CGMC Members' Blog
Seven years ago on May 3rd, my mother passed away. As with many gay men, I had a wonderful relationship with her, and losing her was devastating.
Before my mother died, one of my brothers passed away in 2003 and 14 months after my mom died, my stepfather passed away unexpectedly. In the years since, I experienced an incredibly destructive relationship that led me to pursue some individual destructive behavior all on my own. This chain of events led to me being diagnosed as HIV positive in early spring 2011. The last decade has not been exactly stellar for me! However, I persevered and have tried my best to put one foot in front of the other each and every day.
Then I finally did something that I had been threatening to do for years, and that was audition for CGMC. I knew it would be fun and enjoyable but I had no idea that it would be life-changing. I have discovered people and relationships that will be with me for the rest of my life. Even if I never sing another note with CGMC (fat chance), this organization has renewed my spirit in ways that I am only beginning to tap into.
I am grateful to you and everyone associated with this organization for many things, but mostly I am grateful that, with everyone's help and support, I have found my song once again. This is why I love CGMC.
If anyone ever tries to tell you that what we do is silly or unimportant, let them in on part of my story. Maybe it will change their mind. I have learned this year that what we do is important to the people in our audience, but of equal importance is the way we are impacting the lives of the men and women on the risers. This organization is the very definition of a win-win situation. Everyone that is touched by what we do comes away from it enriched.
As I stepped on the stage with my chorus brothers and sisters a couple of weeks ago to perform our Beatles show, All You Need Is Love, for the first time in many years, May 3rd was finally a day of celebration. I don't think my mom would mind at all that I spent the day doing what I love to do instead of mired in grief and sadness!
I joined the chorus in January 1986. The only person I knew when I walked in the rehearsal space was Jim Farris. Jim and I were both second tenors at the time so he introduced me to the T2s. One of the first ones I met was Larry Prospero. Larry’s legacy to the chorus is that he created the first costumes ever used in a CGMC show. He was a tailor, a seamstress, a fashion designer and a drag queen. I was a corporate minion working a very technical-science oriented job. He designed and made several costumes, but you were always anxiously awaiting your final fitting as Larry was a last minute type of guy. I planned ahead and knew all my words long before any final Sunday rehearsal. (Except for “Carmina Burana”; way too much Latin for me.) Larry ate food with a gusto I have not seen matched since. I tended to eat because it was a biological necessity. We were as opposite as two people could be. We used to hang out outside of chorus and spent hours talking. During one of those evenings Larry said to me, “You know Dave, if I had ever seen you in a bar I never would have talked to you.” I replied, “If we had been in the same bar, I never would have noticed you.” He laughed and said, “That is why I love chorus, we are friends that would have never been, except for meeting in the chorus.”
Larry became seriously ill and was hospitalized. When I arrived for one of my visits, his eyes were darting all over the room as he ranted and raved about how his jeans had been stolen and that people were stealing everything from him. As I listened to his monologue I realized, this is what dementia is. Then quite suddenly he turned, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Dave, I am going crazy aren’t I?” I responded, “Larry, you have been crazy since the first day I met you.” He laughed his big, hearty laugh and then was gone. He never said a lucid sentence again.
Despite his dementia, I would stop in and check on him. One morning I visited the hospital with a dozen chocolate chip cookies, which he loved and a six pack of diet 7-UP (he always said, “Save calories whenever you can”.) As I walked down the hospital corridor I could see into his room. I noticed right away that was too much order. As I drew closer I noticed the sheets were flat, crisp and snow white. As I entered the room I realized he was not there. I thought they must have moved him. I went to the nurse’s station and asked where Larry was. The nurse said that his family had arranged for him to return to New Jersey. I never saw him again and eventually Kip announced that he had passed.
