February 16, 2012 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Message in the music

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington
‘The Kids are All Right’
With guests Candace Gingrich-Jones and Dreams of Hope
Saturday at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$50
G.W. Lisner Auditorium
730 21st Street, N.W.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington has a one-off youth-themed performance scheduled for this weekend. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As a veteran high school music teacher and counselor, Jeff Buhrman saw first-hand the need for affirmation and support for LGBT youth. When he became artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, he made it a priority to start a youth outreach program.

Though the Chorus’s GenOUT program has been in existence since 2001 offering free concert tickets to local LGBT youth, the Chorus has ramped up its efforts in the “It Gets Better” era. Saturday’s “The Kids are All Right” concert, the Chorus’s second of the current season, is especially created to dovetail with the program. It’s a busy time for the Chorus — last weekend its Rock Creek Singers ensemble performed with the Camp Rehoboth Chorus. Its all-male production of “The Rocky Horror Show” debuts in mid-March.

“(Saturday’s concert) is designed especially to serve the mission of our GenOUT program,” Buhrman says. “We are specifically reaching out to youth for ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ We’re sharing our stories we think they will relate to … the support of a mother who helps us get through, having a safe place in school like the high school music room or the theater room so we don’t have to go into the scary cafeteria during lunch … we’re using video, songs and narration to share our stories about the times we felt different growing up and exploring how it gets better.”

The Chorus will be joined by Candace Gingrich-Jones (Newt’s lesbian half-sister), who’ll provide narration for a musical dramatization of the story “Oliver Button is a Sissy,” and Dreams of Hope, a Pittsburgh-based teen performance ensemble whose 12 guests will use self-penned material such as poetry, song and dance to, as Buhrman puts it, “share their feelings about being teenagers in today’s world.”

The Chorus will pull with its usual eclectic reaches — everything from Broadway to country — to perform songs that flesh out the queer-affirming theme (the title is merely borrowed from the 2010 film — it’s not a musical telling of that story).

Buhrman knew of the Dreams of Hope chorus through an association of gay choruses of which the Washington Chorus is also a member. Dreams will perform a 25-minute segment then join the GMCW for the finale.

“It’s a joy when we are able to actually share the stage with another group,” Buhrman says. “It’ll be fun working with them.”

Jay Garvey, a 27-year-old GMCW baritone who works as a co-facilitator of the GenOUT program, agrees.

“We’re gonna see some beautiful stories shining through and that’s what the Chorus does best,” he says. “There are these little moments in life that every LGBT person can understand and relate to, so we hope audiences will find themselves in these narratives, especially youth who are going through it now.”

But while the intentions are obviously great, does quality suffer when so much of the material is new, autobiographical and unproven? Buhrman, who has solid classical training, says it’s not an issue.

“If you had been at our rehearsal the other night, you wouldn’t ask that question,” he says. “Music, and good music, is at the heart of everything we do. You’ll hear a range of styles, expansively beautiful melodies, great lyrics — we can always find music that will correspond to our experiences as LGBT people and if we can’t find something ourselves, we either commission it … or find something and have one of our people arrange it. … It’s why it sometimes takes us one-to-two years to plan a show. We want to find exactly the right music to speak at that exact moment.”

The GenOUT program is run by GMCW staff such as Taunee Grant, its director of marketing and communications, and co-facilitators Garvey, Nic Baker and Richard Bennett, Chorus members who volunteer their time to the program. About 94 schools and organizations in the region attend Chorus shows through the program which gives free tickets to about 300 LGBT students each season. “Pink Nutcracker,” the Chorus’s well-received 2011 holiday show, brought 175 free tickets through the GenOUT program. “Red & Greene,” the 2012 holiday show, found 225 guests. Members hope to continue adding tickets each year.

The program also features “hubs” in the Lisner lobby at each GMCW concert where queer youth can meet up before and after the shows. And it’s not just for high school students — the Chorus is in the process of getting a college internship program started as well.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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