Twin Cities queer music fans have long been making the Queer Music Consortium a success. The Consortium, made up of 5 individual GLBT music organizations in the metro area, traditionally performs the first Monday in June. While many fans will be disappointed to learn that scheduling conflicts with Como Park, there is no need to go without a queer music fix. The organizations that make up the Consortium have an exciting summer planned and invite everyone to enjoy the sweet sounds of music by and for the community.
Calliope Women’s Chorus
You may recognize Calliope Women’s Chorus from their flash mob at Pine City Pride last year, or maybe from MPR’s radio announcements of their participation in Harmony in the Park. If you haven’t heard of them, you’re going to want in on this feminist choir.
“We always have an eye toward addressing issues that impact women and opportunities to sing the work of women composers,” says Artistic Director Richard Carrick.
The chorus’ fall concert was ‘Universal Dream: For All Who Seek Dignity, Home, and Hope’ which included a variety of songs from other cultures and a focus on immigration issues. Their spring concert was just as powerful, titled ‘Revolutionary Women – Celebrating Women Who Change the World’ which included pieces about Harriet Tubman, Abigail Adams, Joan of Arc, Malala Yousafzai, strong mothers, and a variety of other women who have made waves. Both concerts included works by women composers including Abbie Betinis and Joan Szymko.
“Every concert includes social justice themes, be it marriage equality, gender equality, civil rights, immigration, etc.,” Carrick says. “The repertoire ranges in style, from early chant to popular music, and from classical to gospel. Each concert includes a variety of styles.”
Carrick continues, “Together, we can make meaningful changes in our world through the power of our voices. Our themes include hope, social justice, change, and equality. Our goal is to connect with people on multiple levels and really resonate with our audiences.”
Members range in age from college students to retirees, and include students, volunteers, professors, and those working in and around the Twin Cities in a variety of fields. As a women’s chorus, singers include women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, and straight.
“What brings us together is a shared passion for music and for social justice and our desire to bring about social change through the power of song,” Carrick says.
What began as a small group of women playing music together informally in 1976, has seen ebbs and flows over the years, shrinking to a handful of members just a few years ago. Since the new artistic director, Richard Carrick, joined three years ago, the chorus has grown a lot, both in numbers and in musical quality. As he says, Calliope is once again a choir that sings complex and interesting music with excellence and pride.
As the second oldest feminist chorus in the United States (celebrating their 40th anniversary this year), they certainly know how to have fun! From monthly potlucks before rehearsals to get to know each other and to socialize to informal post-rehearsal gatherings in celebration of birthdays, general merriment, holiday parties, post-concert parties, and support for member’s extra-curricular activities.
Auditions are as much for the potential singer to get to know Calliope as for Calliope to meet the singer. Women who are interested in auditioning bring a song to sing for the director and associate director. This can be any style and either a cappella or with piano accompaniment, and should be chosen to show the singer’s voice at its best. After that, there are some musical and pitch-matching exercises. Current members are there to share information about Calliope. The next auditions will be August 25 and anyone interested should email ([email protected] ) to set up an audition time or alternate date.
MPR’s Harmony in the Park
East Central Minnesota Pride
Twin Cities Pride
Jazz in the Vineyard
Minnesota Freedom Band
The Freedom Band has a long history as the only openly gay band in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Iowa (something they’re proud of). They have marched in every single Twin Cities Pride parade since the Pride festival started. It was Ashley Rukes that approach some community member to form a gay band to march in the parade. Thus, the Minnesota Freedom Band was born with 13-15 people marching in the Pride Parade in Minneapolis in 1982.
Summer 2015 offers a few more opportunities to see the band perform. The annual Pride concert at Lake Harriet Band Shell is the Minnesota Freedom Band’s closing concert for the season in terms of the concert band. The organization has a marching band that performs during the summer as well as a couple jazz band gigs. The Lake Harriet concert has been a staple for the group since the band started in 1982, performing music that they played throughout the season while adding a few new pieces to the mix. Fans should also note that the Freedom Jazz! Big Band is performing again at the Twin Cities Pride festival in the park on Sunday.
“Our Lake Harriet Band Shell Concert and TC Pride Jazz Band performance is more or less a highlight concert of music we performed for the given season,” says Eric Dollerschell-Petry, the band’s artistic director.
Looking forward to fall, the concert band will be doing a tribute to Glee in November. “We want a concert that the audience will recognize the music as well as pay homage to a television series that was entertaining as well as advocating for music education in our schools,” Dollerschell-Petry says.
The concert band has performed everything from Broadway, TV show themes, and standard band repertoire to new works by wind band composers, commission works, Latin music, polkas, folk tunes, jazz, rock, soul, funk, and R&B. As Dollerschell-Petry says, “Our likes and dislikes of music are somewhat subjective and not objective.”