Years later, when we did Wizard of Oz, I was cast as a girl munchkin. I am certain that I did not volunteer for that role; it must have been an assignment. As I was slipping into my long, bright yellow skirt and donning my straw bonnet covered in silk flowers, I heard Larry say, “I knew chorus would make a drag queen out of you.” After that first experience in drag, I unquestioningly wore whatever I was told to for each subsequent show. I would have to wear a dress many more times, become a pirate for Pirates of Penance, perform in full leather for a Forbidden Halsted and wear a headdress hand-made by Keith Goad marching around the stage as a Christmas tree heralding in the year 2000.
Before joining chorus, I would have never worn a dress anywhere, let alone on stage. I would have never talked to Larry in a bar and I never would have had so many wonderful friends. Chorus has a way of changing you.
A little over 30 years ago, I was waiting tables at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Hotel and the pianist in the hotel lobby (Phil Stewart) mentioned that a few members were leaving Windy City Gay Chorus over wanting to attend "Come Out! and Sing Together" (C.O.A.S.T.), the first ever national gay choral festival in New York and forming more of a musical theatre, community chorus. Being the musical theatre dancing queen that I was, I jumped at the chance of being a part of this new chorus and helped to hang posters announcing rehearsals for Chicago Gay Men's Chorus around “Newtown” (pre-Boystown or Lakeview East).
We had our first rehearsal at the Broadway United Methodist Church located at Broadway and Buckingham. After our first rehearsal, the church burned down. We joked it was Windy City that set the fire!
After three very successful concerts between March and September, the chorus hopped the Greyhound to New York City, for C.O.A.S.T. We checked into our hotel and headed to Lincoln Center for rehearsal. Being the newest chorus performing, CGMC was the first chorus scheduled to perform, a tradition that has been honored since by what is now GALA. We stepped onto the stage in our black sequined vests and sang pop music and showtunes! We were the only and first ever show chorus in GALA. (Most all the other choruses wore traditional black tuxedos.)
After the performance we enjoyed Alice B. Toklas brownies and went to the infamous Studio 54 to dance and celebrate.
Not long after, AIDS dominated our existence. CGMC and Windy City were losing members weekly. We were by far singing at more memorials, funerals and AIDS benefits than concerts. It was a time when many families learned their sons were gay and also dying. Many loved and honored their sons; many did not. Personally, I was diagnosed HIV-positive 29 years ago and knew I had what everyone else had and would I be the next to get sick on a Friday, be mentioned in the chorus newsletter on Sunday and die shortly thereafter? Thankfully I was spared and I’m still here.
The AIDS crisis unified and helped to move the LGBT human rights movement forward. 30 years ago there were no protections against discrimination and some members sang under made up names and would not be photographed with the group for fear of losing their jobs or being outed.
Today, 30 years later, most every chorus is performing pop; we have the Internet, increasing LGBT rights and pharmaceutical medications keeping people living with HIV alive and healthy.
Sometimes I wonder what has kept me engaged this long. When I reflect on three decades singing with CGMC, the words friendship, community and music come to mind, then the word activist.
Through CGMC; I am blessed to have had made many intergenerational friendships and made lifelong close friendships with amazing people like Mitch Laks.
Through CGMC; I am blessed to have been an active part of the larger LGBT community in Chicago and beyond.
Through CGMC; I am blessed to have had a life filled with music and to be able to continue to be that musical theatre queen, singing and dancing my heart out every Sunday night from the ages of 24 to 54.
- From being a dancing daughter with purple tie-dyed underpants in the “Pirates of Penzance.”
- To opening GALA with “These Boots Are Made for Walking” as a militant gay anthem to ending that performance with Poulenc’s “Dialog of the Carmelites” where with each slamming of the guillotine, chorus members left the stage until Kip Snyder and Patrick Sinozich left the stage empty at the end of performance. This was a parable for the randomness of how AIDS was impacting our community.
- To the magnificent musical set we just performed in June 2012 that was a reflection of gay life.
Through CGMC; I am blessed to be one of many perhaps “accidental activists.” I believe everyone associated with CGMC is in their own right an activist. Through the chorus we are all provided the luxury to be open, out, gay men and amazing allies of gay men. We share our LGBTA lives with our families, our co-workers, our friends and our audiences. Being out and visible has proven to be one of the most important political things we can do.
