Sing Softly

I’ve mentioned before that I sing with a gay men’s chorus in New York called the Gay Gotham Chorus, as does Matt. A few weeks ago, our conductor was asked whether anyone in our group would like to sing Beethoven’s Mass in C at Carnegie Hall this Tuesday night. The chorale would consist mainly of a few college and high school choruses visiting New York from such places as Arkansas, South Carolina, and Alabama. See, there’s this organization that arranges for choruses to come to New York and sing at Carnegie Hall, the choruses pay the organization to arrange the concert and handle all the details.

Matt and I had never sung at Carnegie Hall before, so we both volunteered to do it. Today we had our first rehearsal, four hours long, and tomorrow we have another one, and then Tuesday night is the concert.

Now it turns out that the concert manager for the organization running the event was my men’s glee club conductor back in college. I didn’t come out until after college, so he never knew I was gay. But now he’d obviously know, since my current conductor gave him the list of people from our chorus who’d be singing. I was glad that he’d finally know that I’m gay. He’s not gay himself, but he was something of a mentor to me back in college, so I’ve wanted him to know this important thing about me.

I called him yesterday to briefly say hi. Then today, when Matt and I and the two other volunteers from our chorus showed up at the rehearsal, he came over to me and gave me a big hug. He couldn’t care in the slightest that I’m gay, of course. After he said hi, he went back to take care of managerial duties.

About 15 minutes later, while people were still arriving, he came back over and said there was a little problem and asked if he could talk to me. So I went over to talk to him and another of the organizers.

It turned out that one of the participating choruses – the centerpiece of the program, in fact – was this women’s choir from a conservative Baptist college in Alabama. Because of this, my former conductor and the other organizer were nervous about introducing us four guys as “members of the Gay Gotham Chorus.” So he asked if it was okay to introduce us as members of the “Gotham Chorus” instead, and they both apologized profusely. I said sure, no problem. It really made no difference to me.

Afterwards, of course, I fantasized about making a big symbolic statement out of our presence. Perhaps we could refer to ourselves as members of the Gotham Sodomite Chorus.

I mean, sure, this conservative southern Baptist college women’s choir paid to come to New York and sing at Carnegie Hall. God forbid they might have to sing with four ringers from a self-identified gay men’s chorus in their midst. Avowed homosexual singers!

Of course, maybe they wouldn’t have cared. The concern was raised by my former conductor and the other organizer, not the women themselves, who remained innocently unaware of the homos in their presence.

It’s ironic that these women would come to New York only to be shielded from the gays. I mean, it’s our fucking city, and we exist, dammit. They should have to deal with it.

But this is a company that makes its money by bringing choirs to New York. There are sensitive political matters and such.

So we can sing loud – as long as we keep our mouths shut.

18 thoughts on “Sing Softly

  1. Tin Man, I don’t mean to bust your balls over this, but there is no way in Hell that you, Matt, and your other colleagues should be made to feel that you have to hide who you are in an attempt to accomodate these visitors to our city.

    Of course, you don’t need to walk into every rehearsal chanting “We’re Here, we’re queer, get used to it,” but there a big difference between that and CHANGING THE NAME OF THE ORGANIZATION THAT YOU REPRESENT in some attempt at appeasement.

    If these women are that afraid of gays, they are welcome to stay home in there little towns in their own little worlds where the gays are still too afraid to be honest about who they are. But if they want to come here, they need to deal with us…not have us deal with them.

    You’re mentor is envisioning a scenario in which these woman are uncomfortable, perhaps enough so that they walk out of the experience. But I propose an alternate one: What if these women experience working with out gay people for the very first time in their lives. And they realize that gays are people just like them and take this knowledge back to their small communities and, when some piece of legislation comes up or some friend or neighbour starts spouting ugly ideology, they might think of the gay men they met in New York and not just stand by and idly follow the party line of hate.

  2. How does that guy even know the women will be upset? Do the women from the Baptist college expect/think that the city will be de-gayified while they are there? You need to go to the conductor and tell him you are the Gay Gotham Chorus, to change the name is disrespectful to both you, your fellow members, and to other groups. You aren’t asking that the Baptist group remove “Baptist” from their name, although many people don’t like Baptists or their beliefs.

