Members of the New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus say its creation was not unlike an old movie musical where someone suggests, “Let's put on a show!” The chorus came together in the fall of 1981, coinciding with the founding of Albuquerque community center Common Bond. The LGBT organization had asked its members to fill out an interest list, and founding member Alan Stringer rang up those who had checked music—all of them men—and learned that they wanted to sing. That group became the Brash Ensemble (as some were uncomfortable being in an openly gay chorus), performing mainly at Common Bond events for several years. Nearly 30 years later, the chorus—whose numbers have fluctuated between eight and 40—is still singing, and in addition to regular concerts in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, it has performed around the states and internationally as well.
This week, as part of Pride, the chorus sings in a “quaintly unconventional” program called Beautiful, Funny & Fey. Communicating electronically, we asked the group singsongy questions about this and that. Just as NMGMC is a chorus of many voices converging as one, so are their answers delivered in harmonious union.
What kinds of musical backgrounds do you all have?
Over the years, our membership has included every level of musical experience and talent—from professional singers and vocal performance majors, to guys who just like to sing along with the radio or sing in the shower.
What kinds of songs do you sing, and how do you decide on them?
We have sung an enormous variety of music, from serious classical music to television jingles, from folk songs to jazz, from gospel to high camp—you name a genre, we've probably sung it. We have premiered pieces by several contemporary composers, including some pieces we commissioned. ... We know we can't please all the people all the time, but every concert has something for everyone.
Can you offer an example of the chorus' "works of silliness"?
“We Are Dainty Little Fairies" chorus from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe.
What instruments accompany your singing?
Besides the piano, we most often have a string bass player and one or more percussionists. But depending on the needs of the music, we have also had such instruments as flute, guitar, French horn, synthesizer, brass quintet and even a mariachi band. We once hired a symphony orchestra to help perform a Mozart cantata.
Do ladies ever try to join?
Under some directors we have had female singers, but only if they could sing in the range of male voices—so mostly on the tenor parts, though we did once have a female baritone. We have never sung mixed-chorus SATB [soprano, alto, tenor, bass] music except in joint concerts with other choruses. But most directors prefer to have male voices only, because female voices, even if they have the proper range, have a noticeably different timbre from male voices, and it may be impossible to blend the two. The sound of a mixed chorus, even singing TTBB [tenor, tenor, baritone, bass] music, is quite different from the sound of an all-male chorus.
What's your favorite musical?
That's like asking a parent which of several children is their favorite. Musicals hold a special place in gay culture, and picking just one as favorite is literally impossible.
What's the most challenging thing about NMGMC?
Can you imagine what it's like to get a few dozen gay men even to dress the same, much less subordinate their personalities to the group dynamic? Does herding cats come to mind? Seriously, though, it's the same challenge that faces any performing arts group with changing membership: finding a common voice and a common spirit that everyone can buy into.
The most rewarding?
Newly formed friendships and being able to bring the message of tolerance and acceptance, including respect, to the community at large. Our mission is to “change the world through music.” We want everyone to understand we are just like them and we share the same life challenges and rewards as anyone else.
Why is it important for communities—straight and LGBT—to support Pride?
It's the same reason why there still needs to be a gay men's chorus different from just any men's chorus. The time may come when "gay" is not a derogatory term; when gay people aren't singled out for job discrimination and violence; when gay youth aren't teased and bullied to the point of committing suicide, and a hundred other evils have subsided; but that time is not here yet. The open display of gay culture and simply gay identity, in numbers sufficient that fear can subside for a while, helps to sustain gay people throughout the year. Knowing that a good portion of the straight community supports gay rights gives us hope for the future. And of course, like a gay men's chorus, it's also just plain fun.