Thirty Miles and Worlds Apart

It’s Monday night and the 170 singers of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus have gathered on an unseasonably cool Hillcrest evening to rehearse for its upcoming Broadway Now show. There’s singing,
dancing and even a TV news crew stopping by to film the group for an upcoming segment.

Just 30 miles to the south, across the border and alongside Camino a Valle Redondo in Tijuana, the evening sun casts its rays on an entirely different scene at Albergue Las Memorias, the clinic serving as Tijuana’s de facto AIDS hospice. Some of the region’s most seriously ill people call this sparsely furnished, cinder-block constructed building their home.

Although seemingly worlds apart, the two communities have come together as part of the Chorus’ Outreach Partner program which seeks to raise awareness of people and groups doing extraordinary good in our community.

“We’ve all seen the devastation brought on by AIDS. Mix it with poverty, homelessness and addiction and it’s a powder keg waiting to explode,” said Executive Director Bob Lehman. “What this clinic is doing is just short of a miracle.”

Residents are people who have lived on the streets for a good part of their lives. The clinic provides them with food, clothes, a bed to sleep in, transportation to and from doctor’s offices and the medication they need for HIV and other illnesses. This is a “working together” community. There is no nurse or doctor on site here. It’s just the residents taking care of each other.

“I’ve seen people be nearly dead and today I see them walking around and being part of the community and being so grateful for Las Memorias,” said Reverend Jerri Handy, a missionary who works at the clinic. “The love softens hearts and changes lives.”

Members of the Chorus and the community will be collecting “wish list” items for the clinic in the weeks leading up to the April 22 & 23 Broadway Now show dates. Items needed include cleaning supplies, personal care items and over-the-counter medical and wound care supplies. Anyone wishing to donate items may drop them off during Chorus rehearsal on Monday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. at the University Christian Church at 3900 Cleveland Avenue in Hillcrest.


“Over the Rainbow”

[Editor’s Note: The next few blogs will concentrate on songs chosen for our upcoming Americana concert. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana today, Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.]

“Over the Rainbow”
1939

Few 17-year-old girls could belt out a ballad like Judy Garland. So it was sheer Hollywood magic when she donned her gingham blue apron dress for The Wizard of Oz and imagined life “Over the Rainbow” where troubles melt like lemon drops. Composed by Harold Arlen (“Get Happy,” “Stormy Weather”) with lyrics by E.Y Harburg (“April in Paris”), the song’s wistful longing and swelling chorus has earned it the number one spot on the “Songs of the Century” chart compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. It also won the Academy Award for best song, although The Wizard of Oz lost for best picture to Gone with the Wind.

Starting around World War II, the song became interwoven with the culture of the emerging gay community with “friends of Dorothy” coming together to find that place where bluebirds fly. Today, “Over the Rainbow” remains an anthem of the LGBT community, most recently sung by the Chorus during the massive vigils following the murder of 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando.


“Shenadoah”

[Editor’s Note: The next few blogs will concentrate on songs chosen for our upcoming Americana concert. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.]

“Shenandoah”

Although its exact origins are held secret by the 1800s fur traders and explorers who first sang this dramatically flowing American folk shanty, the earliest lyrics tell the simple tale of a man who fell in love. As often happened with these brave yet lonely pioneers, their attentions were drawn to Native Americans—and in the case of this song, to the daughter of Chief Shenandoah. “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter,” the explorer proclaims!

American and Canadian explorers were a rough-hewn crowd, but enjoyed reputations as melodic singers as they navigated the great waterways on their lengthy journeys. From the bows of their canoes, boats and ships, the musical storytelling spread among early American voyagers traversing the country’s great rivers. The Missouri River, portrayed in the original verses as the “rolling river” gives rise to the song also becoming known as “Across the Wide Missouri.”

Artwork: Boatmen on the Missouri c. 1846



“I Bought Me a Cat”

[Editor’s Note: The next few blogs will concentrate on songs chosen for our upcoming Americana concert. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.]