    Of course it is easy for me to type this, but I think hiding the fact that you are a gay choral group in the year 2005 is a bad thing.

    Whatever happens, good luck in your performance.

  3. Hey, it’s absolutely your decision to make, weighing the specific circumstances. So not sure you really need a bunch of people busting your chops on this one. What’s intriguing is how you put forth sensible reasons for the decision you made at the moment, and then offer sensible reasons to rationalize your stewing (in silence). So what’s it gonna be, guy?

    Even if *you* decide you made a mistake, it’ll just have been one in a line extending back to your former conductor and the organizer who put you on the spot, to whoever voluntarily invited the Gay Gotham Chorus in the first place, and then encompassing a fair amount of recorded human history before that. But the “it’s our city” argument? Isn’t that compelling, counselor. Or will the Gay Gotham Chorus be singing at St. Pat’s, or in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, any time soon? How about at a same-sex marriage on the steps of City Hall?

    On a continuum stretching roughly from Egypt to the Netherlands, NYC may fall uncomfortably closer to the South than SFC, or VT. “The best city in the world” has still got some work to do, is all I’m sayin’. Carnegie Hall, though, different story. Be even more poetic if the concert were at Lincoln Center, or Radio City, or if “Boy From Oz” were still open, or…

    Anyway, wouldn’t assume all Baptists think alike, or that co-eds are as conservative as the schools they happen to attend. I’ve heard Baptists leave a fair amount to individual conscience, compared to some Christian denominations. Wait a sec — isn’t there some Baptist who set up an office in Harlem or something?

    More importantly, who pays attention to a concert program anyway? Perhaps at the after-party, you and Matt should introduce yourselves to these women, tell them your “funny story” about all the “chivalrous” activity that went on behind their backs, and spend some time discussing your mutual enjoyment of singing liturgical music.

  4. Potential Simple Solution: Now that you agreed to compromise your identity to protect the precious innocence of some Baptist girls, just go ahead and give the best performance that you can. Then, after the concert, casually walk hand in hand with Matt until the Baptists can see, and then give each other a big hug and kiss. Then walk away as if nothing happened. If they’re unable to accept that gay men (and lesbians) are ordinary people just like them who do ordinary things like singing Beethoven that’s their problem, not yours.

    And best of luck (or “broken legs” as appropriate) with the performance.

  5. Well, don’t beat yourself up about it. We all make choices about when it’s important to come out.

    That said, I think Tuesday night when the concert is over, it would be a fine time to kiss Matt in celebration. Say, right there in front of some Baptists. They probably won’t even care, and they’ll have a fabulous story to tell when they get home.

  6. Let me just say that after spending 8 hours in rehearsal with these brats, I have no problem with the omission of the full name of our chorus (which would have outed us). It just wouldn’t be worth the drama or headache. We haven’t wanted much to interact with them and are looking forward to getting this stupid concert over and done with.

  7. Yeah, it’s such a minor thing.

    Rosa should’ve just gone with the flow, saved herself all the drama, and realized a seat in the back-vs-front is, in the big scheme of social-progress, minor and fairly silly — and certainly not worth all the hassle. It’s best to be sensible than sensational.

    Go ahead… you just sit your gay behind in the back of the bus.

    Not me.

  8. Tim, sorry the trackback didn’t work…

    And for the record, I’d like everyone to know that my college glee club conductor was also Tim’s college glee club conductor. :)

  9. I think it makes a difference if your organisation’s name is “Gay Gotham Chorus” or not. If it is, it seems rediculous that you would have to change the name for a performace just to make someone else feel comfortable. Personally I would feel uncomfortable with hearing my organisation’s name mispronounced on purpose and even moreso for this purpose.

  10. It is not fair to chastise the Tin Man for what he did or didn’t do.

    The oddest thing about this “incident” is why skittish (if not homophobic) professional concert organizers invited the adult Gay Gotham Chorus in the first place. According to the company’s website, the concert had two college and seven high school choruses. While three were from the South, one was from New York, two from New Jersey, and three from Minnesota. In red and blue states, officials are wary of any controversy that could potentially offend parents. As he stated, it’s unlikely any of the choruses knew the “Gotham Chorus” men are gay.

