This month, the global LGBT community has and will celebrate the 50thanniversary of the seminal June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots in a variety of ways: marches and rallies, festivals and parties, lectures, exhibitions and concerts.
In South Florida, the three largest gay men’s choruses united for the first time last weekend in Lauderhill and Coral Gables to present the regional premiere of a newly commissioned cantata, “Quiet No More,” also performed in 17 other cities.
It was truly a historic occasion as the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida (GMCSF), Miami Gay Men’s Chorus (MGMC) and Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus (FLGMC) took the stage before an enthusiastic audience of nearly 1,000 at the sparkling Lauderhill Performing Arts Center.
But, the loudest cheers were yet to come.
In addition to the sonorous history lesson, the performance was a long-awaited breakthrough in the healing process between the South Florida and Fort Lauderdale choruses. GMCSF was formed a decade ago after a split over administrative and artistic differences with the former board and conductor of FLGMC. Both groups are now under new leadership and thriving and, as GMCSF artistic director Harold Dioquino announced from the stage, their bonds now outweigh their conflicts.
“Quiet No More,” commissioned by the Gay Men’s Choruses of New York City and Los Angeles, and co-commissioned by GMCSF and 21 other groups across the country, is an unusually eclectic work, eight movements composed by six different composers whose work spans equally diverse styles and techniques.
Together, the movements and interspersed first-person narratives tell the story of Stonewall — before, during and after. Michael Shaieb’s “Prologue: It Was the Day” and “The Only Place You Can Dance” set the scene of a tense, underground LGBT existence in Greenwich Village living with the constant threat of police raids. His movements evoke that scene with hi-hat and dance rhythms. Our Lady J (“Transparent,” “Pose”) describes the patrons of the bar — mostly drag queens and transgender women — who would finally have their resolve tested and rise up in “Glorious Beauties.” “Gotta Get Down to Downtown,” again by Shaieb, is a choral tone poem that utilizes modern techniques to create an ethereal telling of the chilling riots that break out.
Ann Hampton Callaway, jazz artist and beloved singer of the theme from TV’s “The Nanny,” contributed a touching ballad, “What if Truth is All We Have?” and Jane Ramseyer Miller’s anthem, “Speak Out!” concludes the work with a rousing charge to remember those unexpected activists and continue their fight.
Each of the three chorus conductors took individual movements and led the singers and six-piece band. MGMC’s Anthony Cabrera took the high-energy, disco-infused movements, while FLGMC’s founder Dr. Gary Keating chose the lush ballads in between and GMCSF’s Dioquino deftly tackled the most technically demanding movements. The music was punctuated throughout with powerful archival images that — 50 years later—made the struggle of those drag queens, transgender people and street kids all the more personal to an audience that largely came of age in the decades after.
Keating used a poignant moment at the microphone to describe gay life in South Florida in the years following the riots and how an encounter in New York City inspired him to form the first chorus in the region in the mid-1980s.
Ultimately, it was the concert encore, “Over the Rainbow,” the LGBT anthem made famous by the iconic Judy Garland, that finally brought many in the audience to tears. The soaring melodies and rich harmonies of Harold Arlen’s classic song were a reminder to all that the LGBT movement has come far in 50 years, but there is still much work to be accomplished.