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Out recitalist Christopher Houlihan shares tricks of the trade

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Christopher Houlihan, gay news, Washington Blade
Christopher Houlihan, gay news, Washington Blade

Christopher Houlihan at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., on March 6, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Christopher Houlihan
 
Organ recital
 
Presented by the National Symphony Orchestra
 
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
 
Wednesday, May 4
 
8 p.m.
 
$15
 

Organist Christopher Houlihan took a few minutes with us by phone from Hartford, Conn., where he was playing at his alma mater Trinity College (where he’s artist in residence) in advance of his Washington recital next week. He plays the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, May 4. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Does organ music translate well to iPods?

CHRISTOPHER HOULIHAN: I think it can. … Some pieces work better than others. I don’t tend to listen to it if I just want to have some music playing because if it’s organ music, I tend to focus on it too much. If you want the best experience possible, there’s nothing more exciting than a live organ shaking the room.

BLADE: Recording organ is hard with all the outside noise that can happen. Can engineers take out sirens and that sort of thing?

HOULIHAN: In my experience, we haven’t been able to do that. We’ve had to do another take. But yes, recording in a big city is really tough. You usually have to do it in the middle of the night. But then sometimes if it rains, you lose a whole night.

BLADE: Do you plan to keep recording and releasing CDs?

HOULIHAN: I would definitely like to do more. I have a Bach CD that’s in the works to be released. … I hope in time over what I hope is a long career that I’ll have several recordings released.

BLADE: Can you tell which stops are pipe or digital on a hybrid organ?

HOULIHAN: When they’re done well, I think they can be very effective. … It’s a tough question to answer. I can tell, but I’ve played lots of hybrid organs and completely digital organs and what matters most is if you can make music on them and you absolutely can.

BLADE: What is the consensus among elite organists about the Kennedy Center’s new Casavant organ?

HOULIHAN: It has a good reputation. I haven’t heard it myself yet but I’m excited. I’ve played lots of Casavants and some of their more recent instruments and I have nothing but good things to say. I’m sure the Kennedy Center’s is equally stunning.

BLADE: How much of a consideration is audience familiarity with certain pieces when you’re programming a recital? Are some works perhaps too much to digest?

HOULIHAN: It’s somewhat a consideration. I think a program needs to have balance so I think playing something they’re familiar with helps but I also find people like to be a little challenged and there are things they’ll like and find interesting whether they’re familiar with them or not. Most people aren’t familiar with a whole lot beyond the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, so it’s hard to give that too much weight.

BLADE: You played at First Baptist Church in Washington in 2013. How was it for you?

HOULIHAN: I had a great time. It’s a great space for organ music. The Austin organ there is enormous and has a great variety of colors and beautiful sounds.

BLADE: You don’t seem to post much on Facebook. How do you stay focused?

HOULIHAN: I guess I’m on Facebook as much as anybody. I don’t post a lot, but when it comes time to work, I put my phone aside and focus on practicing. Then I take a break when it’s time to take a break. … I’m much more interested in reaping the benefits of practicing. It’s not especially hard once you get yourself to the organ bench.

BLADE: (Your former teacher) Paul Jacobs was here last month at the Kennedy Center. What was your biggest overall lesson from your time with him?

HOULIHAN: I think one of the things all of Paul’s students would say is the level of commitment and discipline he brings to what he does. It’s inspiring and he expects no less from his students. That’s something that’s stuck with me for sure. To get a good result, you have to put in a lot of effort. He is very demanding of that and it pays off.

BLADE: On average about how long do you spend on a major work from first read until you perform it in recital?

HOULIHAN: I have no idea. I should calculate it someday. I tend to learn slowly. I’d rather take more time learning something before I bring it on the road. That works best for me but as for a specific amount of time, I don’t really know.

BLADE: Where were you when you heard about the Supreme Court marriage ruling last year? How did you feel?

HOULIHAN: I was thrilled. My mom was visiting New York City and we went out for pizza to celebrate.

BLADE: Is that an issue you followed very closely?

HOULIHAN: It was something I’d hoped for as a gay persons and I’m thrilled it’s the law of the land. But it’s also important to me now that we continue to fight, especially for trans people.

BLADE: Has being out ever been a professional hindrance in any perceptible way?

HOULIHAN: Not that I can think of. I suppose if a church didn’t want to invite me to play because of that, I’d never know about it. My church in New York, Church of the Holy Apostles, is incredibly gay friendly.

BLADE: Do the technical challenges of playing lighten at a certain level of proficiency or are they always there?

HOULIHAN: There are always technical obstacles there for anyone who really wants to grow and challenge themselves. But they’re exciting to work on and over time you learn how to practice and how to work on those challenges. It doesn’t get easier, but you learn how to tackle them.

BLADE: You seem genuinely nice. Do people prey on that?

HOULIHAN: I certainly know how to stand up for myself when that’s required.

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Music & Concerts

New dance single pays tribute to Town Danceboutique

Local musicians pen ‘Town’ in honor of shuttered club

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Bryce Bowyn (Photo by Clarissa Villondo)

The closing of the LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique in the summer of 2017 was heartbreaking to local musician Bryce Bowyn. He and his Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter friend Lexie Martin decided to honor its legacy in their new single, “Town.”

