Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Music 2012

I'm overdue to announce that I have been commissioned to write a new piece of music: for Perfect Harmony Men's Chorus, of Madison, WI. Perfect Harmony is celebrating its 15th year next season, and the commission is both a celebration of that anniversary, and to be presented at the next GALA Festival in 2012.

I've been involved with PHMC now since 2007, when I joined after my Dad died, to find some social contact with other gay men, and to get back into choral music. I needed both musical and social reconnections, at that time. I am an alumnus of two other GALA choruses, the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, and the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. Perfect Harmony is a much smaller chorus than either of those, but it is full of men deeply committed to making music together, and to supporting each other. I knew from my previous experience with other choruses that I would find what I needed, in singing together with other gay men.

TTBB male chorus repertoire (tenor, tenor, baritone, bass) is my preferred choral configuration purely for matters of personal taste. I just like the sound of massed male voices. I sang in the Michigan Men's Glee Club when I was in college, a male chorus of some distinction at that time, and found many rewards there. I fell in love with male choral music, both the social and musical aspects, and for me, that changed my life. I'm a lifelong musician, singer, composer, etc. I've sung in every kind of chorus configuration that there is, and male chorus is still my favorite.

San Francisco is the flagship gay men's chorus. it was formed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, during the first phase of the gay rights movement. They did a concert tour of the USA in 1981, spending a long time on the road, giving concerts in city after city, town after town, after which LGBT choruses sprang up all over the place in their wake. Now the GALA movement has become international, with several hundred choruses around the USA and the world. Every four years there is a GALA conference held in a large city, where several thousand singers gather with their choruses to perform for each other, to share their stories, to enjoy life, to party, to gather together in music that binds us all together. I attended the last GALA conference, in Miami in 2008, with PHMC, and it was for me, as it is for many other people, a life-changing and life-affirming experience.

GALA is one of the most positive faces of the national and international LGBT communities in our time, in our culture—which remain oppressed communities: politically, socially, financially, in terms of civil rights, and in many other ways. Singing together, we function as ambassadors of culture to the world, spreading positive messages of acceptance, diversity and inclusion.

Before some cynic points out how my last statement here sounds like the "politically correct party line," let me state for the record that I genuinely know all of the above to be true. It is based on my experience, and on years of observation.

I have been singing in choruses, first in church, then in high school and college, since I was 7 or 8 years old. I've been playing piano since I was 6. I've played every instrument in the symphony orchestra except the brass instruments, which I have no ability for. I'm a composer, a lifelong musician, a performer, a creative. Music is central to my life.

I have seen the same story time and time again: Making music together, in LGBT choruses, singing together, has changed peoples' lives for the better. It's given people a reason to go on living when life has become hard and difficult for them. Lesbian and gay people often have to fight for their lives, for their very right to exist; the GALA choral movement has given many a sense of community, of life, of affirmation and validation, beyond anything they'd ever had before. I've seen people choose to live, rather than give into the pressure to remove themselves from daily life, go off into a corner, and die.

And that is source and purpose of the new music commission I am undertaking.

The nature of this 15th anniversary commission for PHMC is to tell the stories of the members of the Chorus. Through interviews, writings, and other means, I have been gathering their stories, to turn into a suite of songs that will be premiered in Madison in spring of 2012, then performed at GALA 2012 in Denver, CO. The nature of the commission is to tell the stories of the men of Perfect Harmony: what it is like to live gay in the Midwest; what it was like to group up gay in the Midwest; and how we, as Midwesterners, with our own unique culture, are different from the usual gay stereotypes, which are based on the urban gay ghettoes of New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the other big cities of the two coasts. Our culture here in the heartlands, what some of the urbanities of the coast call the "flyover zone," is indeed from that of the coasts. Calling the Midwest the heartlands is accurate on so many levels. The music will in the end reflect its sources, and reflect, I hope, some aspects of what living gay in the heartlands is like.

As for my personal feelings about this new music commission:

I am gratified, grateful, and pleased beyond what words can say to have won this commission. I was not the only candidate for doing this commission, and it was not a sure thing that I'd be offered the work. My gratitude extends to the point where I want to do the very best job that I can do. I will go far beyond the usual requirements to make this new work be the best that it can be.

I am doubly, triply pleased to be working as a composer, actually being paid to write music. It's what I've always wanted to do, ever since music school. And I hope this is only the first commission of many, in the future. This is how I want to spend the rest of my career: earning my living from my creativity. Writing music. Writing choral music, for that matter. If this commission leads to other GALA choral commissions, well, nothing would make me happier.

More on this project at it develops. I'll keep you posted. I've already started writing, but it's still early in the process.

There is a challenge in that I still have a major chronic illness I am dealing with. That will be resolved by some pretty big surgery this summer, which I am doing my best to prepare for without letting it freak me out. (Don't ever let some asshole tell you to "Think positive" when they don't know what the fuck they're talking about it.) I have a lot of work to do. I will be writing music and preparing for surgery at the same time. I plan to get as much done as I can beforehand, because the recovery time will be at least a couple of months.

So I'm working hard on the lyrics and music already. I'm writing the lyrics as well as the music. I recently picked up Stephen Sondheim's marvelous book of collected lyrics, Finishing the Hat, not because I want to be influenced by Sondheim's lyrics but because this is a graduate school level textbook on how to do it. His commentaries are what I'm focusing on, and his principles, all of which are being very useful to me so far.

I have a lot of work to do. This is a really great opportunity for me, personally and in terms of my creative career. I am going to do my very best with it. And then we'll see what happens next.