Thirty years ago, just standing on a stage with the word gay in your name was a political act. Today I sometimes think we’ve done it all--and then we get invited to sing on the stage of Millennium Park with the symphony orchestra to a filled beyond capacity audience, or to perform nationally on WGN-TV for the family-oriented Thanksgiving Day parade and I am reminded that there is still so much more we have left to do.
I am very proud to be in the chorus for 30 years, to have been a part of something healthy something that continues to attract new members and audiences. I have received so much more than I have given.
My life, your life and so many other lives have been and will be positively impacted forever through CGMC. The friendships we make, being proactive members of our community, the joy of creative expression making music and, in turn, our activism through art that changes minds and hearts.
Here’s to many more years of CGMC.
I’m just going to say it, I love to perform. I always have ever since I was a toddler and first learning how to walk. I loved it so much that I would go outside in backyard and act out scenes and musical numbers alone instead of playing football, baseball, or some other sport with the word “ball” in it. This would have been an indication of two things for my parents that I was a) a performer and b) going to be coming out of the closet in the near future. But that’s another story.
I first came to Chicago having transferred schools from a little rural river town in Iowa. I graduated from Columbia College Chicago in marketing, but upon graduation I felt that there was something in my life. I wasn’t performing and it was starting to get to me. Back in Iowa, I was in a concert choir in college and I found myself missing the friendships and camaraderie that came with singing in a large ensemble.
I soon found the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus (CGMC) as they were preparing for the '80s Show. Soon, that void was filled with ribbons and drag queens. I myself found a pair of sensible heels as I dressed up as the last surviving member of the ‘Golden Girls,’ Rose Nyland (Betty White’s character). Since then I have danced the robot, become a member of the marketing committee, danced in a leotard and tutu, and demolished a Christmas present as a member of the Boy Scouts and I’m just getting started.
Now, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary as a choral organization by doing a Beatles tribute called “All You Need is Love.” Because of my love of performing, I wanted to do more than just sing and dance. So I decided to take a stab at putting my face up on camera for the promotion video to promote the show on YouTube, (even though they say the camera adds 10 pounds). I have done some camera work before, having done some film for my four film-major roommates (yikes!). So, I wasn’t a newbie and was ready for a close up.
So, I was supposed to only be in the choir and in the crowd for a wedding. Nothing fancy, but what else was I going to do on Saturday, but go to brunch and get wasted on mimosas? But when I got there, Steve Maxey (the visionary behind the video) asked me if I would want to stay later and play a family member to one of the groomsmen (yes, it was a fabulous gay wedding!)
Before you know it, I had a pink boutonniere on my lapel and sitting in the row with my new “family.” Everyone had a smile on their face and joyous happiness in their eyes for the camera. But me being the attention seeker that I am, I decided to do something different. So, I decided to take on the role of being one of the grooms’s “straight” and annoyed, younger brother.
The shoot went great, and the hours seemed to go by in minutes. I wouldn’t have traded that day for anything. Many memories were made that day as improvisations started to develop among cast members, including the surrogate mother coming to the wedding to raise a little hell. It is days like that day that remind of me why I love this organization so much and keep the people that make up this organization close to my heart. For now, I am not a little boy playing alone in his backyard, but an entertainer surrounded by a sea of talented and compassionate people that I can call my friends.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been six months since GALA Denver, when we took one of the largest CGMC groups ever to continue our uninterrupted string of appearances opening the first block of GALA concerts. Others can, and have, reflected on that amazing time--the laughter, the tears, the standing ovations and the rainy dash to our final rehearsal. I want to talk about the concert a little over a week later, when a smaller contingent of CGMC folks presented most of that same concert repertoire in the tiny sanctuary of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Instead of 2000 fellow chorines, the audience was just over 60 strong. It was a paid gig for the chorus, my Session (board of elders) having voted to invite the chorus to sing for the first time on the southwest side. But it was more than just a regular run-out gig (and we certainly weren’t able to pay much).
