"Music has an almost magical ability to touch people's hearts and allow them to hear messages their conscious mind might reject," said Robin L. Godfrey, general manager of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (aka GALA Choruses) of the organization's quarter-century of support for GLBT choral groups. That concept helps explain how GALA Choruses aim to, as their slogan proclaims, "change the world through song."
That change can come in a variety of fashions, explained Godfrey - "the change that occurs in a singer who finds the courage to stand on a stage and share their musical talents as an openly GLBT or supportive individual, the change that occurs in an audience member as their heart swells with pride for the community they belong to and the change that we pray occurs in someone who does not yet value our relationships and families as they hear us perform somewhere unexpected and are forced to see us as individuals rather than stereotypes."
This weekend, as part of the week-long Equality Forum 2007, GALA Choruses will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a concert at the Kimmel Center featuring three of its member groups: The Lollipop Guild of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the New York City Gay Men's Chorus, and Anna Crusis Women's Choir.
Though the New York Gay Men's Chorus celebrated its silver anniversary in 2005, it is the youngest of the three choruses on tonight's bill. The Philadelphia-based Anna Crusis Women's Choir, though a feminist choir rather than an explicitly lesbian one, was founded in 1975 and is widely credited as the beginning of the GLBT choral movement. "The ensemble," reads the choir's "herstory," being "the longest-running feminist choir in the nation, acts both as an agent of social change and a premier performing arts group."
Jacqueline Coren, Anna Crusis' artistic director (only the third in the chorus' 32 years), stressed the chorus' activist leanings, pointing to a scheduled concert in June focusing on environmental issues. But in terms of its membership and its message, Coren believes that Anna Crusis fits in perfectly with the Equality Forum.
"Feminism is an umbrella term," she said. "Anybody that you talk to will have a different definition of that. It includes different sexual orientations, but it's a broader idea of empowerment and women's issues and women's views. But within that is upholding the freedom to love and to move into your own gender and sexual identity."
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus has played an important role throughout GALA Choruses' history. The first chorus to include the word "gay" in its name, the SFGMC also became the first to tour in 1981, inspiring the formation of new choruses across the country. San Francisco was also the site for the First West Coast Choral Festival in 1982, the event that led directly to the formation of GALA Choruses.
The Lollipop Guild is one of several small ensembles carved out of the SFGMC, founded as a barbershop quartet in 1979. Over the ensuing years the ensemble has grown, currently numbering 15 members.
"I would tell an audience expect the unexpected, and to leave stereotypes behind," said Mark McClurg, secretary of GALA Choruses and a member of the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus since 1992. "Expect to have fun and feel a range of emotions through the music."
McClurg's description is certainly supported by the diverse repertoire promised for tonight's concert. The NYCGMC's program includes works by Aaron Copland and Franz Schubert; the SFGMC will perform Broadway show tunes and selections from a work entitled "Naked Man;" and Anna Crusis' repertoire ranges from traditional Zulu music to works from Croatia and a modern piece called "Cell Phone Madrigals." *
GALA Choruses concert, Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, 260 S. Broad St., 8 tonight, $20-$40, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.