"Send Out the Call"
Every Spring, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus presents a concert that tackles a somewhat more serious theme than our Holiday concert or June’s Pride concert. One friend teased me about this recently, saying, "Teen suicide, the Holocaust, Marriage Equality... when are you gonna invite me to something fun?"
The answer: This weekend. The BGMC hasn’t given up its artistic mission or sold out; we’re not presenting the Zeigfield Follies. But this Spring Concert combines fun and drama, uplift and poignancy in a way that hits all the notes just right.
Here’s what we’re offering. Composer Ricky Ian Gordon has set a cycle of poems by Langston Hughes to music that document the black gay experience; guest dancers and soloists bring the piece to life as two young men living in Harlem search of love and connection, and discover one another. The piece is thrilling and musically complex; Gordon’s creative skill and daring shine through as never before in selections like "Harlem Night Song," "Joy," "I Dream a World," and "Stars." (Just a side note: "Stars" isn’t based on a Hughes poem. It’s a lovely, and loving, song about Gordon’s own life partner.) (Just another side note - I got that bit wrong. "Stars" does, in fact, set a Hughes poem to music. See the composer’s comment below.)
Here’s a sweet coincidence for you: Two Boston stage compamies, SpeakEasy and the Huntington, have mounted concurrently-running productions of "Clybourne Park" and "A Raisin in the Sun." The plays are linked, though "Clybourne Park" was written a half century later than the acknowledged classic of American theater, "A Raisin in the Sun." What’s fun about this is the fact that the author of "A Raisin in the Sun" took her play’s title from a poem by... you guessed it... Langston Hughes. The poem appeared in Hughes’ book-length cycle of verse "A Dream Deferred." And now, tell me -- have our own dreams of family and individual equality not been long deferred?
This isn’t the BGMC’s first experience with Ricky Ian Gordon’s lush, dazzling music. A few years ago we learned another complex song about love and relationships by Gordon, "Love My Sweet Rain." It was a tough piece to master, by oh my... was is ever so gorgeous once we understood and learned to live within its aural tapestry. Similarly, as we’ve grown into this song cycle, we’ve discovered its bounty and it, in turn, has helped us discover more about our own musicianship.
Okay, I should admit it up front: There is going to be some touching stuff that takes a walk on the heavy side.
Stephen Schwartz’s song "Testimony," commissioned by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, twisted our hearts when we first started learning to sing it. Schwartz uses the words of bullied gay teens for the lyrics of the song’s first half: "I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be who I am." "When they find out, I’ll lose my family and all of my friends." "Every night I ask God to end my life. God, take this away -- or take me away." "I don’t want to be who I am, I don’t want to be what I am, I don’t want to be anymore."
My friend the critic is going to have a field day, right? It’s pretty depressing, right? If you’re from my generation, you know exactly what these kids are saying. Indeed, unless you come from an oasis of enlightenment (and there are a few), you know it first-hand no matter your generation. (Even here in Massachusetts, cradle of marriage liberty, an anti-gay blogger launched a vile attack on GLBT youth after the Chorus appeared at an area high school in support of the school’s GSA last year.)
But here’s the thing: You also know, having come through it, what the kids at risk don’t yet know: "It gets more than better. It gets amazing and astounding."
That’s the second part of the song, which turns tender and loving and implores at-risk youth to "Hang in, hang on just a little longer," and promises that there are better days coming -- days full of "the joy of living in authentiticy," along with "travels and adventures... so many friends with jokes and laughter."
We’ll be joined on stage by a high school choir for this number. It’s going to raise the roof, such is the uplifting power of the piece.
This Spring’s concert takes its title, "Seize the Day," from a song in a 1990 Disney musical called "Newsies." In the movie, exploited newspaper sellers stand up for their rights. The song is just as applicable to the GLBT community’s ongoing struggle for full equality under the law: "Nothing can break us / No one can make us give our rights away." The song’s sentiment is timely, given the recent surge in union-busting by the traditionally anti-gay GOP.
The song is also especially a propos at a time when the Supreme Court is about to weigh in on the rights of every gay man and lesbian woman in America to marry the person they love and mean to spend their lives with... in many cases, have already spent a considerable portion of their lives with.
The court is packed with anti-equality ideologues like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and it’ll be a shock if Justices Roberts and Alito remember that the issue transcends party lines.
But history is on our side, and if the court that gave our electoral process to big money does go on to hand committed same-sex families a defeat (or two; both DOMA and Prop 8 are on trial here), it will sting but it won’t stop us from our pursuit, as Americans, of our rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness -- and full recognition for our families.
"Now is the time to seize the day. Send out the call and join the fray!"
The BGMC exists not just to give divas like us a chance to get up and sing for all y’all, but also to promote a more just and equitable society through the power of music. When we sing, we do something that no amount of talking, shouting, or screaming can accomplish: We touch people where they live. We communicate the fact that underneath stereotype, underneath the fears that are projected onto us, we also have beating human hearts full of hope for a happy life and a need to share our love and tenderness with someone special.
The things we want are the same as our audience, because we are the same as our audience, sexual orientation notwithstanding. Music carries that message. Music opens eyes.
This weekend’s concert also celebrates the yearning, buzzing energy of youth with a medley of songs drawn from the musical "Pippin" -- another timely choice, given that the musical’s revival recently started with a production at the A.R.T. in Cambridge.
But we’re not all about being young and pretty. We also know something that our august lawmakers forget every time there’s a political point to be made: It’s not enough to talk about being concerned for the next generation. You actually have to get up and do something constructive for our young people if you’re serious about securing the future.
That’s why we’ll also be raising the roof with an absolutely smashing number called "It Takes A Village," which creates sheer joy out of a cloud of bright sonic energy.
This is the real deal: Laughter, tears, community, song. Come and see us at Jordan Hall this weekend. After all -- "Now is the time to Seize the Day!"
Last but not least... would I even dream of leaving you without a YouTube preview of what audiences will see and hear on stage this weekend?
Of course not. For one thing, unless you live in the Boston area, you’re probably not going to catch us on stage. But you can find Schwartz’s "Testimony," and most of the songs from Ricky Ian Gordon’s song cycle, at Spotify (and, I’m willing to bet, other online music resources). They’re worth a listen. They’re worth turning into a playlist. Actually, I have turned them into a playlist at my Spotify account. I call the playlist "Harlem Night Songs."
Besides, the promotional video put together by Chorus singer and Board Member Izzy Berdan is just too much fun not to share with the widest readership possible. Have a gander!
Kilian Melloy is a Tenor 2 with the BGMC and a former board member. Tickets to "Seize the Day" on sale online. Performances of "Seize the Day" are scheduled for Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 24, at 3:;00 p.m. at Jordan Hall.