Since the earliest days of the gay rights movement in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, music has played just as important role as Pride parades and protests. And, as the AIDS epidemic hit the community in the ‘80s, the sounds of gay and lesbian choruses soothed mourners and raised awareness. The hundreds of choruses that voiced the aspirations and angst of the LGBT community have sung in harmony for 30 years, led by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA).
The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, itself marking 27 years of music–making in South Florida, will celebrate GALA’s anniversary with a special concert June 7 and 8 at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale auditorium.
Founder and returning Artistic Director Dr. Gary Keating will conduct the 22-voice ensemble in a musical journey through history, highlighting many of the musical works commissioned and made famous by the member choruses of GALA.
The concert will include songs with political themes, including “Marry Us,” made popular by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus; classical choral composer Randall Thompson’s 1943 “Testament of Freedom,” performed by many GALA choruses; and “All Rights Reserved,” composed after the 1992 passage of the infamous anti-gay Amendment 2 in Colorado.
“When I started the chorus in 1986, it was the first major ‘out’ organization in Florida since Anita Bryant,” recalled Keating, noting the successful efforts of the former beauty queen to thwart gay rights in the 1970s. “We still have many fights to fight, but many have already been fought and won.”
Today, 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage and Colorado recently recognized domestic partnerships, yet, many states — including Florida — still have discriminatory laws on the books and attention is focused on the Supreme Court, awaiting a key decision on marriage equality that could have national implications.
The AIDS epidemic has also played key role in the growth of the GALA movement. Since the first reported deaths, many member choruses have sung at the memorial services of departed members. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus recently sent out a press release announcing the ensemble’s 2000th performance at a funeral.
“I’ve heard of people who were sick, moved to San Francisco and joined their chorus, only for the reason the chorus would be singing at their funerals one day,” Keating said, adding that in the first three years since its founding, his South Florida chorus sang at 41 services.
The gay chorus movement has also served other important functions for its musicians:
One of Keating’s singers used a performance as an opportunity to come out to his parents. The vocalist sent tickets to his parents and after the performance met his parents in the lobby, with Keating there for support.
“It really was a testament to the power of the music, the words, the performance,” the conductor said. “We have the power to change the hearts and minds of people.”
Keating promises the concert won’t be too serious, also drawing on popular music and some light hearted selections, too.
“The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus does camp very well,” he said. “I can’t give it all away, but we’re going to sing a spoof on Patsy Cline called, ‘Patze Klein’, that was written for the Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas.
The chorus will also reprise its own “Miami Medley,” featuring “Moon Over Miami,” “The Miami Beach Rhumba,” and, of course, “Where the Boys Are.”
Joining the men will be the ladies of the Fort Lauderdale Women’s Chorus, as well as alumni from the Gay Men’s Chorus.
If You Go
Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus
A GALA Old Time
Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of GALA Choruses
Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8, 8 p.m.
Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale Auditorium
1 Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Tickets $25-40 at TheFtLGMC.org or 954-832-0060