Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington
With Gallim Dance
Sunday, May 8
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
2700 F St., N.W.
For this weekend’s 35th anniversary concert of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, Artistic Director Thea Kano wanted to shake things up. She’s steering the 300-member choir slightly out of its comfort zone by performing the 25-movement Latin work “Carmina Burana.”
Although she says there was “no grumbling” about the Latin or the daunting music — written 80 years ago by Carol Orff — she says it’s been a good chance for the chorus to prove its musical mettle. The New York-based Gallim Dance will join with choreography and members of the New York City Master Chorale, another choir Kano directs.
“We don’t usually perform these sort of larger-scale oratorios, so it’s a departure and a chance to show off our musicianship,” Kano, in her 12th season with the chorus (her second at the helm), says. “It’s not unusual for ‘Carmina Burana’ to be choreographed but usually — at least the times I’ve seen it — it’s been very boy-meets-girl. … Ours will show same-sex relationships but also romantic relationships as well as familial relationships and platonic relationships as well. The dances seek to remove gender and have it be simply about love.”
Andrea Miller, artistic director of Gallim Dance, says she’s enjoying returning to “Carmina Burana.”
“When I was in my teens and I would babysit, I would always do dance classes with the kids and the first section of ‘Carmina Burana’ was always our main dance,” she says. “I’ve listened to it throughout my adult life.”
She’ll bring her company of nine dancers — several of whom are gay — to D.C. for the weekend. Last weekend, about 75 members of the chorus performed the work with the dancers in New York at Lincoln Center where Kano says it was “extremely well received.”
Kano calls the choreography “very visceral” and “very tribal.” Miller says the work was a joy to choreograph.
“The thing about ‘Carmina Burana’ is that it touches on very human emotions,” she says. “The range of the human experience and truth, struggle and passion and lust and even existentialism. I think it makes a lot of sense to see those bodies. It’s so visceral to the music.”
For the second half, the chorus will revisit works that had previously been commissioned for it such as “Build a House” from “Alexander’s House” and “This House Shall Stand,” from “Songs of My Family,” as well as “This Train,” the first song rehearsed at the chorus’s first rehearsal in 1981. They’ll also sing “Make Them Hear You,” from the musical “Ragtime,” one of the chorus’s signature numbers. “There’s a Man Goin’ Round” will pay tribute to chorus members who have died.
“The second half is like a big hug,” Kano says.
Rob Finn, who sings bass two and joined just last year, says the anniversary is a huge milestone.
“I think the mission has changed since 1981,” he says. “It is now our responsibility not only to continue that fight for visibility and equality that we have always fought, but also to remember and teach our history while we do it. We must remember how hard we have fought, honor those brave men and women on whose shoulders we stand and celebrate the achievements so many of them did not get to see realized.”
The chorus has 220 singing members, two vocal ensembles, 100 support volunteers, 400 subscribers, 500 donors and an annual audience of about 10,000. They’ve performed at the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Memorial and more. It started after Marsha Pearson, a straight woman and former D.C. resident, heard the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sing at the Kennedy Center and thought D.C. needed its own gay choir.
Despite many accomplishments for both the chorus and gay rights in general, Kano says the chorus’s work is far from over.
“We still have a long way to go,” she says. “We really see that when we go beyond the Beltway to more rural areas. We have a future because until we can get everyone to open their minds for equality, we have work to do. We’re here to stay.”
Robert Boaz is in his 19th season with the chorus and sings baritone. He says the chorus has lasted because “we have a reason to sing.”
“There are countless stories of how family members’, friends’ and loved ones’ hearts and minds have been changed because of our singing,” he says. “We give hope to the LGBT youth out there who might think there is no one like them. We show our audience and the world that we are people just like everyone else. We take the mystery out of being gay for those who think they don’t know any gay people.”
Kano says the chorus hopes to have its new managing director in place by July 1. Chase Maggiano, who’s been with the chorus three years as executive director, will depart this month. She’s already thinking about the next 35 years.
Among her dreams are substantial growth for the GenOUT Youth Chorus, formed last year under the GMCW umbrella, more international trips — they’re going to the Ukraine next month after a trip to Cuba in 2015 — and more recording. She would love to see the chorus sing on a pop single on the radio (“If Lady Gaga needs us, we’re available,” she says with a laugh) and maybe someday even win a Grammy.
“There’s a whole smorgasbord of things I’d like to see us do,” Kano says. “We have so much talent and with 250 people on stage, we really make a huge sound. It’s an absolutely incredible sound that makes a visceral impact. It really hits you in your core.”
Boaz agrees there’s much more for the chorus to do.
“GMCW will be relevant until no one on earth is homophobic,” he says.