Many of the ideas for music literature come from communication with other artistic directors in the Lesbian and Gay Band Association as well as being current with band works from publishers and other local band directors. For example, the band’s last spring concert in April featured music from openly gay and lesbian composers who write for wind bands.
For this concert, the band commissioned a new work from an openly gay composer. The work was about Edith (Edie) Windsor, the outspoken and dynamic advocate for same-sex marriage. In 2009, she filed a lawsuit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). “It was challenging, and yet, the music spoke to many of us in the band and the audience because of the roller-coaster political journey for our state to recognize same-sex marriage,” Dollerschell-Petry says.
Overall, there is a lot of research that goes into selecting music. Dollerschell-Petry spends many hours researching band works, score reading, balancing the band’s musicianship with the number of people in the ensemble, while trying to keep a good handle on balancing the difficulty level of the music. He says, “To me, the music should be enjoyed by the musicians performing the concert as well as the audience enjoying the finished product. The greatest joy of directing the concert band is seeing the excitement and joy when an individual member nails a part in a song or gets moved by the sonorous sound in individual work.”
The band is made up of people from all walks of life, ranging from lawyers and small business owners to philanthropists and individuals who work in large corporate companies. You’ll even find some college students, moms and dads, music teachers, people with music performance degrees, and people who want to come back to playing their instrument after a hiatus.
With a mission statement to be a GLBT organization that welcomes all musicians to its musical ensembles, the band is different from other GLBT music groups in Minnesota because they don’t have formal auditions. For many people just getting back into music, auditions can be intimidating, and the Freedom Band wants to be welcoming to others as well as make the band a safe space for people to enjoy music. The jazz band has an informal audition process, but as for the concert band and marching band, they do not hold auditions. As Artistic Director, Dollerschell-Petry does ask an individual’s background in music but anyone who is a little rusty doesn’t need to worry; there are some music teachers in the group as well who can give private lessons to help get a person to relearn their instrument.
“The membership of our band has been a challenge due to work changes, family, and other issues,” Dollerschell-Petry says. “But we manage, and it’s the natural ebb and flow of things.”
Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra
“We are generally excited to spend our first full season with our new conductor Alexander Platt,” says Joe Burling, marketing committee chair for the orchestra. Platt came on at the end of last season.
Although there is one concert left in summer, Burling is looking forward to November already for the children and families concert. “For our November concert, we love to give kids the opportunity to experience classical music in a space where they are free to wander around, dance, or clap along as we play,” he says. “And our November concert features two female composers born in the 20th century, which is a rarity for a modern-day orchestra program.”
The concert in question explores forms of water music, starting with one of the most famous by Handel. The Water Music was scored for a larger orchestra to be performed on a barge floating down the Thames River at the behest of King George I. You can almost imagine the baroque sounds wafting in the wind over the waves.
Kevin Ford, a gay man, founded the orchestra more than 20 years ago. “We are in a unique position of being the oldest orchestra serving the GLBTA community in the country,” Burling says.
As alluded to earlier, the orchestra performs classical music with a focus on highlighting the talents of GLBT, women, minority, and living composers. “We are an instrumental voice for the GLBTA community,” Burling says.
As part of its vision, the orchestra seeks to provide diverse arts entertainment of the highest quality, resulting in increased visibility for the musical talents of the GLBT community. This vision is reflected in the makeup of its performers. The orchestra is made up of a diverse group of musicians from across the Twin Cities who share a joy for playing and sharing classical music, welcoming gay and straight players alike to its ranks.
Of course, the orchestra is always looking for new players. Burling says the audition process is very informal and those interested in playing should contact the the orchestra via their website. This love for new members has allowed the small chamber music group to grow to a 50+ member full orchestra, and they only hope to grow even more. Burling says, “We have recently hired a new conductor, Alexander Platt, to help us continue to grow musically and better serve our musicians and the community.”
MPO at the Lake Harriet Bandshell
One Voice Mixed Chorus
Never one to shy away from a challenge, One Voice Mixed Chorus is taking on gender and gender-stereotypes in their next concert, Gender UnChecked. “The concert incorporates stories and spoken word featuring youth from Reclaim (a non-profit serving LGBT youth) and gender-bending, larger-than-life puppets which we used in our school concerts this spring,” says Artistic Director Jane Ramseyer Miller.
One Voice performs across the Twin Cities and each fall in Greater Minnesota. In addition to ticketed concerts, the chorus performs at community events, many middle and high schools, and in support of other GLBT organizations and causes. “We also make a point to perform at mainstream (aka ‘straight’) choral events,” Miller says, “because I believe it is important that everyday Minnesotans know who we are and experience our music.”
The chorus’ fall concert theme was “Eat, Drink & Be Married” honoring the people and organizations that have made same-sex marriage a reality in Minnesota. “I chose the theme for our Gender UnChecked concert over a year ago before I know that trans and gender-queer rights would be such a prominent issue publicly,” Miller says. “Great timing and so important in our community.”