“This is the music so embraced generation after generation that it’s become part of our musical consciousness. We grew up hearing these songs-as did our fathers and their fathers before them,” said Artistic Director RC Haus. “The words, notes, rhythms and melodies speak to us of pioneers, cowboys and everyday people exploring the wide open spaces of a new land.”

“I Bought Me a Cat”
Old American Songs Collection
By Aaron Copland (shown here at the piano with a handsome Leonard Bernstein by his side, circa 1940)

The most modern masterwork featured in our Americana concert is composer Aaron Copland’s whimsical children’s song “I Bought Me a Cat”—a far, yet fanciful cry from Copland’s landmark masterworks, the lyrical “Appalachian Spring” and the majestic “Fanfare for the Common Man.” This feline farce affords the opportunity for the singers and accompanist alike to impersonate various barnyard animals like the cat, duck, goose, hen, pig, horse and cow.

British composer Benjamin Britten originally asked Copland to arrange this song as part of a set of American folk tunes for his Music and Art Festival in Aldeburgh, England. Copland wrote five songs for male soloist and piano for the occasion as part of his Old American Songs collection written in 1950 which premiered in June of that year. In 1951, the song made its American premiere with Copland himself at the piano.

Just as fascinating as the song was the man himself–one of the few men of his time and stature to live openly with several romances involving other men in the arts. Before passing away in 1990, Copland was often called the “Dean of American Composers” because of his distinctly American style of composition. So it was ironic that he fell victim to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s rabid investigation of Communists and their sympathizers during the 1950s. Because of the investigation, Copland found himself blacklisted and his name was included on an FBI list of 151 artists thought to have Communist associations. However, his career and reputation as a master survived.



Heavenly Music with Pipes of Gold

[Editor’s Note: The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus has been selected as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series 2017 of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego (First Church). SDGMC’s masterworks Chamber Chorale will present the final performance of the ensemble’s popular Americana: Traditional American Masterworks concert on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. featuring classics ranging from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “Amazing Grace.” Tickets are available at SDGMC.org.]

Step inside Mission Valley’s First Church sanctuary and one of the first things you’ll notice are the golden organ pipes towering above the pews as if reaching past the firmament to find Heaven. On any given Sunday, the powerful bursts of musical acclaim fill every arch and spire of the room’s modern architecture. Although the Chorus won’t be using the organ in this performance, its presence alone represents a history as deep and inspiring as the traditional American masterworks being performed.

In 1929, First Church dedicated its new 27-rank, three-manual Pilcher organ which included 1,877 pipes with harp and chimes. For decades, the organ’s brilliant pipes sang to the pious and passersby alike around 9th and C Streets in downtown San Diego. However, the organ’s call to glory came to an end when the church moved to Mission Valley in 1964 and the Pilcher organ was placed in storage.

In 1971, under the curation of the noted organist Lyle W. Blackinton, the former downtown organ was removed from storage and refurbished and enlarged to 41 ranks, with 2,450 pipes, chimes and harp. Soon thereafter, Blackinton gained fame as the curator of the Spreckels Organ Pavilion organ in Balboa Park, a position he has held for more than 40 years and continues as such today.

In keeping with the church’s history of wonderful organ music, in 1985 a committee began to implement a vision for making the organ even grander. In 1986, First Church again turned to Blackinton and signed a contract with his company L. W. Blackinton & Associates to redesign and expand the instrument, provide slider chests throughout, a four-manual console and 54 new ranks. The completed instrument was dedicated on January 22, 1989, with a total of 107 ranks and 6,042 pipes.

In 2010, an eight-foot Festival Trumpet was  added, bringing the organ to 108 ranks and 6,092 pipes in nine divisions. The specification includes three 32-foot ranks, of which the Principal and the Bombarde are full length. The organ stands as San Diego County’s largest. To find out all the details of this San Diego jewel visit the American Guild of Organists website.


