Pictured CGMC, Choruses combined in photo #5, and Schola Cantorosa. Photos by Tracy Baim
More photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/images/publications/wct/2004-07-14/chorus/index.htm
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The theater darkens and a voice with a heavy German accent welcomes the audience to the final concert of the 22nd season of the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus. For a moment I was caught up and felt that synchronistic tingle in the memory of German announcers 85 years ago welcoming audiences to this theater in the historically rich German Lincoln/Belmont area of Chicago. ( St. Alphonses Church, right next door, still offers a Catholic Mass in German at 9 a.m. every Sunday). It just felt right.
Special guests included 'sister' choruses—the men of the Windy City Gay Chorus. Plus a special treat—the Schola Cantorosa—the gay men's chorus from Chicago's sister city across the Atlantic, Hamburg, Germany. 'Schola Cantorosa' is a variation of the pink cantor—or gay chorus if you will. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.
The Windy City Gay Chorus (Ron Guthrie, Music Director) opened the show in their casual guest attire—purple golf shirts and slacks. I have always seen them in their own concerts more formally dressed, so this was quite a different image. Of course, their performance was anything but casual. Picking probably their strongest performances from this, their 25th season's concerts, we were treated to the best from their holiday concert Silver Bells, their spring show Silver Screen, and from their Silver Anniversary June presentation.
Beginning with two pieces from Gloria ('Gloria in Excelsis' and 'Domine Fili Unigenite'), WCGC exhibited their talent for execution and perfection. Extraordinary breath control! Pieces from the Silver Screen program included 'Indian Love Call' and 'Babes in Arms'. Perhaps a reflection of the boundaries I have set up around them, the humor and drag innuendos seemed strained, funny but awkward, definitely not an easy, natural flow. In contrast, the Silver Anniversary selections were all close to perfect.
Mention must be made of the really excellent solo performed by George Montalbano, II in 'Sanctus' (from Requiem). He has a thrilling voice, my only criticism would be that the chorus at times overwhelmed him. Not sure if it was planned, or if it was the sound system or if the chorus needed to be mezzo-piano or even pianissimo! Mr. Montalbano needs to be in the fore. The Sea Chanteys were well done as the Chorus again hit their stride—they love doing these classic linguistic and vocal challenges. 'Eight Bells' was particularly poignant given Iraq. The military theme would reappear with the other groups. Appropriately, Windy City Gay Chorus saved the best for last—'What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor' showed them totally at their peak, enthusiasm rising, smiles and their strongest voices. I am sure it is on their program for Montreal later this month for the International GALA concerts.
Schola Cantorosa (Matthias Werker, Music Director) was so much more than a chorus! Chicago was invaded by a gay German pirate troupe and we loved it. They really offer musical theater with costume, makeup, dancing, humor, a loose plot and more—it was continuously entertaining. Curtain lifts to show a group of barefooted, pirates in full pirate regalia (nicely showing off their physiques). Although, at first, hearing in German seemed difficult, sounded a bit choppy to my ear, I got used to it. And when they did sing a song in German, the second half of the song was in English. Very witty lyrics, sexier than we are used to here.
Some songs were entirely done in English with no trace of accent (how did they do that?). You notice in the program that of the nine songs they presented, Schola Cantorosa did their own lyrics for eight of the pieces. They have control of everything. Schola made their military point with 'Tarantara' from HMS Pinnafore (Gilbert and Sullivan). Satire and sadness and they made it work. They also did one song entirely in French, 'Cette Ile' music by Donna Summer, but again with their own lyrics. That is one of their pieces for Montreal.
Parodying from the theme song for 'Flipper,' they created the most tasteful penile satire I have ever heard. The closing production was a rousing 'Party Island/Provincetown' that had most of the audience on Friday night up on their feet.
These 35 men started 14 years ago as a staid stand-up chorus and slowly have evolved and developed an outlet for their passions. They love what they do and have travelled extensively all over Europe and North America doing it. If I was planning a trip to Germany, I would try to coincide with one of their presentations if not in Hamburg then somewhere in Europe. To see their tour, which started in Ottawa, Ontario, came to Chicago, then on to Minneapolis and into Montreal, visit their Web site www.schola-cantorosa.de.
Act Two of the program was time for the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus (Patrick Sinozich, Artistic Director). I last saw them two years ago ... the chorus has grown! It is huge and, of course, so is their sound. They appeared in crisp, white, long-sleeved shirts with long shining golden neckties. What strikes me in general, and I think is interesting, is how CGMC and WCGC have affected each other over time, as they both venture into the other's traditional forte. Their differences are blurring.
So CGMC opened with several classic and serious pieces, including 'Zion's Walls' and a piece written by Sinozich with text from the 'Song of Songs'. Their diction was as crisp as their shirts, impressive given their numbers—more than 150 members. A creative highlight for the chorus was the presentation of 'This Moment As I Sit Alone'. Based on the Andante movement from Rachmanihoff's Cello Sonata (Opus 19), Sinozich ambitiously adapted and arranged text from the longingly beautiful Calamus poem #23 by Walt Whitman. That poem/song touches on the challenge of connecting with love everywhere in the world. The human condition: we all seek love. Overall it was well done, but it did weaken in the middle. Probably by Saturday night it was much stronger.
That human theme prepared us to move into their final two songs, 'Tenting Tonight' and 'Jimmy, Jimmy'. Tenting is a song from the Civil War. Ed McNichols rendered a soulful solo that led many in the chorus and in the audience to tears. 'Jimmy, Jimmy' was based on the American Folk song 'Cindy' and really showed CGMC at their best. This is Sinozich in his element, featuring humor, dance, drama and political commentary: the gay couple shyly meets, loves, is separated with overseas duty, the pain of longing, time elapses, fear and tears, will he return? Rejoice—he does!—and they marry. Including Iraq, Bush and a minister performing the ceremony for the gay couple, you can't get more current. The juxtaposition of these issues and this very traditional folk song created a fitting and most American of presentations. Special mention must be made of the lead dancers and the loving couple from this piece—square dancing and pantomine superbly done by Jeremy Hilborn, Philip Joseph, Scott Kazmierczak and Owen Priest.
Without time for rehearsals due to Schola Conterosa's touring schedule and WCGC's own concerts in June, the three choruses joined together for a simple big closing number with an 'Up with People' kind of song written by Kirby Shaw about 20 years ago, 'Brothers and Sisters.' It was a love fest with the audience singing along by the end. A great way to end a great evening.
All three of the groups are travelling to Montreal for the 7th International Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) Festival July 17-24. If you love music and chorus, it would be a great place to be. Visit www.galachoruses.org .