Gay Men’s Chorus: Journey to a brighter day

The choir commemorates its 35th with a new commission from Portland composer and librettist.

It’s never been easy being gay in a homophobic world, but it was especially bleak 35 years ago. Rampant discrimination ruled in employment, housing, and beyond. Within a year, AIDS would begin devastating the community and Republicans would take over the US government with help from the so-called Moral Majority and other anti-gay activists. And one of the real heroes of the gay rights movement, San Francisco city councillor Harvey Milk, had months earlier been assassinated — along with Mayor George Moscone, a supporter of equal rights for people of all sexual orientations — by a right wing fellow councillor.

That was the environment in which the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus formed in 1980 as America’s fourth-oldest gay-identified chorus, with a mission to achieve social change through choral music.

Cut to today, when marriage equality is a reality in most of the country, and Portland has had a proudly gay mayor and is home to America’s first openly bisexual governor. Though the journey to real equality isn’t yet complete, there’s much to celebrate, with the promise of more progress to come.

That’s why PGMC chose to celebrate its 35th anniversary by looking forward: commissioning a new work for the chorus with words by chorus member Doug Bom and music by Portland composer Scot Crandal.

Scot Crandal and PGMC perform his new A Brighter Day this weekend.

Scot Crandal and PGMC perform his new A Brighter Day this weekend.


“We have long been committed to bringing new music written especially for the gay choruses over the last 35 years to the Portland area,” PGMC artistic director Bob Mensel explains. “But we’ve also been committed to doing our own commissioning,” resulting in the creation of around 50 new works. “We’ve done commissions with people across the country, but there’s such a wealth of talent here that I’d like to help develop and give local people a real opportunity.” Citing the predictability of so much current Broadway fare, Mensel draws an analogy to locavore dining: “Why go eat at chains when we can get this great local food?”

Crandal has not only composed sacred music for choirs but also plays jazz piano, just completed an album of new jazz songs, produces music for film, TV, and video, and sings in local opera and other productions; he’s a featured tenor soloist in next weekend’s Bravo Vancouver performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah. Crandal will play piano in his piece, which Mensel calls “sophisticated and accessible,” and also features a jazz combo and synthesizer.

“When I started composing A Brighter Day, I felt inspired to connect this new music to the musical strengths I’ve heard in PGMC’s singing,” Crandal recalls. “So, there’s some pop, jazz, and classical sensibilities blended in a way that I hope features the strong musical ability of the singers and creates an experience for performers and listeners that takes them to new places. “

A Brighter Day lives up to its title, Mensel says, in contrast to many downbeat original works for gay choruses that he calls “’ambulance chasing commissions’ — somebody gets called faggot and they write a piece. What we wanted to say is that there’s a lot to celebrate. Scot’s piece is very bright and optimistic.”

That sunny mood necessarily contrasts with the piece on the first half of the program. Commissioned by PGMC’s San Francisco counterpart, Broadway composer Andrew Lippa’s I Am Harvey Milk commemorates the too-short life of  California’s first openly gay elected public official, which ended at the hands of a bigot on November 27, 1978. Dru Rutledge, who’s performed with Portland Opera and Oregon Symphony, and at Portland Center Stage, Lakewood Theatre and Broadway Rose, plays dual roles: Harvey’s mother and his teacher Mrs. Rosenblatt. Local singers portray Milk as a child and an adult. With A Brighter Day following in the concert’s concluding half, the show both musically and thematically traces gay people’s two-generation journey from tragedy to triumph, a journey PGMC continues.

PGMC performs Celebrate The Journey at 8 pm Saturday, March 21 and 3 pm Sunday, March 22, at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College. Tickets are available online.

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2 Responses.

  1. hi bob:

    i am coming back to pdx 3/25, and i so would love to attend a concert or singing event. please let me know if there are any opportunities. thanks

    lots of love and joy and peace…..

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