Bringing Down the House
By Sister Dana Van Iquity
Published: December 4, 2008
On December 1, World AIDS Day, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) presented their pearl anniversary concert featuring Jennifer Holliday, Piper Laurie and Kim Kuzma. The Community Women’s Orchestra provided the music, along with pianist Thaddeus Pinkston. Each chorister wore his red sequined ribbon along with strings of pearls in commemoration of World AIDS Day and of their XXX year of singing. Mayor Gavin Newsom had pronounced SFGMC WEEK (not the usual Day that he typically proclaims, but the whole week). The chorus was under the skilled baton of Dr. Kathleen McGuire, SFGMC artistic director. That night they recorded the concert to be available as a CD in a month. If you missed the live show, at least you can enjoy the music; and if you were there, you no doubt will want to purchase the CD, which I will be reviewing as soon as it drops.
Act I began with the extremely emotional, powerful piece, New World Waking: Songs on the Road to Peace, Inspired by John Lennon’s Piano —- the concept, music and lyrics by Steve Schalchlin. “Manifesto,” sung by the Chorus, told us religion and politics are failing to provide role models of peace; but music can cross all boundaries, languages and creeds. “Therefore we journey to find a song of perfect peace.” Soloist Dan O’Leary san7g of a new world waking. We were on a search for a new world anthem of peace. “Part I: Violence at Home” included “Gabi’s Song: Will It Always Be Like This?”
with a stunning solo by Stephen Camarata telling the horrific story of the violence of bullying — based on the true story of Gabi Clayton and her son Bill, who committed suicide after a gay bashing. “Billy Tipton’s Song: Brilliant Masquerade” was a tale of the violence of transphobia and the closet. This jazzy beat piece sang of the life of jazz sax player Billy Tipton, who nobody knew was “born female” until his autopsy. “Joe’s Song: Dead Inside” was a minor-key dirge about the violence of self hatred and cynicism, inspired by the bloggings of Joe. My. God. The last two pieces featured the trio of Ray Perez, Frank Federico and Sanford Smith.
“Part 2: Violence in the World” opened with “The Politician’s Song,” a scornful look at such evil, fascistic dictators as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco — telling of their horrific genocides and ending up by comparisons to the Halliburton warmongers. The music and choreography ironically mimicked the tango, with chorus guys switching partners back and forth. “Song of the Reluctant Soldier: I Enter This Battle Gravely” stated that one should go into battle as if going to a funeral. Soloists Kenyon DeVault, Edward Maravilla and Mike Joyce captured the spirit that “My enemies aren’t demons; they’re human just like me,” as the Chorus sang and kept turning their backs on one another. “The Media’s Song: War by Default” was a charge against news writers conning the public into war. The Chorus held up newspapers, pretending to read the latest yellow journalism piece as soloist John J. Sims sang of “media that’s hungry for a story” and “a chicken-hawk who never held a rifle, but sends our sons and daughters off to war.” The fourth number, “Song of Religious Violence: Holy Dirt,” was introduced by actress Piper Laurie (you may remember her as the scary religious fanatic in the movie Carrie). Part of her impressive monologue posed a thought: “Imagine what would happen if America’s Christianity took the Martin Luther King’s side instead of the TV evangelists’ side.” Laurie concluded, “Nonviolence resistance has never failed.”
“Part 3: Awakening Suite” began with soloist Bob Connett and the Chorus singing a gospel-like “Lazarus Come Out,” an awakening in the form of a song of thanks to caregivers, the restorers of life: “Time to come out into the light of day.” The Chorus sang “William’s Song,” in which it became clear there’s always a nonviolent way to fight back, and sometimes it takes a mom. It was based on the true story of William Wagner and his mother, Carolyn Wagner, who sued an Arkansas school for allowing five fag-bashers to jump her gay son with no official redress. The chorus repeated over and over: “Tell me, why does it take five great big guys to beat up one little queer?” The good news? Mom won the case and there was complete restitution. “My Thanksgiving Prayer” was simply a prayer for peace in a troubled land. “Epilogue” brought the dream (that soloist O’Leary reprised) to a conclusion that “there is a new world waking within my heart now.” The final song of Act I was the classic “My Rising Up” sung by the inimitable Jennifer Holliday in belt-out beatific: “If I start to turn away and fall into the deepest night, shadows will turn light as day, ‘cause darkness cannot fight the light.”
Thursday, December 04, 2008
SF Bay Times calls New World Waking "powerful."
In the first post concert review, the Bay Area Times describes the experience of New World Waking.
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