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Archive post: Glória’s place in the history of the LGBT choral movement

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From the programme notes for Glória‘s 2002 debut in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, singing with the Garda Band and the Garda Male Voice Choir – the first LGBT choir in the world to sing with its national police force, in itself history:

“Touching Hearts. Changing Lives.”

Kevin Gallagher, ASL interpreter

This was the theme of Festival 2000 in San Jose, California, organised by GALA Choruses, which Glória triumphantly attended two summers ago.  GALA Choruses is the association of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) choirs, particularly for North America.

For a whole week nearly 150 choirs, made up of more than 5,000 voices, sang back-to-back in two enormous concert venues in the scorching summer sun of downtown San Jose. Glória performed to rapturous applause, especially for its ‘Cor na Síog’ – The Fairy Reel – duly renamed ‘Cór na Síog’ – The Fairy Choir! – for the occasion that was in it.  🙂  A tradition of deaf signing has grown up amongst many of the larger US choirs.  Kevin Gallagher, of Irish descent and from the Seattle Men’s Chorus, offered his services free of charge to each of the overseas choirs at San Jose.  His antics (ahem, interpretation) for ‘Cór na Síog’ were partly responsible for bringing the house down!

I remember a delightful concert I attended in Seattle in 1991 by the Seattle Men’s Chorus and, in my naïvety, wondering if – hoping against hope – the member’s might be gay.  Many of the choruses then – and still some today – were very circumspect about being ‘out’: just as each of us has the personal journey of coming out, and in our own good time, so too with choirs.  Seattle’s concert was my first tentative step on a journey of exploration of something that has subsequently become a very important part of my life.

Harvey Milk

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, founded in 1978, was the first openly gay chorus in the world.  Anna Crusis Women’s Choir of Philadelphia was founded in 1975: it identified itself as a feminist choir rather than as a lesbian choir.  SFGMC made its first public appearance on the steps of San Francisco City Hall singing a memorial hymn on the evening that Mayor George Muscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated.

Such a gesture was to be repeated in 1999 by London Gay Men’s Chorus [with whom Glória went on to share the NCH stage in 2003] following the bombing of The Admiral Duncan, a gay pub, in Soho, London – but one week after Glória’s international debut with The Pink Singers and Brighton’s Rainbow Chorus in the Duke’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Following Festival 2000 in San Jose, Sing Out! was set up as a local association of these and other choirs in these islands.

SFGMC had a nationwide concert tour in the US in 1981.  Everywhere it performed, other lgbt choruses were formed either as a result, or shortly before the tour. The tour represented the early beginnings of the lgbt choral movement which has continued to grow into the international phenomenon it is today. GALA Choruses developed as an umbrella organisation which spearheads the movement.

Band of An Garda Síochána, Ireland

Just before its 1981 tour, SFGMC was scheduled to hold its performance of the Liszt ‘Requiem’ in St Ignatius Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of San Francisco stopped this at the last minute – one of the few instances of overt discrimination the Chorus has ever experienced.

The singularly most successful LGBT chorus must be the 225 member Turtle Creek Chorale from Dallas founded in 1980.  With some 25 CD recordings to its name, many TV appearances, and several national and international tours behind it, Turtle Creek is internationally acclaimed as one of the most accomplished men’s choirs in the world.  The entire choir, combined with the Women’s Chorus of Dallas, was in San Jose for Festival 2000: what an exquisite sound they made!

Sound Circle, a women’s group from Boulder, Colorado, is one of the newest and most promising choirs. One of its songs is the beautiful ‘Golden Apples of the Sun’ with words from W B Yeats’ ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’.  Glória sings several of Sound Circle’s pieces.

There are now over three hundred known lgbt choirs around the world, with in excess of 10,000 voices, mostly in the US, many in Canada, several in the UK, Glória in Ireland, many throughout Europe, several in Australia, 1 in New Zealand and 1 in Israel.  There were 2 choirs in South Africa.  There was even a choir in Jamaica that – because of repressive anti-gay laws – could not sing in public!!  One of its members, Stephen, attended Festival 2000 in San Jose, sponsored covertly by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.

Steven was not able to go home and proclaim publicly how proud he was to have represented his country.  😦

Glória was.

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Written by Frank McMullan

8 September 2010 at 15:54

Posted in GALA Choruses, Glória

One Response

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  1. Ursa Minor was a Portland, OR, based lesbian choir from the early 1970s led by Naomi Littlebear. I wonder might this then have been the first such choir in the world?

    frankmcmullan

    31 October 2010 at 23:00


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