They Sang to Me…and Stan Hill Directed Them

Photo by Paul Nixdorf
Photo by Paul Nixdorf

Photo by Paul Nixdorf

On July 31, Stan Hill will close the latest chapter of his life, as his 12-year-term as the Artistic Director of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus comes to an end.

“Believe it or not, it has kind of crept up on us,” Hill said from his office last month, as he was working on his final concert at the baton of the chorus. Those performances, titled They Sang to Me, will be presented June 22 and 23 as the organization’s annual Pride weekend concerts.

“Four years ago, when we were negotiating the contract, I added a paragraph that the contract would not be renewed and I would be moving on July 31, 2012. I had done this in San Francisco as well. It gives the chorus enough time to have a smooth transition and to find the right person to continue what you are trying to do,” Hill said.

Hill came to the TCGMC 12 years ago from a similar post in San Francisco. Over the past two decades plus, he has seen tremendous change in the music and perception of gay men’s vocal groups, from being a novelty to a serious exploration of musical possibilities of using just male voices.

After 12 years in San Francisco, Hill discovered a very different choral world in Minnesota. “In San Francisco, flaming-baton twirlers are more popular. Here, the chorus was appreciated more. There was a level of artistry that you don’t find in all community choruses,” he said.

“One of the things I believe strongly in is that if we don’t tell our story, who will? I believe in the commissioning of new music because it helps to educate our audience with a new experience,” Hill said. “If the music doesn’t have significance to the guys singing it, then why sing it? Relevance is important, and we want to take it one step further, to create empathy with the audience members, so they can say ‘I feel the same thing.’ The best way to do this is to find composers and lyricists who are in the movement and can give voice to what the chorus is doing.”

That means finding topics further out than just love, loss and acceptance. For example, there was “Through a Glass Darkly.” “It deals with meth addiction—a real toe-tapper subject for you. It broke down some stereotypes for people. I go to recovery places that have the DVD in their libraries, and I talk to people who say that it changed their lives,” Hill said.

For concerts, Hill uses the old advice for a marriage—something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

“There will be some chestnuts and standards the chorus has done over the years. There will also be three completely new commissions that no one has ever heard. For borrowed, if anybody has a piece of music out there, why not have the chorus sing it? And then there’s emotional content of the music, and to get the audience musically involved,” Hill said. “There will be an absolutely amazing and broad spectrum of music going on.”

Over the years, gay men’s choruses have evolved, from the novelty of seeing a queer choir to the AIDS-influenced programs of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, there’s a fresh energy, especially with ongoing political fights like the marriage amendment.

“There is a renaissance, and that’s reflected simply in that our membership has risen exponentionally. We are also seeing an increase in the number of young guys, 18 to 22, who are joining the chorus,” Hill said.

Come Aug. 1, Hill is looking to several options, including a move to Palm Springs, Calif., where he plans to work on his second novel and perform. There’s also a chorus in town. “I didn’t know in April 2000 that I would be in Minnesota. Leaving yourself open to surprises is always a good thing.”

Moving on is “always tough. I don’t know if it has completely soaked in yet. We are having one of the busiest concert production schedules we’ve had in years, so I haven’t had much time to reflect,” Hill said. “One of the first things I did in 2000 is say that I want to see programs going back 10 years. This morning, as I was gathering up the programs for the new guy coming on, I was reflecting on the past, and the dichotomy between how I love the moments and how putting it aside is heart wrenching, because it was so important.”

They Sang to Me
8 p.m. Friday, June 22 and Saturday, June 23
Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 Fourth Street South, Minneapolis

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