It was a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lgbtq youth. The profile of The Trevor Project has been dramatically increased since Dan Savage’s “It Get’s Better” project identified them as a principle partner in preventing further lgbtq suicides. That afternoon, we raised $1100 for Trevor, which may not seem like that much to many, but it was the first LGBT-specific fundraiser ever held in a church on the Southwest side, a community that is dramatically more conservative on lgbt issues than many other parts of Chicago.
Many of you were there singing or in the audience and can testify to the power of “Why” and “Not Pretty Enough” in the context of the work of The Trevor Project. Many in my congregation are still talking about that day and how proud they were to host. But CGMC (and Good Shepherd) didn’t just help raise $1100 that day. As a direct result of that concert, another congregation (ELCA Lutheran) became connected to the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and three clergy friends of mine committed to beginning the training, and so we now have three more Chicago-based Trevor hotline volunteers. As marriage equality bills are pending in Rhode Island, Minnesota and here in Illinois, and court cases are pending in Washington DC and Springfield that could radically change everything, we prepare for a concert where we will add our voices to John Lennon’s words singing “Imagine.” We are again at a time when our words and music can be part of changing hearts and minds and making a difference (and, hopefully by May, celebrating the changes that have already come). But, with the chance to sing with our alumni less than six months from now at PrideFest, celebrating our 30 year legacy of cheeky irreverence, musical excellence, family-making and community building, we are have a unique opportunity to pause and consider how we, Chicago and the world have been changed..and be grateful.
So there I was at the DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) parading about in some fierce black patent leather heels. Two women were staring at me while I sashayed around and once we all made eye contact; one says “Honey, you can work those better than I can”. At that point I knew I had found “The Ones”.
I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. My name is Leo Gutierrez and I moved to the Windy City from the City Beautiful (Orlando, FL) in late June 2012. I’ve been loving the city so far, and was ecstatic when I learned about the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. After a brief audition, I was sitting with the upper second tenors, singing Christmas Carols in July.
I think it was the second or third week of rehearsals that someone made the announcement about a show called “Lipstick & Lyrics”. The show seemed interesting because it involved drag--aka something I really liked and had done and enjoyed--and singing live--aka something I loved to do: I mean ,hello, I’m in the chorus.
So we were told to come to the audition with heels, and sing the chorus and a few lines of a song. We were also to show some movement with our selection. I’m all calling my friends “OMG, what do you think I should do?” and my friends were all like “aaahhh….everything!” lol. So I narrowed it down to Chicago “All That Jazz.” I could do the song and I was sure to show some movement. While practicing at home I wasn’t really feeling the song though, unlike the heels. Those heels were KILLER! But alas, I was a trooper and also decided to change my audition song to Miss Tina’s “Proud Mary”.
The day of the audition I was a nervous wreck. I’m a pretty confident individual, but I still get the worst stage fright--cotton mouth, sweaty hands, shaky everything, I felt like dying. I waltzed into the room to audition for two judge--who by the way I had known for only a few weeks--and the pressure was ON! I did my thing and thought I completely bombed that audition. “There was no way I was getting a part” I kept telling my friends when they’d inquire about how it went.
I don’t know what happened but I got an email and my name was on a list. I believe I “squeeeee”-ed out loud I was so very excited. Over the course of a few weeks we received our schedules, the numbers we were in, and the sheet music and rehearsal audio files to our numbers. We basically had a month and a half or so to put the show together. This was all very serious work. I learned that in this show you WORK YOUR ASS OFF!
In the beginning I was involved in four “all cast” numbers and one “small group” number. They were fabulous songs and I could already tell I was going to have a lot of fun. I was feeling pretty confident with the numbers and then it happened. I received an email asking if I was interested in being the lead in the “Who Run the World” number, since the guy doing it unfortunately had to drop out. You best BELIEVE the answer was “Of COURSE I WILL.” I was super excited that I was going to have this really awesome number and I was jumping for joy. Then I got a bit of a reality check when we were learning our choreography. Girrrlll….let me tell you SOMETHING! This was no joke. So I knew I had to turn it out. I mean, I was playing BEYONCE! The rehearsal process was grueling but totally paid off.
