Ben Riggs came to town at the beginning of August to take up his mantle as Artistic Director of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. Now, on the eve of their Christmas concert, Our First Noel: A Holiday Homecoming, Riggs shares some thoughts on his new job, the Twin Cities, and the power of song.
How are you settling in to the Twin Cities? How do you find Minneapolis as a place to live and work?
The people of Minneapolis have been very welcoming! Although the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has kept me pretty busy the past three months, I’ve found time to begin sampling some of the incredible arts in the community—concerts, museums, theater—there’s something new and exciting around every corner.
You had a concert on election night – was there much jubilation at the winning of the NOs?
There was an incredible sense of accomplishment, relief, and powerful emotion. TCGMC has been singing out against the marriage amendment since long before I became Artistic Director — it was so exciting to be able to stand with the Chorus on Election Night at what became a victory party for marriage equality in Minnesota!
Our First Noel is on the horizon; can you tell our readers something about it – what special touches can concertgoers expect? What old favorites?
This holiday concert is all about welcoming people home for the holidays—an appropriate theme for my first performance as part of the Chorus family. We will be singing some fresh arrangements of old holiday favorites, “Silver Bells,” “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a rollicking gospel rendition of “Joy to the World.” The concert also features “The Prayer” and “Keep Your Lamps,” arrangements that were composed for TCGMC by two of our previous Artistic Directors, Stan Hill and Craig Carnahan. There will be a few surprises, as well!
Next year’s theme is “Family.” Would you speak to that – the importance of all families in creating a whole and healthy community?
Nothing upsets me more than having the word “family” used against our community. In actuality, “family” embodies our community. My partner and I are a family. The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus is a family. The TCGMC audience, donors, and sponsors are all a part of our family. This spring the Chorus will perform It Gets Amazing—a concert of encouragement for the younger members of our community who are dealing with the sometimes difficult experience of growing up feeling different. Then for Pride, We Are Family will celebrate our differences and what it means to be a part of the Chorus family.
The Chorus does a lot of outreach work throughout Minnesota. Do you think this played a part in the sea change we’re seeing toward gay people?
TCGMC has performed all over Minnesota in towns like Duluth, Bemidji, St. Cloud, Northfield, and Rochester. Every time the Chorus members stand together and sing in a community they inspire powerful change in the lives of those who are listening. I am so proud that the Chorus has played a part, along with the thousands of community members who made phone calls, knocked on doors, and had one-on-one conversations with their friends and family.
What special strengths do you feel you bring to the Chorus and the Twin Cities community?
I strive to be a leader who inspires diligence and excitement, who listens more than speaks, and who models respect and kindness. I believe the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus can be an example for the community of what it is to be a family.
What other news, other thoughts, would you offer Lavender readers?
If you haven’t been to a TCGMC concert, or it’s been a while, the upcoming holiday show Our First Noel is the perfect opportunity to get to know the Chorus. One of my favorite concert traditions is standing out in the lobby afterwards and personally thanking the audience members—I hope everyone reading will take a moment to introduce themselves to me at Our First Noel—after all, I’m new in town, and I could use a few new friends!
For more details about Our First Noel, visit www.tcgmc.org