Born on September 11: Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus
Buffalo Gay Menâ€™s Chorus provides individual and collective example of hope rising from ashes of hate and intolerance.
A Roman Catholic Church is not the first place one would expect to find a stirring, well-received performance of a gay menâ€™s chorus. But on one particular day, in one particular Catholic parish in Buffalo, gay men won the day.
â€śThis is exactly the purpose of the Buffalo Gay Menâ€™s Chorus and all the GALA choruses around the country,â€ť said the BGMCâ€™s artistic director, Barbara Wagner, a self-described â€śstraightâ€ť person. (GALA is an international organization of several hundred choruses for gay men, lesbian and mixed gay community singers in the US and abroad.) â€śWe want to educateâ€”well, I donâ€™t like that word, exactly, butâ€”show the world that gays are not the scourge some people want to make them out to be, to do something positive. Thatâ€™s all weâ€™re about, is positive, good things for the community.â€ť
Wagner, who says she directs at least four different high level choirs, some of them church-related, speaks with the cadence and breathlessness of a multi-tasker who may have one or two too many balls in the air. â€śI should probably drop a couple of my choirs, but not these guys,â€ť she says. She is passionate about helping this group excel musically as well as being an essential source of family and refuge for gays, especially young men, who may be struggling with their orientation, and with the decision to come out.
Wagner proclaims that since sheâ€™s been with the group, more than one young life has been saved. And no, thatâ€™s not hyperbole, she insists. She can name several â€śboysâ€ť who would be dead by now if they hadnâ€™t found a positive, safe place to begin understanding their identity, to accept it, and to come out.
The songs, the lyrics, the melodies, the back stories that form the context not only of the music but the life experiences of those who sing it are vehicles of catharsis, deliverance, and celebration. As they processed down the center aisle of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Buffalo that day, following in the footsteps of Bishops, priests and deacons and two thousand years of the best and the worst the Roman Church has been and done for the cause of tolerance, they sang an African deliverance hymn, and were welcomed to the parish by its priest and pastor, Father Reiger, and no one had to explain to anyone there why the place erupted in cheers, shrieks and applause when he spoke the word welcome to this group so often unwelcome in so many places.
Wagner speaks in religious terms when she talks about the Buffalo Gay Menâ€™s Chorus even though she is not gay and they are not ostensibly religious. She gets it. There is a healing, empowering, uniting quality in music and the men in this group are at a place and time at which they are all especially sensitive to this power. The result is the power of affirmation and liberation, of humanity at its best, of music that is great music both for the technical quality of the direction and performance but also the sounds of the soul that flow from a reservoir deep within the individual and collective unconscious of the singers.
Given the deep amount of resonance this group has with grief and deliverance, it is ironic that their very first rehearsal occurred on September eleventh. The September eleventh.
A passage from â€śHistory of the Buffalo Gay Menâ€™s Chorusâ€ť refers to the controversy surrounding the decision to go ahead with the rehearsal that day as planned.
There was controversy around the decision, but at the end of the day, it proved to be a wise one. Forty men, many of whom didnâ€™t know each other, began to gather, eerily silent, in the Alliance Room of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo. As the men and Wagner held hands for the very first time in a community circle, there were anguished murmurs of meditation and prayer. It was a birth fraught with complications and terror. We sang - â€śfrom you I receive, to you I give, together we share and from this we live.â€ť We learned â€śHow Can I Keep From Singingâ€ť and began forging the bonds that still hold us together to this day. â€śHow Can I Keep From Singingâ€ť was to become our theme song and was the very first music our first audience heard as the Buffalo Gay Menâ€™s Chorus processed down the aisles of the Unitarian Universalist Church for the first time. That inaugural concert â€śMusic From the Heartâ€ť presented on February 9, 2002.
This winter, for the first time the BGMC will be presenting a Holiday program. They will be featured on Wednesday December 17th, 8:00PM, at UBâ€™s Allen Hall, as part of WBFOâ€™s â€śLive at Allen Hallâ€ť series designed to showcase a variety of local talent. This series has been well-received since its inception nearly a year ago. The concert is free, and is sponsored by John W. Howell of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.
Photo credit: Mike Longo