The paying off part. I can NOT wait till next year! I know I spoke about the work that went into this--and believe you me, there’s a lot, but oh my god was this a complete blast. Every time we rehearsed it was work and fun mixed into each session. The show itself was amazing because you honestly feel like you’re a star on tour and people are coming to see YOU! It was amazing to hear people tell you how much they loved your number or how pretty you looked or how they wanted to be you when they grew up. You definitely get to feel like a DIVA.
Another aspect that I enjoyed from this show was the way that others were willing to help. Having moved to the city not too long ago, I wasn’t necessarily bathing in money. I am so incredibly grateful for people like Michael Roman and Quenten Schumacher who let me raid their closets and my friend Leo Satkovich who painted me up and made me look amazingly pretty. All throughout the show, people were always willing to give you a hand, whether it was to zip up your dress, or lend you a white belt, or powder you up.
The show was great and afterwards we all went out to celebrate. I am so incredibly glad that I did “Lipstick and Lyrics” and am looking forward to the next one. If you’re reading this and thinking about doing it, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s an awesome experience and an unforgettable journey.
I’ve been in the chorus a little over three years, so this was my first GALA. What an amazing experience! Going into the weekend, I have to admit to feeling burnt out by all the extra rehearsals and wondering if all of that time and effort was worth a single 30 minute performance. But our brief time on stage proved to be deeply meaningful to me. As some of you know, the majority of my coming out experience was only five years ago. While I’ve grown incredibly during that time, thanks in large part to CGMC, it’s also been somewhat difficult and painful for me to deal with coming out later in life into a community that seems to put an enormous amount of focus on youth and beauty.
So, when we took the stage in Denver and were welcomed so warmly by a theater full of our peers from all over the country, I was simply overwhelmed. The tears welled up in my eyes and never really subsided the whole time we were on stage. I couldn’t stop thinking about the rejection and judgment I’ve felt from some people in our community and how incredible it felt to hear an audience, symbolizing the gay community as a whole, roar in applause after every song we sang. My experience was further enriched by the fact that a couple of my cousins, who had never seen me perform or even known that I was gay, were cheering us on in the audience. I don’t know how I managed to hold it together.
As the week progressed, it was incredibly moving to see the other choruses perform, to cheer them on, and to know how wonderful it felt for them to receive that level of affirmation from the community. Everyone was given a standing ovation by their peers regardless of their age, race, height, weight, gender, hair color, or level of talent. Whether they were pretty or not, everyone mattered. On the streets and in the hallways, people greeted each other warmly, smiled, said hello, and complimented one another’s performances. GALA provided an amazing little slice of our community the way I wish it really was, where we all support and affirm one another as equals.
I always feel a sense of loss after a mountain-top experience like that when I have to return to normal life. I wish that somehow that utopian world would translate into the world in which we really live. It never seems to work that way. But at least for a brief time, everything was great…the Prince of Darkness was gone, the captain wasn’t mad, life was worth the fight, we saved the questions for another day, we felt the love, and no one saw right through us, because each and every one of us was pretty enough.
It’s my hope that the level of inclusion and acceptance that we experienced at GALA will continue now that we’re home. A whole new world is waiting. It’s ours for the taking. I know we can make it. Today our lives begin! Thanks GALA and CGMC, for the difference you’ve made in my life and in the lives of countless others!
CGMC explodes onto the scene at the GALA Festival 2012 in Denver with unparalleled success!
After a few days of watching performances by talented organizations across the country and beyond, I am struck by the realization that every four years, the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus comes home. No matter what the host city, GALA festivals are a part of CGMC and in our blood. Surrounded by song and family we renew our strength and determination by this participation; to borrow the phrase, "voices raised, lives changed!" This is our legacy--not one that is merely honored through past memories but alive and strong. This is what CGMC gives to each of its members and what we share with our audiences.
