Sunday, 20 December 2015

Make the Yuletide Gay : 4

In this final Advent article for this year we’ll end our seasonal celebrations by looking at some of the many lgbt choruses, choirs and chorales who produce annual Christmas concerts and sing the songs we’ve looked at in the pervious three Sunday.

This is more of a brief history of the origin of lgbt choirs but we’ll finish with a Christmas performance by one of the oldest lgbt choruses.

I don’t really need to say that choirs since the very beginning of choral singing way back in the Middle Ages have had lgbt singers. As far as choirs formed specifically for lgbt singers is concerned we have to travel to the USA and their culture of forming choirs in support of social or political causes. This culture began with bands and small orchestras, similar to the amateur Victorian church choirs in Europe who would encourage anyone who could sing or play an instrument to join together and go carol singing. Lgbt choirs are one of many extensions of this tradition.

The earliest reliable record we have for the first lgbt chorus appears in New York City in 1971. Composer Roberta Kosse formed a lesbian chorus called Women Like Me to perform her own compositions. The chorus performed up to 1977.

A second women’s chorus and marching band was formed in 1973 by Hester Brown. This was another New York-based chorus which went by the name of the Victoria Woodhull All-Women’s Marching Band, named after a 19th century feminist and US presidential candidate. Even though they formed the core of this chorus they weren’t exclusively lesbian.

Generally, the credit for being the first lgbt chorus is given to the Anna Crusis Choir in Philadelphia. Formed in 1975 it takes its name from the musical term “anacrusis”, the name given to notes played or sung before the first beat in the first bar of a tune – a very appropriate name for this lgbt chorus. The founder of Anna Crusis was Catherine Roma who was challenged by a friend to create a folk-opera about the history of women in time for the USA’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976.

The resulting folk-opera was called “American Women: A Choral History” and was performed several times. The choir officially adopts the “feminist” identity but in 1988 they joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA).

The first male lgbt chorus appears to be the Gotham Male Chorus. This was formed, again in New York City, in 1977 and specialised in Renaissance music and Gregorian chant. Although this genre of music was written specifically by and for men the Gotham Male Chorus began to accept women singers in 1980 and changed their name to the Stonewall Chorale. This created the first mixed lgbt chorus.

The American tradition of forming bands and choirs to promote a social cause led to the creation of what is generally considered to be the best lgbt chorus in existence today – the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Wikipedia has an excellent article on this choir and there’s not much I can add to it, so I’ll direct you there for more information.

I mentioned GALA in passing above. This organisation was formed in 1982 and many of its founding choirs performed at the first Gay Games in San Francisco earlier that year. Today GALA had many choirs, choruses and chorales as members, and they include many international groups.

And that’s it for today. To get you into a really festive mood here’s a couple of videos of Christmas performances by a couple of lgbt choirs, beginning with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus featuring beautiful rendition of “Silent Night”. That’s followed by a fun version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” by the Gay Men’s Chorus was Washington, and we finish with the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian chorus wishing us a Merry Christmas.

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