Jane Hoffman was snatched for fill-in duty by Not What You Think, a local LGBT a cappella singing outfit, out of necessity. She’d joined the now-defunct Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Washington shortly before. Think was a subsidiary group of the larger Chorus and needed an alto to sub for someone who couldn’t go on a San Francisco tour in 1996. She’s been in the group ever since.
“I’d just moved back to the states and was kind of new to the city and new to coming out,” the 48-year-old South Dakota native says. “I had been missing music in my life and just thought, ‘Oh gosh, you can be out and in a gay and lesbian singing group. This sounds perfect for me.’”
The all-volunteer group performs at Hillwood Museum and Gardens Sunday at 2 p.m. and at Intersections: a New American Arts Festival on March 13 at 3:30 p.m. To attend the former, an admission fee to Hillwood is required. Visit hillwoodmuseum.org for details. The Intersections show is free but reservations are required. Visit nwyt.org for information. The group’s latest release, “Never Give Up” features songs by Lennon/McCartney, James Taylor, Holly Near, Don McLean and several traditional South African songs.
Members will often trade harmony lines so that parts, especially for tenors and altos, don’t always fall along traditional gender lines, a concept reflected in their name.
“It’s very sweet and it’s really special because you really have to listen to each other to pull it off,” Hoffman says. “We don’t really take ourselves that seriously but it really is kind of a metaphor for life. And the whole idea of the group in a way is to provide gay men and women a chance to talk together and listen in a different way.”
Hoffman met her partner, Jill Strachan, in the Chorus. They’re both in Not What You Think (Strachan sings soprano) and live together on Capitol Hill.
She spent three years working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, went to grad school in New Haven, Conn., then lived three years in the early ’90s in Prague in the Czech Republic doing finance work for companies that wanted to expand to Eastern Europe.
In D.C. since 1995, Hoffman now works as a finance director for a network of public charter schools. She enjoys singing, walking her two dogs, reading and traveling. She and Strachan visited Greece last November. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I was a bit of a late bloomer and came out in the early 1990s. The hardest person to come out to was myself. My experiences in coming out to others have been positive.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Harvey Milk and Jane Addams
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I rarely go out to nightspots, but I always enjoy going to The Phase (Phase 1), and I am a big fan of Mr. Henry’s.
Describe your dream wedding.
I have never given this a moment’s thought. I’ve never understood the energy and resources poured into weddings. If my partner and I were to marry, it would be to gain access to specific federal benefits (currently unavailable) and I think our ceremony would be as simple as possible.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
Education and women’s issues.
What historical outcome would you change?
The fact that our country was built, in large part, on slave labor.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Watching Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video on MTV in 1983. Also, the Ellen DeGeneres coming out show in 1997.
On what do you insist?
Honesty, integrity, passion and a sense of humor. I also love a good beer.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I like to share links to people or causes I think my friends will find interesting. Recent links include Andy Borowitz (he makes me smile every day) and Stand by Planned Parenthood (I am appalled at the recent attacks on this important organization). My next post will be about Not What You Think’s upcoming performances at Hillwood and Intersections.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Imagine My Surprise!”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I’d change nothing for myself. I’m afraid we would have to be on guard, though, against those who would try to use this science to change people to fit their narrow idea of normal.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
That we are all connected.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
We are a diverse community and no one has all the answers. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and we should all listen more.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Ending violence against women in this country and around the world. And, closer to home, my partner and our wonderful dogs.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
That all lesbians and gay men like drag.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
“Tipping the Velvet” and “Philadelphia”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The love of family and friends.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That it’s OK to simply be myself.
It’s a lovely city full of interesting people. Also, the arts scene is so strong. Theater, music, visual arts and dance all contribute to D.C.’s vibrancy.