All eyes and ears of the worldwide LGBTQ choral movement will be focused on Denver for the 2016 GALA Festival starting Saturday, July 2.
More than 125 choruses and 45 ensembles from around the world converge in the Mile High City, and GALA organizers are hoping that the third time will be another charm because the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the nation's second-largest performing arts complex after Lincoln Center in New York, previously hosted the quadrennial choral festival to great success in 1992 and 2012.
Of course, Chicago LGBTQ ensembles are prominently in the mix. The Chicago Gay Men's Chorus is sending 102 singers and 10 support staff, while Windy City Performing Arts, the umbrella organizations for the Windy City Gay Chorus and Windy City Treble Quire, are, respectively, sending 40 and 19 members who will be performing separately and together in a combined set. Artemis Singers, Chicago's lesbian feminist chorus, is sending three delegates to promote partnerships with the Sister Singers Network. ( Artemis Singers previously hosted Sister Singers Network conference in Chicago in 2010. )
Considering how much GALA promotes togetherness for the LGBTQ community, it's slightly ironic that the festival was an unintentional but ultimately major factor in the schism that brought about the breakaway creation of the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus ( CGMC ) from the Windy City Gay Chorus ( WCGC ) in the 1980s.
According to former longtime CGMC member Danny Kopelson, there was a contingent of Windy City Gay Chorus members who wanted to sing at the very first GALA festival to be held at Lincoln Center in 1983 ( it was originally called "COAST," an acronym standing for Come Out And Sing ). They were in opposition to WCGC leadership at the time who didn't want to invest the time and money for another trip to New York, especially since the organization had just performed at Lincoln Center the previous year in a joint concert with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus.
"We're never not going to have conflict, unfortunately," said Kopelson, who has attended every GALA Festival since 1983 except for one in Miami in 2008. Kopelson now resides in Palm Springs, California, and he noted that the Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus has seen its own share of breakaway contingents in the past few years.
Happily, Kopelson notes that a lot of the early bickering and hostility between the two Chicago choruses has largely dissipated through time. Kopelson says the fact that both ensembles are still around and thriving is something to celebrate, especially since the LGBTQ choral movement has meant so much to so many people through the years.
"I could not have made it through the AIDS crisis without the chorus. Knowing we provide comfort allowed us to sing for many AIDS benefits and funerals," said Kopelson, who was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 2000 in part due to his work co-founding the annual Dance for Life fundraising concert to assist those living with HIV/AIDS.
"We sing at rallies and human rights protests and benefits. A perfect example of this is the recent killings in Orlando. It seems choruses from every community were there to sing and spread love. Many singers may not believe that they are activists, but I believe they are. Activism comes in many forms," Kopelson said. "This is not to even mention the personal relationships formed by members supporting members. Are we needed today? Yes. The recent killings demonstrate this."
Due to the recent tragic events in Florida, GALA did issue a security statement to participating choruses. GALA also warned organizations that the Western Conservative Summit is being held simultaneously in Denver for the first two days of the festival, while Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will be also be speaking at the Colorado Convention Center on July 1.
For the 2016 GALA Festival, some notable events include the first appearance by the Beijing Queer Chorus, plus the second performance by an all HIV-positive chorus drawn from ensembles around the country. There is also a special 20th-anniversary performance of the song cycle NakedMan, often cited as a landmark among the many choral pieces specifically created by and for the LGBTQ choral movement.
And for those who can't make it to Denver for GALA, this year marks the first time that festival performances will be simulcast not only for overflow crowds at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, but online for worldwide audiences to see. Specifically, the Coffee Concerts and Blockbuster Concerts will be livestreamed online at galachoruses.org/live.
The GALA Festival 2016 runs from Saturday, July 2, through Wednesday, July 6, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St., Denver. Individual performance tickets are $25, although festival passes may also be available. For more information, visit GalaChoruses.org or DenverCenter.org .
Note: The author of this piece previously performed with Windy City Gay Chorus and currently sings with the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus.