Ten years after its world premiere, “This House Shall Stand: Songs of My Family,” a choral song cycle inspired by the stories of South Florida LGBT families, will be performed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida (GMCSF).
The powerful song cycle, composed by Robert Seeley with lyrics by Robert Espindola, resulted from a conversation in Fort Lauderdale in 2006 during a Valuing Our Families conference hosted by SunServe.
Jim Lopresti, the founder of SunServe, was having coffee with Jeffrey Buhrman, a friend and then-artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. Buhrman expressed a desire to commission a new work and Lopresti suggested a work addressing the experiences of gay and lesbian families.
“The conference was an attempt to reclaim the term, ‘family,’ because we’re happy with our families the way they are,” recalled Lopresti. “Remember, this was a time when marriage equality wasn’t even on the horizon and gay adoption was an issue here in Florida.”
Lopresti drafted a concept paper, utilizing the real stories of LGBT families, and the chorus commissioned Seeley and his partner, Espindola, to create the work. Many of the experiences shared at that conference became the raw material, along with stories from across the country. The Washington chorus premiered the work at the Kennedy Center in 2007 and later performed it with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Fort Lauderdale two years later in South Florida.
Even after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality and sweeping civil rights advances, Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida artistic director Harold Dioquino said the work is more important than ever.
“It’s very powerful music,” said Dioquino, “and especially with this new (Trump) administration, we never expected it to be so relevant.”
Dioquino and his GMCSF creative team updated the presentation to include contemporary stories from many current chorus members.
The 150-member chorus will also be joined by Carbonell Award-winner Lindsey Corey, who will sing “The Man in My Father’s Life, a song about a daughter reacting to her dad’s new love. Dance Now! Miami, a new company, will interpret “Wall of Glass,” the moving story of two partners who are denied visitation during a hospital stay, and “Dance One More Time,” the song of a widower who asks his deceased husband for permission to pursue a new relationship.
The finale is “This House Shall Stand,” a defiant chorus Dioquino said captures the desires and tenacity of LGBT families to challenge the legal, religious and societal challenges to the legitimacy of their loving relationships.
Dioquino is particularly excited to perform for the first time in the new Lauderhill Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 24.
“The guys went there a couple of weeks to rehearse and see how we sound and were just amazed,” he said of the hall, also located in one of the county’s most diverse communities.
The program will be repeated on Sunday, March 25 in Fort Lauderdale at the United Church of Christ. Both performances will feature a small eight-piece orchestra, along with video messages from the composer and actress Sharon Gless, an inaugural recipient of the Valuing Our Families national award.
The occasion will be especially poignant, not only as the composer, Robert Seeley, is being presented a Valuing Our Families 10th anniversary award, but because his partner, Espindola, passed away just last year.
“We’re closing the loop,” said Lopresti, who noted that initial conversation 10 years ago ultimately resulted in an important anthem that continues to be heard across the country and around the world.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida will perform “We Are Family: A Musical Tribute to the Many Expressions of Family,” on Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m. at Lauderhill Performing Arts Center, 3800 NW 11th Place, and on Saturday, March 25 at 8 p.m. at United Church of Christ, 2501 NE 30th St. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $40 at GayMensChorusOfSouthFlorida.org.