Just when life seems to return to normal, the pandemic rebounds unpredictably.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida (GMCSF) experienced just that in December.

Gabe Salazar, the new artistic director, had just completed his inaugural concert at the Sunshine Cathedral before several COVID-19 diagnoses among the chorus forced the cancellation of a second, larger production with recording artist Deborah Cox at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.

More than 1,300 ticketholders were notified, but none were more disappointed than the men of the chorus and their conductor.

Salazar, who was selected following a nationwide search, had been looking forward to the opportunity to finally gather the members and lead them in song. The Texas native had conducted choirs and taught in Arizona, Tennessee, Illinois and California, but relocated to Florida and recently joined GMCSF as a singer when the position was announced.

His experience performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus and teaching at the high school and university levels prepared him for the position and, despite the disappointment this winter, he has big plans for the GMCSF.

“It’s similar, but with students you have to be stricter and more forceful in your expectations. These guys voluntarily give up so much of their time to be in the chorus, I have to approach it differently. I’m grateful for their dedication and energy,” he said. “Everyone is craving live performances and being together again. They’re so excited to sing again.”

With the holidays behind him, Salazar’s priorities include expanding the GMCSF performance schedule beyond Broward County (“We’re the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, not just Fort Lauderdale or Wilton Manors.”) and he hopes to establish a chorus program for LGBT and allied youth.

“I’d like to see the chorus grow. I’d love to see us go on some sort of tour, maybe Carnegie Hall,” he said. “There are lots of big dreams, but nothing that’s beyond our reach, considering our leadership team, our board members and our singers.”

He’s especially passionate about the opportunity to support other LGBT people in their life journeys.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that I used to weigh 600 lbs. I lost it all by healthy eating. Health and fitness are very important to me,” Salazar explained. “I came out late in life. I was an emotional eater. By living my true self, I was able to be motivated and shed the pounds.”

One of eight children himself, Salazar is also a devoted father to an 8-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles with his mother. He travels to California frequently to spend time with his son.

For now, Salazar’s grateful for the support he’s received so far and the resilience of his singers and the chorus organization.

“It’s been a whirlwind in the best kind of way, fun and exciting. And the guys have been so receptive to me and my vision for the chorus, offering nothing but support and encouragement along the way,” he said, noting if COVID-19 strikes again, the GMCSF will be ready.

Gabe Salazar and the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida will present “Driven by Jazz” on March 25 at 8 p.m. at the Parker in Fort Lauderdale. For more information and tickets, go to GMCSF.org.


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