San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus spreads message of healing, hope and unity
Sunday concert features four ensembles
August 4, 2017
Dr. Tim Seelig, artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, remembers what it was like to prepare for the choir's debut concert at the Eccles Center in Park City on February 13, 2016.
"When we first were contacted by the Park City Institute, we were honored to be included in such an incredible concert series full of musicians and public figures," Seelig said during an email interview with The Park Record. "But as we got closer to the show, I would be less than honest if I said we didn't approach the show with a little bit of trepidation. We didn't really know what kind of reception we might receive in Utah."
That changed the night of the show.
"From the first moment — actually before we ever sang a note — the audience's response was overwhelming," Seelig said. "We were put at ease immediately, and the show was such a joy, from beginning to end."
Seelig said the performance was a standout for him during his eight-year run with the chorus.
"For me, just getting to share who we are in a very open and honest manner was the highlight," he said. "Many of the songs we sing are specifically about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) experience, and these were met with thunderous applause. Each time we finished one of these anthems, we were thrilled."
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The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will return to Park City — this time to perform at Deer Valley for the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Stars concert — at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6.
Seelig said he is looking forward to coming back to the Wasatch Back.
"In the middle of the concert last time, I made a comment 'Oh my goodness, if you all keep this up, we'll just have to come back!'" he said. "It was met with a fabulous response. I was serious. And so were they, apparently!"
This summer's concert will feature a fraction of singers that comprise the full chorus.
"As we did last time, we are bringing about 70 singers that make up our four vocal ensembles: The Lollipop Guild, Vocal Minority, SWAG and HomoPhonics," Seelig said. "With just under 300 singers in the full Chorus, we can't bring the entire group.
"Each of the four ensembles has a feel of its own. You'll get the chance to hear each individual ensemble present a short set of their own music, and then the entire group of 70 singers will join to form a beautiful chorus as they present the repertoire that SFGMC will bring on the road this fall for the Lavender Pen Tour."
The Lavender Pen Tour, which is scheduled for October, is a tour of the Deep South the chorus worked to prepare for a long time.
"We will be visiting five states in seven days, as we journey through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina," Seelig said. "We would love your readers to go to our web site and read about it and watch the video. It is going to be one of the most significant things we will have done in our entire history."
The Sunday concert in Park City will be sort of like a sneak preview for the tour.
"The ensembles will come together to sing many selections from the full Chorus' tour repertoire," Seelig said. "For those pieces, we love to run the 'TLC' gamut: tears, laughs and chill bumps (meaning so beautiful you can't help but get the chills)."
Each of the vocal ensembles will show off its own musical style.
"The first ensemble to form in SFGMC – The Lollipop Guild – is [comprised] of our 'show girls, ' and has been around for 39 years," Seelig said. "Vocal Minority is next, and they're rooted in jazz and pop — with luscious, close harmonies — and are just plain fun."
The next ensemble is called SWAG, an acronym for See, We Are Gay.
"[They] bring a unique soulful beat to their performances. They're dedicated to R&B, gospel and pop," Seelig said. "Then last is our newest ensemble, HomoPhonics, who perform a cappella, and are born out of the collegiate a cappella craze."
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus formed in the city's Castro District in 1978 under the direction of Jon Reed Sims. On the day of its fourth rehearsal, the chorus learned of the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, both of whom were openly gay.
Conductor Dick Kramer handed out the sheet music to Mendelsohn's "Thou, Lord Our Refuge," that the chorus would sing at the candlelight vigil at City Hall later that evening.
The performance was the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' world debut.
Since then, the chorus has performed and spread its message of healing, hope and unity.
"Because our name carries with it an assumption of some level of activism, it goes without saying," Seelig said. "We have equal components to what we do: music and mission. Neither is more important than the other. We hope that our music truly inspires and empowers people to be courageous and, quite honestly, be grateful for who we are and the time in which we live – hard as that may be right now."
A few weeks ago, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus was one of the most in-demand performers in their town.
"The end of June was quite an exciting time for [us]," Seelig said. "In the span of one week, we were honored and performed for the California state legislature for their LGBT Pride Caucus, sang the national anthem at the Giants baseball game, and were grand marshals of San Francisco Pride.
"Being selected as Community Grand Marshal was awesome. To march in front of approximately 1 million people was amazing. SFGMC marches every year, of course, but this year I got to ride like a beauty queen with a sash sitting and waving from a BMW convertible."
In addition to the Lavender Pen Tour, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus has its eye on the future.
"We are looking forward to our 40th season, as well, culminating in a full musical being composed by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa," Seelig said. "We then end our 40th by dedicating a memorial to the singers we have lost at the National AIDS Memorial Grove."
Seelig is also focused on the Deer Valley show, and hopes to perform in town again in the future.
"We are beyond excited to be coming back to Park City," he said. "Let's make it a three-peat!"
The Park City Institute will present the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6, at Deer Valley's Snow Park Amphitheater. Tickets range from $44 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.