The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus at Mara Hall, October 8, 2017

On Sunday, October 8, the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus kicked off their 
40th season with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and no shortage of high 
notes. The idea for the tour through the Deep South emerged just after the 
presidential election. This tour by the SFGMC, called the "Lavender Pen" tour, 
was inspired by Harvey Milk's lavender pen used to sign a bill regarding gay 
civil rights. 

Members of the Chorus paid their own expenses to travel, as ticket sales 
will return to the local communities. The conductor and artistic director, 
Dr. Timothy Seelig, expressed a desire to spread a message of courage 
and love on this tour. In the spirit of the Chorus' history, they promoted 
community activism by raising funds raised to help underfunded resources 
for LGBT people in "red states."

Songs varied in style from an a capella setting of Good Night, Dear Heart 
performed in memory of the Las Vegas victims just a week earlier. However, 
the Chorus had no shortage of lighthearted numbers. Laughter echoed 
throughout Mara Hall during If You Were Gay from the musical Avenue Q, 
and a drag performance of Patsy Cline's She's Got You. Good humor 
provided a distraction from troubling current events, and numbers like 
Mark Hayes' arrangement of Amazing Grace offered listeners a more 
faith-based sense of hope. Soloists often stepped forward, each delivering 
sensitive vocals with unwavering pitch.

The variety of genres assured that fans of show tunes, spirituals, sacred 
anthems, and more traditional choral music would find something to 
appreciate. On a program mainly directed at lifting one's spirits through 
song, one's ability to hear the message majorly affected the listening 
experience. Thanks to clear diction and skilled sound technicians, the 
lyrics carried through each piece.

Throughout the program, Dr. Seelig or other leading members of the 
SFGMC stopped to speak briefly about the music, the purpose of the 
tour, etc. All of the speakers offered helpful information in similarly 
good humor, never allowing the mood to dampen for too long despite 
more serous numbers such as activist Holly Near's I Ain't Afraid. The 
lyrics contained a powerful message for state legislators: "I ain't afraid 
of your Yahweh, I ain't afraid of your Allah, I ain't afraid of your Jesus
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your God."

Over a hundred and fifty male voices communicated the compelling 
lyrics with passion. Of course, each singer demonstrated their passion 
simply by embarking on the tour, risking not only finances but potential 
peril traveling in states not well-known for welcoming gay men. 

After intermission, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir joined the SFGMC 
onstage. Their presence furthered the racial and gender diversification, 
as an African-American woman opened with the solemn spiritual, Lawd, 
How Come Me Heah? Impeccably sung with inimitable authenticity, one 
could hardly find a dry eye in the room afterward. Perhaps no audience 
could better receive such a message than natives of the Bible Belt, where 
the majority of people grow up in church, and racial and gender minorities
have often expressed despair amidst oppression. Afterward, the Gospel 
Choir quickly launched into a more upbeat song offering Hallelujah
to God, displaying their emotional and vocal range. 

The Gospel Choir then joined forces with the SFGMC for an even larger 
choral impact, skipping a few songs on the program, likely for the sake 
of time. Even so, the concert lasted two and a half hours, ensuring that 
ticketholders earned their money's worth.

Despite members of the SFGMC standing for the length of the Gospel 
Choir's performance, there seemed no lapse in energy when the two 
choirs combined. The first joint song, Orphans of God, expressed a 
concept no doubt at the heart of every performer: "There are no 
strangers, there are no outcasts, there are no orphans of God."

Although the choirs never sang poorly, the event existed for more than 
artistic endeavor alone. When the Oakland director asked if any audience 
members had ever felt like orphans, many hands appeared throughout 
Thalia Mara Hall. The final number, Everybody Dancing, involved 
audience participation in 4-part harmony. The upbeat selection reminded 
listeners of the hopefulness embedded in the history of the SFGMC and 
the "life-affirming" purpose of their tour, as stated on their website. 

The majority of the concert was also filmed, and will appear as part of a 
documentary about the Lavender Pen tour. Continuous bursts of applause, 
even in the middle of pieces, showed the audience's gratitude for the music. 

Members of the SFGMC also sang that morning at St. Philip's Episcopal 
Church and Fondren Presbyterian Church. On Sunday morning and evening, 
the singers expressed a deep care for the South, and demonstrated the 
power of music to inspire.

The premiere of the 40th season from the world's first LGBT chorus marks 
an historic event in the Jackson choral community, and a night of uplifting 
support for Jackson's LGBT people and allies. 

Amy Lauren Jones©2017