For Bowyn, who moved to the District about a decade ago to attend school at American University, the memories he has from Town Danceboutique are endless. And when it closed, it was a massive loss to Bowyn and many others. 

“It was such a cool space,” Bowyn said. “It was just disappointing to see a place that brought so many people together become part of the landscape again.” The building Town Danceboutique used to be housed in is now home to upscale apartments and a CVS. 

Town Danceboutique was a formative place for Bowyn and Martin, and it was Bowyn’s first experience in an open and accepting LGBTQ environment. His favorite memories at the club were always on Halloween, he said. Patrons, including Bowyn, would go all out with their costumes to look their very best. 

Bowyn and Martin met while they were both in the musical theater program at American University. Despite their years-long friendship, “Town” is the first song they have written together. They sat down over FaceTime and got to work. It was Martin’s idea to pay homage to Town Danceboutique, and the song follows the story of pre-gaming, going out, and hitting the dance floor. 

But the single also serves as a hype song for going out in any city, at any place. 

“It was important to me for the song to remain relatable and accessible,” Bowyn said. “So the whole foundation of the chorus, ‘Let’s go to town,’ can either mean Town Danceboutique, or painting the town red and having the night of your life.”

Bowyn started writing and producing his own music in 2018. He released an EP titled “A Rosy Retrospect” in 2022, and most recently released a single “A Bridge Burned Down” in June. His music is inspired by late 2000s pop and ‘80s synthpop, influenced by stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. Lexie Martin released her self-titled EP in 2019 and most recently came out with her single “SUPERPOWER” in 2021. 

Bowyn has been a lifelong pop music enthusiast. He distinctly remembers watching Britney Spears perform “Oops!…I Did It Again” at the MTV Video Music Awards when he was a kid and thinking “That was what I wanted and what I was set to do in life.”

“My heart was always with pop music,” Bowyn said. 

“Town” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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Music & Concerts

From Monáe to Madonna, fall will rock in D.C.

Local venues hosting array of queer artists in coming months

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Madonna’s delayed tour is slated to hit D.C. Dec. 18 and 19. (Screen capture via YouTube)

The D.C. area has many LGBTQ musical acts to look forward to this fall. Starting with pansexual and nonbinary actor and R&B singer Janelle Monáe, performing at the Anthem on Sept. 24-25 with ticket prices ranging from $135 to $301 on StubHub.

Janelle Monáe comes to the Anthem later this month. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Singer Hozier’s “Unreal Unearth Tour” is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 26-27. Tickets are available on StubHub starting at $324.

On Sept. 28 the CFG Bank Arena in Baltimore will see lesbian pop artist SZA’s “SOS Tour” with tickets starting at $165 on Ticketmaster. 

Queer indie pop singer Ashnikko is coming to the Anthem on Sept. 29 to perform their “Weedkiller Tour.” Tickets available on StubHub range from $49 to $279.

Coming to Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., is the All Things Go Festival. Performing are lesbian singers Tegan and Sara, alt-pop singer Lana Del Rey, pop singer Carly Rae Jepson, and more. The festival will take place Sept. 30-Oct. 1 with two day passes starting at $397 on SeatGeek.  

Rock band Queen will perform “The Rhapsody Tour” at the CFG Bank Arena along with Adam Lambert on Oct. 4-5. Tickets are starting at $181 on Ticketmaster. 

Pop star and trans woman Kim Petras’ “Feed the Beast World Tour” will reach the Anthem on Oct 12. Tickets range from $72 to $817 on StubHub. 

Kim Petras brings the ‘Feed the Beast World Tour’ to the Anthem in October. (Photo by Thom Kerr)

Queer pop singer Kesha is coming to the Anthem on Oct. 29 to support her new album, “Gag Order.” Tickets go from $86 to $261 on Event Ticket Center. 

Queer pop rapper Shygirl is co-headlining with bisexual singer Tinashe for the “Nymph” tour at the Anthem on Nov. 5. Tickets range from $45 to $145 on Ticketmaster.

Indie band Men I Trust is performing at Echostage on Nov. 15. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster for $30. 

Nonbinary rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s “PINK TAPE TOUR” will be at the Anthem on Nov. 21. Tickets start at $90 on StubHub. 

Doja Cat’s “The Scarlett Tour” will reach Capital One Arena on Nov. 27. Tickets start at $100 on Ticketmaster. 

Madonna will bring her highly anticipated and delayed “The Celebration Tour” to the Capital One Arena Dec. 18 and 19. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster starting at $110.

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Music & Concerts

Tom Goss to perform at Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend

Out singer entertains at the Sands Hotel

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Tom Goss (Photo by Dusti Cunningham)

Out singer Tom Goss will perform at the Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Sands Hotel. 

He will sing his memorable songs like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Bears,” as well as tracks from his new album, “Remember What It Feels Like,” where he sings about being a 42-year-old gay man still reeling from his husband’s infidelity who was recently conned by a lover with a secret life now serving time in prison. 

Tickets to Rehoboth Beach Bear Weekend start at $20 and can be purchased on Eventbrite

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