Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus Grows Up

Harold DuckettOur Town Arts

At the sold-out Bijou Theatre Saturday night, Dr. Alan Stevens, artistic director and conductor of the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, and associate director of choral activities and coordinator of vocal music education at East Tennessee State University, said it himself.

With Saturday night’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” holiday concert, the KGMC grew up.

Begun six years ago, with a small group of 15 guys who, as much as anything else, wanted an excuse to get together, KGMC is now 60 voices strong.

One of their early conductors, their first professional conductor, Freddie Brabson, tried to instill professionalism in them that they weren’t quite ready for. But now, with the work of Stevens, they are. It was KGMC’s first concert that genuinely met worthy performance standards.

In addition to Stevens, much of the credit for the overall quality of the performance goes to Adam Crandall, who wrote and directed the script on which the concert was structured and the storyline that held it together.

There is still work to do. The ensemble was sometimes fractured, intonations off here and there, diction that needs to be crisper and terminal consonants that need to be sharpened.

But it was clear that the chorus now understands what it takes to be a respected choral ensemble.

Crandall formulated the show around three embodiments of Christmas: Jim Richardson, who convincingly played Christmas Past, lamenting how much of Christmas in his memories is gone and why isn’t it simply “Christmas” anymore; Katie Cunningham, who was an energetic Christmas Present, who tried to get Past to get with the muti-dimensional versions of today’s holiday celebrations; and Elliott Devore, superbly disguised as the sultry blond bomb, Mary Lou Bottoms, as Christmas Future, who thought everybody could get along and celebrate together if they just tried.

Notable among the choral presentations was Chuck Bridwell’s arrangement of “Nutcracker Jingles,” “Jingle Bells” and other tunes set mostly to music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” and a somber, depressing version set to the opening measures of Beethoven’s famous “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor,” Op. 27. No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata.

There were several outstanding solo performances, not the least of which was Bleu Copas doing a Las Vegas-type turn with Tom Lehrer’s “Hanukkah in Santa Monica.”

Pitches, Please!, a chamber ensemble made up of members of the chorus, gave comic, if more than a little droll, performances of Jack Dubowsky”s “Silent Holy Hanukkah Bush” and Eric Lane Barnes’ “Boogie Woodie Hanukkah.”

But, certainly, the hit of the first half was Eric Lane Barnes’ “A P.C. Christmas,” hilariously narrated by Donald Rickels as “Marge Williams” a corporate secretary, about the increasing dissolution of company Christmas parties because of the growing fractiousness of different belief systems refusing to celebrate together and the inability to please everybody without offending anyone.

A beautiful performance of “Baba Yetu,” the Lord’s Prayer sung in Swahili, with Alexi Lay singing the solo on stage and the rest of the chorus in the aisles, opened the second half.

There were also heart-felt stories and songs about gay men being isolated from their families and no longer welcomed in the churches they grew up in, that made one aware of the sometimes bitter realities of how we treat each other, which, in no stretch of the imagination, represents Jesus’ example of relating to everyone with respect, acceptance and grace.

But, as Present pointed out more than once, there is more than one definition of family. One version is the family the chorus has clearly built for themselves. Another was the family formed between the sold-out crowd in the house and the group on the stage.

Everyone is welcome to join.

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