lord, what’s happened to them?! That’s Tanglewood?” They sounded awful with wobbling and fluttering soprano voices, quivering altos. They did not sound like what one expects from the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. Not at all. For example, under Oliver the soprano and alto sections in particular did not sing with perfect intonation and the Chorus started getting criticism from the BSO’s orchestral conductor and members of the BSO. My guess is that John had apparently gotten too chummy and friends with some of the choristers who should have been asked to leave and they were dragging the quality level of the Chorus down. That, too, is a problem.

Question: Why can’t a Gay Men’s Chorus perform symphonic choral works for Men’s voices like the Men’s Chorus of any Symphony Chorus would perform?

There are many Anglican canticle settings for men’s voices. Pre-COVID19, they were performed often by the Men of the Cathedral Choir of various Cathedrals and a few parishes who had the caliber of choristers required to perform the pieces when the trebles/boys were away or on Summer holiday. On occasion, a Gay Men’s Chorus will perform in a church. Well, using the church’s pipe organ, why not programme some of the Anglican repertoire — such as the canticle settings for men’s voices by Herbert Howells — and other Anglican composers exclusively for men’s voices? That’s not done to my knowledge. Why not?

Or consider this: Have you ever heard an announcer at a microphone say, “this is a performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto in C, Op. 39 with pianist [name of pianist] and [name of the orchestra]. Also assisting is the Gay Men’s Chorus of [name of city]?” That’s because there’s a choral section in the Busoni for a Men’s Chorus and often the performance involves the Men’s Chorus of a renowned Symphony Chorus. Why not invite a Gay Men’s Chorus to perform that? Perhaps because most or all Gay Men’s Choruses don’t have the reputation for being a symphonic Chorus? Well why not? But rather a Chorus that performs show tunes, Broadway musicals, spirituals, gospel pieces, “contemporary” syrupy, (what sounds like) “womanised” choral drivel and the like? Some of these Gay Men’s Choruses take on a “Show Choir” reputation. It’s quite a stereotype.

For a Gay Men’s Chorus, it seems that it’s required that the repertoire be immature. Is that the word I’m looking for? Silly, sentimental, overly emotional (like most females)? So there’s Broadway shows — you gotta have that as if all gay men are into Broadway musicals (I’m not at all)! — it has to be syrupy, childish, and “womanised” (I’m not talking about feminist) music. And what happened to choral excellence with some of these ensembles and the concept of perfect intonation (one of the foundations of choral excellence)? Some of these Choruses sound like they’re not too far from being out of nursery school with their low maturity level including the repertoire they perform.

Gay Men can sound like men. They don’t have to sound childish, immature and “womanised” — as if they’re trying to emulate some well-known female vocalist — or like “drippy pussies” like we’ve heard from some of these Choruses. What’s the point of that? There are many gay men in the world’s major Orchestra Choruses — there were many gay guys in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus when I was a chorister with them — and we/they sounded like men. They don’t sing like a guy trying to sound and look like Barbara Streisand. All that does is to promote an outdated stereotype about gay men and that’s what these Gay Men’s Choruses do, from the ones I’ve seen.

So again, why can’t a Gay Men’s Chorus perform high-quality symphonic choral works instead of repertoire one expects to hear from a High School Chorus or a “Glee Club?” (cringe, I never have liked the name Glee Club).

When I was in the San Francisco Symphony Chorus we wore our SF Symphony Chorus t-shirts around The Castro. I haven’t seen a shirt like that in years. The only t-shirts I see guys wear these days are that of US-flag waving and or of the US Military Industrial Complex — when did Queers get all hot for military and for war? — with the words “Army” or “Navy” on them, something connected with the conservative Military Industrial Complex Killing Machine. That, too, is a result of “assimilation.” Trying to be like and emulate the heterosexuals as if they are the superior sexuality. Who puts the dysfunctional breeders up on a pedestal considering their over 50% divorce rate? “What has happened to my fellow Queers?” is what a Queer blogger in NYC asked a number of years ago. I agree with him. I have trouble relating to today’s Queer so-called “community.”

Then there are those Choruses that have to stand up there and sway as if they’re in a Gospel Chorus. (roll eyes) Sigh. And why is the accompaniment for these Choruses piano? Piano is used to accompany because that’s the easiest and cheapest. Can’t they find some small chamber orchestra who would gladly work with them, or can’t they form their own orchestral ensemble? Can’t they market themselves as more of a symphonic Chorus, so they would be invited to perform with or augment the local Orchestra Choruses?

I remember when the conservatives — mostly elitist homeowners and busy-body merchants — in San Francisco’s Castro ordered the so-called “gay community” to mature [translation: become conservatives, which they did by the way] around the same time that gay marriage became legal and we got a city-wide nudity ban and San Francisco began its shift to the right. To me, maturing does not mean to be conservative. If these Choruses would change their repertoire to symphonic choral literature — rather than being an ensemble of show tunes and the syrupy little ditties they sing — that would help to erode the stereotype that Gay Men’s Choruses have attached to them. Some of the stuff they sing sounds like it’s right out of some right-wing evangelical church minus the Praise Band. Mi amigo/My friend asked: Why don’t they try to sound more like George Michael, or Elton John and other Queers who sounded good.

Why not have a performance of Israel in Egypt with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the San Francisco Lesbian Chorus (don’t we have one?; I don’t know since I don’t pay attention to these “pop” Choruses) and members of the San Francisco Symphony accompanying?

Can you imagine a programme featuring the combined Gay Men’s Chorus and a Lesbian Chorus immaculately trained in choral excellence and performing the Brahms’s EDR (Ein Deutches Requiem) with a Queer Orchestra, using soloists from the Chorus? Or Queer-boy Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or Ninth Symphony (with the quartet using non-operatic soloists from the Chorus singing with their “choral voice”)? Any of that would be historic when performed by an all-Queer Chorus and Orchestra. Chau.—el barrio rosa

Related:

Chorus: Use your scores.