    Another factor which may have influenced the organizers’ actions was that part of the concert was a Black History Month tribute with American spiritual songs. It is possible they were concerned about the sexual sensibilities of blacks and Christians.

    It is unfair to compare the Tin Man to Rosa Parks. What happened to him at Carnegie Hall has nothing in common with what occurred in Montgomery. Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist, who had previously been removed from other buses for refusing to give up her seat. She knew civil rights leaders had planned a bus boycott and were waiting for the right time to start it. Ms. Parks did not act spontaneously that day. She was not sitting in the front of the bus; she was in the first row of the “colored section,” which was still in the back of the bus.

    The Tin Man was center stage at Carnegie Hall. With no forewarnings, he was thrust into a last minute situation, which necessitated an instantaneous reaction with no confirmable community support. While it is easy to look at what happened in our omnipotent retrospectoscopes, it is always hard when we have to spontaneously act. The Tin Man did not deny his sexuality or fail to do his part in advancing gay rights. He did what he went to Carnegie Hall to do: sing.

    It is interesting the Tin Man was singled out by his old glee club conductor. Perhaps he was the designated group leader, but it seems as if it was his mentor’s way of apologizing for the decision of the organization, while saying he accepts the Tin Man for who he is. The conductor could have easily announced the altered name to the audience without telling the Tin Man or the GGC and if questioned later attributed it to a slip of the tongue. Unlike the other choruses, it doesn’t seem they were on the written program.

    While it’s unlikely concert-goers googled the “Gotham Chorus” after the performance to learn more about them, if they do, they would easily discover the group’s complete name.

    Regrettably, it seems the two GREATEST things that happened may be getting overlooked. The Tin Man let a man who he admires know him more fully by coming out to him. (Bravo!) And, he and his boyfriend sang at Carnegie Hall. Carnegie Hall!!! That is sooo freakin’ fantastic! It’s every musician’s dream come true. Well, perhaps not everyone’s, but what Jeff and Matt did was to achieve something truly AWESOME ! (Color me green.)

  11. I also sing with the GGC in New York, and I participated in a similar event at Carnegie Hall 2 years ago doing exactly the same piece. The GGC was a part of a bigger group of singers which primarily consisted of choral groups from the ‘red’ states and various christian organizations.

    We were announced as the Gay Gotham Chorus to other singers, and you could see that some of them were visibly shaken by that fact, and they did not seem to be to comfortable with the idea that they would have to be around so many homos for 3 days in a row. However, there were no signs of disrespect towards any of us, and after 3 days of rehearsals various singing groups became more integrated, and we actually developed friendly relations with all of them, including those people who probably originally thought that we should burn in hell.

    In my opinion, a lot of problems with the recognition of gay issues in the US are partly due to radicalization of gay movement – everything has to be a fight, a struggle, a molotoff cocktail party, and it is us against them. It was true back in 1969, but I would hope that social progress moves forward, and that the ‘fight’ theme should have become a collaboraton and negotiation theme.

    To cut the long story short, I don’t think there would have been too much trouble if your conductor ‘outed’ you to the christians. It would have been a good thing as it could create an opportunity to establish a dialogue with those people, and change their perception of us as plain perverts. Isolating ourselves from the rest of the mankind is not going to help to address homophobia, etc. The cause of homophobia is lack of interaction between gays and heterosexuals in a day-to-day environment. Too bad your Baptist women did not know you were gay – you could have made the world a better place!

  12. After reading Jeff’s blog, I was a little upset so I decided to write a comment just to vent out my anger. I do not know what I would have done at a similar circumstance because I am not a confrontational type, maybe I would have walked out since I was just there to volunteer my time.
    First of all I am there to represent a gay organization such as the chorus and to blatantly be told that they would not recognize me for who I am? because of women who have different religious beliefs, that is just plainly wrong. And for knowing that it is wrong to discriminate and not do anything about it, that just angers me.We should not tolerate the intolerance!

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