Nothing more clearly exemplified this than the Youth Invasion performance last night. Several bold and talented youth choruses from around the country came together to offer song and theatre for their peers and predecessors. What a perfect cross-section of what GALA (and CGMC) is all about. From the seasoned and polished numbers by cities like New York and Seattle to the gentle, first-time performance of only 6 young voices from Kansas City, the gay choral movement is alive and well. In a heartwarming and unscripted moment during Kansas City's final number, the young and somewhat timid performers were joined by the entire auditorium in singing "We Shall Overcome". As the voices grew and then people stood joining and raising hands, I was completely overwhelmed the the intensity of it all.
This is what GALA is about--this is what CGMC stands for... humor and camaraderie blended seamlessly with healing and encouragement. I realized that across our ages and cities, our stories may be different but our message of hope and perseverance remains undimmed.
What an amazing experience! I will return to the Windy City with a renewed sense of pride and energy to continue doing what CGMC does best: entertain, inspire, motivate and comfort!
It is always an honor to open the GALA Choruses Festival. This is my third GALA in 15 years with CGMC, but somehow this one seemed more magical... It appeared that every seat in the Boettcher Concert Hall was filled; 2500+ eager audience members ready to take in CGMC's set "Feel the Love".
There was a raw connection between CGMC and the audience. For me it was because I had deep feelings about much of the content. Every one of us told a story that was empowering - I suspect that the story was a bit different for each of us. I felt exuberance dancing in Feel the Love in contrast to the tears streaming down my face in Why. I was a bit mad in Am I not Pretty Enough but hopeful in Today My Life Begins - AND the audience got it.
You know how they say - GALA delegates give standing ovations for anything and we got our share.
I could see smiles, tears, joy and hope in the faces of so many of the audience - we all felt the love.
Afterwards I joined my Aunt and Uncle (local Denver residents) to see the remainder of concert block 1C. They enjoyed the entire concert block, but gushed about CGMC. "You performed; sang, danced and entertained. The others did at least one of those things in their performances - but not like you guys providing all three throughout."
We had a celebratory luncheon at Osteria Marco (YUM!) and many chorines came by all still with stars in their eyes.
Later in the evening Gary and I attended the Pinnacle fundraiser. We shared a table with CGMC and WCPA compatriots. The fundraiser helped to put in perspective why the gay chorus movement is still thriving. Today we can make an impact on how the mainstream thinks and feels about the LGBT community and in doing so make it easier for up and coming LGBT youth to have an accepting and nurturing environment to be themselves. Dan Savage hosted the event and said it best "Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. We must speak up against hate and intolerance. Let's provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and other (bullied) teens by letting them know that "It Gets Better."
That evening we dined at Vendome - an exceptional French restaurant... Denver is a great city for foodies!
The evening ended with CGMC's Chicago Party! The Corner Office was packed, lines around the corner just to get in and rub elbows with us. I met delegates from all four corners of the US and some international delegates as well. Our fabulous accompanist Jimmy Morehead led four of CGMC's Divas in a condensed version of Kander and Ebb's Chicago. Kudos to D'Manda Donation for hitting those lady like low notes, Lilly Boquet for her ever lashing wit, Ethel Bourbon whose rendition of Mary Sunshine had me questioning what parts she actually had in her nether region and the poignant but always hilarious Dixie Lynn Cartwight.
I could not be happier to spend a full day like this with the men and women of CGMC whom I love dearly – you are my chosen family and I am always proud to share the stage with you.
Exactly one week from today, members of Chicago Gay Men's Chorus and over 6,000 additional delegates will begin arriving in Denver for the GALA Festival 2012.
Every four years, LGBTQ choruses from all over the world gather together for a festival to foster growth in and celebrate the gay choral movement that began more that 30 years ago. CGMC takes the stage on Sunday, July 8 at 12:30MDT as the opening concert of the festival--CGMC has had the honor of being the opening concert of every GALA Festival since its beginning in 1983.
Eight members of CGMC will be acting as correspondents from the field and will be posting entries here throughout the festival--we hope you'll enjoy their impressions.