On Monday February 8th 2016, the New York City Gay Men's Chorus was proud to return to Carnegie Hall after a 7 year absence, to sing as the guest star of Alan Cumming in his sell-out show, alongside Kristin Chenoweth and Rikki Lake. What an honor!
A really great day today at the cathedral of St John The Divine with the New York Choral Consortium, some of the top choral directors in the country. We are discussing the impact of the digital revolution on marketing, composition and licensing. I am rarely so immersed in classical music culture these days, and it is clear that YouTube, facebook, Twitter and Instagram are hugely changing the way people write, publish and market classical music. It's also clear that some people get it, and some completely don't ...
NYCGMC just performed 'Holdin' Out for a Hero' on Neil Patrick Harris's new prime time show 'Best Time Ever'. We sang the song with Bonnie Tyler, who was flown in from the UK, while NPH trampolined with circus experts and acrobats.
The sheer bravado of the concept and the precision of the technical crew was spectacular. During the 4 minute ad break before our segment, they had to strike the previous game show set which included pyrotechnics, install and make safe a giant trampoline and wall, move a choir onto stage with mikes, get Bonnie in position, change NPH into trampolining gear, and then simultaneously film the singing, the trampolining and an acrobat live.
I was proud of my vocal arrangement, but I was especially grateful for the professionalism and good humor of our guys. They learnt choreography, rehearsed vocals tirelessly, waited patiently for hours, endured much repetition, looked a million dollars, and in many cases took time off work to produce a super-tight result in less that 48 hours, soup to nuts.
A gig literally like no other, and let no-one say we can't embrace a challenge!
I had the privilege of watching Greg Chen's rehearsal with the Singapore Men's Chorus this evening. They sang a jazz arrangement of Waltzing Matilda and a piece in Hokkien called 'He sui si bo'. The spirit in the room was incredibly collaborative, good-humored and fun, and the quality of the singing was very high - the sound was beautiful, resonant and and light-toned. Keep up the great work, guys, and feel the love from your U.S. brothers and sisters in song!
What a pleasure this afternoon to rediscover the Symphonic Wind band repertoire, in the company of the uber-talented and enthusiastic Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps of NYC.
It's been at least ten years since I directed a wind band, and I can't think of a better way of spending a breezy Saturday afternoon on the High Line. My favorite was the Ticheli arrangement of Shenandoah, really gorgeous playing. Thanks to all those who came out in support!
"Interdisciplinary education can do wonders. Understanding and flexibility can do wonders. Yes, even money can do wonders. But the energy, the energy to put all these wonders into action – where does it come from? It will come from where it has always come from: it will come from the love of music, the sheer aesthetic delight in this most mysterious and rewarding of all the arts; from the sporting sense, the instinct for continuity, and the joyful and total dedication of ourselves to the art we have sworn to serve."
This is such a great reminder of why we do what we do as musicians. Two things drew me to this quote today.
First, the mystery. The rewards of music are so hard to describe. You just know the effect of music when you feel it, and to me it is an honor to be able to share that effect with others. In my ensemble, it is no exaggeration to say that music makes the singers whole.
Second, it is always good to be reminded that we serve the art. We ask ourselves perhaps what the song needs, not what we need to do with the song.
-Leonard Bernstein, The Future of the Symphony Orchestra (1980)
At a time when all kinds of freedoms seem under increasing threat, here are two very positive signs of international change in the LGBT world.
First, Cromatica 2015 is going to be the first ever LGBT choral festival in Italy, on the 30th and 31st May. Featuring what we think will be at least seven Italian choirs (who knew?) and based in Bologna, this is the first one of its kind. Still not as many as in Japan, of course!
Second, and more incredibly still, I saw yesterday this Buzzfeed article about the first gay wedding in India, all the more brave since being gay is illegal.
As it turns out, the two processes are in many ways the same.
The key insight for me is that in a performance, I do not sing or play a note. Instead, we conductors make strong and potentially transforming connections with our fellow musicians, which have personal and professional components. At NYCGMC, I facilitate and empower others to do the show, in a kind of extreme delegation process where the vision as all mine, but the implementation is literally all theirs.
Above all, I have to trust my singers and players. I show them the vision, demand a lot from them, and help them to understand what to do on a technical level as well as on an emotional one. But then, I have to give up control, to allow them to commit to their own performance. We support each other, and all of us lead, follow, evaluate, take initiative and contribute equally.
Last week, I saw this article by Shellie Karabell, which explains the process well, and applies what we do in the corporate context. And the parallel is also well documented by the amazing Ben Zander.
Music is especially amazing because it involves every type of human knowledge. It integrates, for example, feeling, understanding and doing into a single activity. While you are doing music, you are also doing math(s), languages, history and science. Musicians have to work in teams, be a soloists, lead, follow, collaborate, show empathy and connect with others, sometimes all in a single performance. And all of this is being expressed through the body, so musicians are engaging all of those physical skills too. When you sing a song or play an instrument, you are also expressing yourself, articulating who you are to others with great freedom, developing self-awareness, self-confidence, and at the same time showing self-discipline. For more, knowledge nerds can look up Blooms taxonomy.
My only problem with this video - why is the musician pictured a bass player?! :)
Exactly. The essence of teaching, its central skill, is the ability to find people where they are, and empower them through their learning.
And see my earlier post from a year or two back. Again, while seeing the immense value of classical music, I could not disagree with Malone more, and think that all musicians in public forums should have a healthy respect for music of all kinds.
I used to go to Club Kali in the late 1990s, for the incredible Bollywood-house fusion dance music. I also remember some of the bravest gay men I've ever met, and some amazing South Asian and South East Asian drag.
