“Upscale Sound” – In Its 42nd Year, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus Continues to Build 

Photo courtesy of TCGMC
Photo courtesy of TCGMC

When Krystle Carrington battled Alexis Colby for fun and profit, when Lady Diana Spencer became a Princess and an icon, when a block-shaped, mass-produced plastic rainbow baffled and delighted the entire planet, it began.  Its complexion would change constantly with the constantly changing times, but, in spite of those changes, the purpose of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has remained the same: “Gay Men Building Community Through Music.”

The first implementation of this purpose was its grimmest. “Initially, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus sang for many AIDS-related funerals and memorial services,” recounts TCGMC artistic director Doctor Gerald Gurss. “The chorus became a life raft for getting some of the gay community through the AIDS crisis.”

Oh, yeah—that. In addition to being the days of Krystle versus Alexis and the freshly-minted Princess Icon and the baffling rainbow block, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus began its existence, not coincidentally, as the HIV virus, intractable and untreatable, tore through the gay community worldwide, propelled by wave after deadly wave of ignorance and apathy, terror and blame.

During its first decade of existence, therefore, the TCGMC made a point of leaving off the G. “An effort to protect the singing membership was one of the reasons ‘Gay’ wasn’t in the name in 1981,” TCGMC Executive Director Kevin Stocks remembers.  Adds Gurss, “Many singers at that time did not want their names printed in concert programs or chorus-related materials for fear of losing their jobs or being outed to their employers, churches, and families.”

Photo courtesy of TCGMC

Of course, it’s hard to build community through music or manhood or anything else when that community is veiled in figurative shadow.  “Society couldn’t change without visibility,” Stocks insists. “It was important for people to know another gay person in order to change previously held views. It’s harder to hate what you know and can relate to.”

In 1991, the group added one key syllable to its name—the G-word–and in so doing brought representation to one of society’s most underrepresented (literal) voices. “As the political environment seemed to become more receptive to gay people, the need to tell our truth emerged,” says Gurss. “Progress is not made in the closet.”

Under its new, representy banner, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus furthered its purpose as that first decade turned into its second, then its third, then its fourth. That purpose persists today, adjusted to the current times.  “In 2022, TCGMC has broadened its focus to advocate for many different underrepresented voices in need of social justice,” Gurss observes. “Recent advocacy concerts have explored gender identity, race, HIV stigma, the sexual abuse of women, and substance abuse.”

That broadened advocacy will be on full display when the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus launches its forty-second season with “Prance?”, (“The story of Santa’s reindeer from Prancer’s perspective,” according tcgmc.org), “unSEEN” (“Exploring intersections with neurodiversity, mental health, and queer identity”), and the precisely titled “and IIIIIIII…” (“The music of Whitney Houston. Need we say more?”) which span the coming winter, spring, and summer.

The responsibility of inserting a new yellow brick into a heritage that’s over forty years old is not lost on the Executive Director. “I do feel pressure to be one of the caretakers of an institution such as TCGMC,” Stocks admits. “It’s a rich history and an important legacy.”

Photo courtesy of TCGMC

Then again, such a legacy ensures…well, sureness. Proclaims Gurss, “I feel a sense of security working with a well-established organization whose members have decided they love the organization enough to sing and contribute their resources to the community for forty-two years.” 

That long love invites reflection. “The advantage of the history is knowing what has been successful and also examining what has not so you can make better decisions moving forward,” Gurss assures. “Building a group from the ground up would be much more intimidating.”

Ensuring the continuation of this legacy means, paradoxically, being mindful of the here and the now. “In order to be relevant for another forty-plus years, it’s imperative to adapt with the times and to be constantly questioning what and how we do things,” Stocks says. “The pandemic forced that upon us, and that’s one of the things for which I’m grateful.”

Over the seasons and the reasons, the TCGMC has built community, within the demographic of “gay men”…and beyond. Notes Gruss, “Our work is not only done on stage, but also through engagement singing in the community and through video collaborations with various community partners such as Pride Institute, Veterans Association, Sexual Assault Survivors Memorial, Clare Housing, and Aliveness Project, to name a few.”

Its complexion has changed constantly with the constantly changing times, but, in spite of those changes, the purpose of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has remained the same: “Gay Men Building Community Through Music.” Its current Artistic Director, however, is determined not just to build community–he’s determined to improve it as it’s built. Affirms Gerald Gurss, “I work to define our best selves.”

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www.tcgmc.org/2022/06/28/season-42-tickets

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