In some ways Miller describes her programming as “choral theater.” In addition to incredible choral music (classical, folk-based, international, jazz-inspired, contemporary), One Voice concerts may have spoken poetry or stories woven between songs, video projection, audience sing-along, movement, and instrumentalists. She says, “I have a deep love of global music so you can bet that every concert will have some kind of international repertoire on the program.”
“You know, Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Choirs,” she continues. “So I consciously program in ways that are different from the ‘stand on risers and sing a few songs’ format. I pick a theme or topic that I feel speaks to our mission and that will also engage our audiences. I may have a few great pieces in mind that really inform the program initially. For a two-hour concert I will probably play through and consider over 250 pieces before selecting the final 18 that end up on the program. I grew up in a Mennonite community surrounded by a cappella four-part harmony. It is in my blood. The Mennonites also gave me a passion for peace and justice which plays significantly into my programming with One Voice.”
Back in 1988, One Voice initially welcomed gay men and lesbians, but the community soon broadened to include singers who identify as bisexual, trans, and gender-queer. The chorus doesn’t ask about anyone’s gender or sexual preference so Miller was surprised when they did a survey and discovered that 29 percent of the chorus identifies as straight. As she describes, One Voice is a welcoming, passionate community of people that care about GLBT rights and love to sing great music.
Their mission is “building community and creating social change by raising our voices in song” and anyone who shares that mission is welcome to join. With members as young as 16 and as old as 78, there truly are no limits.
In Miller’s 20 years as artistic director, she has seen the chorus grow and change tremendously, from 30 singers to 125 and the audience size is growing constantly (the chorus performed for just under 12,000 people last year). “I see singers who enter the chorus with very little musical experience end up performing solos, learning to read music, and dancing on stage!” she says. “I hope we continue to improve our musical excellence each year. Performing this year at the new Ordway Concert Hall is symbolic of how far we have come.”
For anyone wishing to join the chorus, “singer-friendly” auditions are held August 24 and 25, as well as auditions at their Pride booth. Singers need to match pitch and hold their own voice part in a group of 125 singers. “Of course, I need to keep the sections balanced so that limits how many I can accept in each voice part,” Miller says. “Right now we’re especially beefing up our bass section. So hey basses, give us a call and come out to One Voice!”
What will they tackle next? Following their Pride concert, One Voice encourages you to think American Idol meets Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (only with very gay showtunes) with the Twin Cities’ first Showtune Showdown at the Parkway Theater. One Voice has challenged The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and The Singers…and may the best chorus win!
For tickets and audition information, be sure to visit One Voice’s website or look them up on Facebook.
Twin Cities Pride
One Voice hosts “Showtune Showdown”
Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus
In addition to the three headliner concerts that audiences have come to love each year at Ted Mann Concert Hall, Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus also performs free outreach concerts all over the metro area and the state of Minnesota. In fact, June 7 sees the chorus performing for St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Roseville as part of a fundraising event for the international Episcopal Relief organization that provides emergency relief and aid projects for communities in need around the world.
“Almost all of our concerts are programmed around specific themes,” says Artistic Director Dr. Ben Riggs. “We have performed concerts featuring the music of bands like The Beatles and ABBA, concerts around themes like marriage equality and anti-bullying, and concerts presenting brand-new music commissions like ‘I Am Harvey Milk’ by Andrew Lippa.”
Fans of the chorus know that they aren’t tied down to any one genre. The chorus performs music of all types, from classic to contemporary, traditional choral music to new arrangements of popular songs. Riggs says the diverse audiences are drawn to the diversity in programming.
“The mission of TCGMC is ‘gay men building community through music,’” Riggs says. “Whether we are singing Beatles, Broadway, or more traditional choral music, we program and perform with the intention of touching people’s hearts and transforming people’s lives with our singing.”
In a group made up of gay men from all backgrounds and ages (from age 18 to 70), the numbers are always growing. In 35 years, the chorus has grown to 170 members and has continually raised their artistic standard with challenging repertoire and newly commissioned music. None of this growth would have been possible, Riggs says, without the generous support from the community and the chorus’ commitment to engaging the people of Minnesota through outreach and collaboration.
The number of members is sure to keep growing, as the chorus generally holds auditions two or three times a year at the beginning of the rehearsal period for each concert (September, January, and sometimes April). “We are always looking for experienced singers as potential new members for the Chorus,” Riggs says.
He continues, “People who aren’t familiar with us are surprised to learn two things: the number of singers in our group (currently at 170), and the fact that we have been around for 35 years.”
If you’ve never heard Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus perform, it’s time you came out. What better way than TCGMC’s Pride concert? To celebrate Pride and close the season, TCGMC will present Popular: A Broadway Cabaret. Join the chorus as they turn Ted Mann Concert Hall into a night club featuring soloists, musicians, and the men of the Chorus as they sing beloved songs old and new from Broadway favorites.
Popular: A Broadway Cabaret