We are in the final run-up to NYCGMC's 2014 Holiday Spectacular 'Home for the Holidays'. Come and see us at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in NYC on Friday December 19th at 8pm, Saturday December 20th at 8pm and Sunday December 21st, matinee at 3pm. You can buy tickets here.
This is a great shot of us all working with the wonderful Carolee Carmello on 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. She can belt on a top 'F', and has the most amazing instrument!
The words 'it was an hono(u)r …' at the beginning of a sentence are much overused. But it really was very special to be invited to be part of Joan Rivers' funeral, and the worldwide publicity that has followed will do our movement and NYCGMC no harm at all. Also check out the Guardian The Blaze, USA Today, the Washington Post, People, CNN, the BBC.
Here I am with the chorus on 'Access Hollywood' yesterday morning.
What a great article about the value of singing,and especially the value of Big Gay Sing Dublin, which NYCGMC donated to the 'Yes' campaign of Irish Marriage Equality a couple of weeks back. Some nice quotes from moi too ...
As if completing our European tour was not enough, we returned to NYC last week to a request from Sia herself to sing 'Chandelier' at her MTV/LOGO 'Trailblazers' Pride performance.
I devised the vocal arrangement on the plane and we assembled 16 NYCGMC guys to be her back-up singers. When she heard us sing in the cathedral, she was clearly genuinely gob-smacked and became unexpectedly tearful as she introduced herself. I found myself saying 'Hi, I'm the Artistic Director, yes - honored to meet you ...', while giving her the big hug that her tears seemed to indicate she needed.
She never shows her face to the camera, so NYCGMC and Ryan were 'Sia' for the performance. It was clear from the precision of her instructions that the whole thing was her unique vision - the spectacular lighting, the semi-improvised dance by her choreographer, Ryan Heffington, the blonde wigs and golden robes - we had beamed ourselves up into the middle of a brilliant piece of conceptual art that was simultaneously pop music. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the original video:
It was a star-studded and extra-ordinary evening, an incredible and creative use of a cathedral and also great chorus exposure. With this, and 'The Normal Heart'. it's been quite a year.
One, two three, one two three, drink!
We didn't realize it before we arrived, but NYCGMC's performance at the US Embassy in London yesterday was the moment when the US diplomatic service in London pivoted massively towards full equality. The Ambassador's speech, the rainbow flags outside and our invitation itself were all part of a carefully choreographed high level event which changed the lives of all who work at the US Embassy for ever.
Which is what we do. Oh, and we sang really well too!
Our first tour stop was London, where we began with a joint rehearsal with the London Gay Men's Chorus.
My first impression of NYCGMC in 2005 was of how similar it was to LGMC, both in its values and goals, and also in the minutiae of its day to day workings. Having led LGMC and then moved to NYCGMC, I had a unique perspective on both choirs, and a strong hunch that the two groups would just mesh - two choirs separated at birth in different continents.
So it was truly amazing and very personally moving nearly 10 years later to be able to bring them together in the same room. The initial comment of Eugene, an NYCGMC Baritone, said it all, watching their choreography practice: 'They are US!'
An evening of amazing music-making last night! A packed cathedral, as all four choirs from the LGBTQ singing community of New York came together for the very first time in New York City history - Empire City Men's Chorus, Lavender Light and The Stonewall Chorale. It felt really great for NYCGMC to be able to curate a project like this, and I am grateful to all the choirs involved for their love and support. When the gays work together, the world really can change!
A job well done.
Last night, HBO screened Ryan Murphy's passionate and at times gut-wrenching movie version of 'The Normal Heart' by Larry Kramer, which includes a scene featuring the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. This is my arrangement.
The scene is a reconstruction of the first ever fundraiser for GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) at the Paradise Garage in April 1982. New York City Gay Men's Chorus sang at this early fund-raiser, and we were honored to be asked to participate in the movie alongside Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons, essentially playing ourselves. Glee-style, the chorus sings the whole of Gershwin's 'The Man I Love'. Below is a picture of Peter Criswell, our Executive Director, and I representing NYCGMC at HBO, for the cast and crew screening.
It was of course weird to see ourselves on screen, but the chorus looked amazing! It was also my first movie credit as an arranger. The movie is a very truthful, compelling and at times harrowing account of the early days of HIV/AIDS in New York, and left the audience with one of those deep silences after which you can't speak for a few minutes.
I'm so grateful to all the NYCGMC members for their faith in me, and for giving up their time to take part. We rock! Also to Scott Ferguson, who saw the potential in us. And of course to Peter Criswell, who made it happen, and could not be a more supportive colleague. We are a chorus founded to change the world through educating people about the lives and challenges gay men face through song. It could not be more apt that we were able to be a part of this important project. I am very proud.
I really loved the part in Mark Ruffalo's interview where he says his character Ned Weekes (representing Larry Kramer), though angry and confrontational, was in the end inspired by great love for his fellow man and in the end for America. Ruffalo certainly plays him that way, and that gives the whole movie an amazing humanity.
The film is a timely reminder of the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when prejudice, ignorance and the stigma of being gay led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. It also shows us how much has changed, historicizes that time (yes, 30 years ago), and highlights the fundamental changes in attitude which have taken place since then, both around the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDS itself. As such its message in many ways a positive one - those times are past.
See it if you get the chance!
— with Peter Criswell.
Singapore's Pink Dot campaign is so impressive. The emphasis on diversity of age and ethnicity, inter-generationality, inclusion of family, and simplicity are all so powerful and contemporary. There is no gay ghetto here, and Singapore is only at the very beginning of its journey.