Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus raises its game while celebrating season

Harold DuckettFeature, Our Town Arts

The Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus took a giant step forward in performance standards and production values with its “Make the Yuletide Gay” holiday concert at the Bijou Theatre Saturday night.

Under the combined leadership of artistic director Dr. Alan Stevens, associate director of choral activities and coordinator of vocal music education at East Tennessee State University, and new KGMC board chairman Kyle Schellinger, and with the obvious hard work of many others, it was a first-rate, well-written and well-performed concert.

Following playwright Adam Crandall’s excellent script and choreographer Casey Sams’ movement direction (her first as choreographer for a choir), the music and storyline flowed seamlessly.

The set design kept the front of the stage clear for the story being told. The chorus occupied the center of the stage on three risers, with the orchestra above and in back of the chorus, behind a blue scrim. Lighting designer Keith Kirkland added visual drama and highlights.

In the prologue, Joy (Callie Stelter) is planning her annual Christmas party. But her partner, Carol (Kara Van Veghel), doesn’t like the whole Christmas celebration rah-rah. But Joy insists. They invite Nick (Ezra Brown) and Robert (Parker Jenkins).

Other details, including Robert’s all-too-common story of family rejection and depression, take place as the story develops between songs by the chorus, smaller ensemble songs by Choral Fixation and Pitches, Please! and solos, notably Duston Pierce’s passionately sung plea against suicide, “Please, Stay.”

Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus at the Bijou Theatre

The music of the concert began with Mark Hayes’ attractive arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Chad Weirick’s version of “Deck the Halls.” Then a precise “Ding-a Ding-a Ding” set the performance tone for the rest of the concert.

After Choral Fixation, a 10-man chamber ensemble, sang Kirby Shaw’s delightful “Here We Come A-Caroling,” the chorus sang a harmonically complex, vocally tight arrangement of “What Do the Bells Say?” that previous incarnations of KGMC could not have mastered.

After Robert’s revealing and painful story about being rejected by his family and intense loneliness, the chorus sang a deeply meaningful “Breathe Me,” while dancer Dante Carillo interpreted Robert’s story into a solo dance.

The mood of the second half of the concert lightened a bit with several Santa Claus songs, a complex, complicated tongue-in-cheek “Fruitcake,” with Justine Valka as soloist, and the appearance of Joy’s “Aunt Marge,” played by an always delightful and comically sardonic Donald Rickels, who sang “Forgotten Carols From Other Lands,” along with making inside jokes about “cake.”

Along the way, reasons behind the fictional story of Joy’s annual Christmas party that had the ring of truth came out. She had not seen or heard from any of her family in years, with the exception of “Aunt Marge.”

There are different kinds of families, she noted. Some we are born into. Some are families we choose.

In the case of KGMC, they have become a family of their own. In addition to the tremendous work they have done to become a good chorus, which clearly showed in this concert, this is a group of men who obviously enjoy what they are doing.


More about Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, including upcoming concerts and ways to contribute to their support, can be found here.

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