SDGMC Chamber Chorale Presents AMERICANA: An Evening of Traditional American Masterworks

From purple mountain majesties to buffalo roaming the plain, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.

“This is the music so embraced generation after generation that it’s become part of our musical consciousness. We grew up hearing these songs-as did our fathers and their fathers before them,” said Artistic Director RC Haus. “The words, notes, rhythms and melodies speak to us of pioneers, cowboys and everyday people exploring the wide open spaces of a new land.”

The music presented in Americana echoes throughout history, weaving tales of the wide Missouri River in “Shenandoah” with the soaring sounds of the brave, the righteous and the divine in “America the Beautiful,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Amazing Grace.” The evening includes spirituals like “The Battle of Jericho” and the wistful classic “Over the Rainbow” lamenting hardship while seeking hope. And of course, there will be folk songs of men at war and men in love in “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Cindy.”


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Sycuan Casino and San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus Open Jingle at Sycuan’s Live & Up Close Venue

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 11, 2016 – Walk across the floor at Sycuan Casino and you’ll hear the unmistakable sounds of winning in the air. This holiday season, there’s one more exciting sound to be heard at Sycuan, that of the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus holly jolly holiday show Jingle.

Together, for the first time ever, Sycuan and SDGMC announced today the addition of two holiday shows scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 17 at 6:30 and 9 p.m. at Sycuan’s Live & Up Close concert venue.

“Sycuan Casino will be alive with the spirit of the Holidays all December,” said Sycuan Casino General Manager John Dinius. “We cannot wait to hear our friends from the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus bring their spirit to current and new guests here on December 17.”

Now in its 31st year, the wintry and wonderful spectacular is one of San Diego’s most favorite family holiday traditions. The 150-voice chorus of tenors, baritones and basses will present lush renditions of favorites like “Silent Night,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Deck the Halls,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Over the River.” And there will be plenty of holiday fun with the hilarious “Recycle the Fruitcake,” “A PC Christmas” and an insider’s look at how Broadway stars might celebrate the holidays.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be singing at Sycuan for the holidays,” said SDGMC Executive Director Bob Lehman. “And we applaud Sycuan for all of the many ways they contribute to every community within San Diego.”


San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus Receives San Diego Human Dignity Foundation $10,000 Matching Grant

SAN DIEGO, April 29, 2016 – The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus is singing a

happy song thanks to a $10,000 matching grant from the San Diego Human

Dignity Foundation.

 

“We are so incredibly grateful to the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation for

helping support our musical mission of outreach,” said SDGMC Executive

Director Bob Lehman. “It is with this financial endowment that we are able to

continue changing lives one voice at a time both within the LGBT community and

throughout San Diego.”

 

The check presentation took place this week at the SDHDF Liberty Station

offices within The San Diego Foundation. On hand from SDHDF were Board

President Joselyn Harris, Executive Director John Brown and Grants and

Finance Manager Desmond Kelly; and from SDGMC were Board President

David Pierce and Lehman.

 

Proceeds from this grant will help SDGMC continue its more than 40 community

outreach performances each year throughout San Diego. Most notably, SDGMC

will sing the National Anthem on May 21 for the San Diego Padres at Petco Park

followed by a 10-show engagement of Billy Elliot with the California Youth

Conservatory Theatre opening May 28 at the Lyceum Theatre.

 

About the San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life

within San Diego’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities by promoting

responsible philanthropy to enact positive social change. SDHDF is the sole community

foundation in our region dedicated to the benefit of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and

transgender (LGBT) people. We fund programs and projects that promote equal

treatment, tolerance, wellness, well-being, and above all else, human dignity. More

information is available at www.SDHDF.org.

 

About the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus

Under the artistic direction of RC Haus, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus recently

celebrated its 30 th anniversary of changing lives one voice at a time. With more than 200

members, it is one of the largest gay choruses in the world and has sung at locations

including the White House and the Super Bowl. The group’s official mission is to create

a positive musical experience through exciting performances that engage audiences, build

community support and provide a dynamic force for social change.