This weekend, the 36th Annual Pride Concert: Together Strong! celebrates the lives of two very different supporters of the LGBT community with premieres of original music for chorus and wind ensemble.
“From Darkness To Light” honors the life of Nelson Mandela in an original composition by Philip Orem written for the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band (SFLGFB) and the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco (LGCSF) specifically for this concert. “I Am In Love with the World” celebrates the life of “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak in a cantata for baritone soloist, mixed chorus and piano composed by Nathan Hall. An audience Q&A with both composers will follow the concert, which starts at 3 pm this Saturday, June 14, in the newly renovated Kelly Cullen Auditorium, 220 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco.
The Mandela piece is also a tribute of sorts for SFLGFB Artistic Director Pete Nowlen. An old college friend of Nowlen’s, Orem learned about Nowlen’s appointment as AD of the Freedom Band and contacted him about composing a piece to congratulate him.
“I wanted to do a tribute to Nelson Mandela (at the Pride Concert), who founded a nation with Gay Rights enshrined in its constitution in the 1990s!” Nowlen informed me. “There were no suitable pieces for chorus and band, and Phil composes a lot for both…He came up with a fantastic way to combine Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem (Invictus) with Mandela’s own words. I’m very excited to share this piece with our community.”
Invictus, a poem by 19th century poet William Ernest Henley, was the mantra that got Mandela through his 26 years in prison. Its famous final stanzas, “I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul,” have been interwoven with text from his speeches that underscore his moral courage in triumphing over prejudice with forgiveness and respect:
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin,
or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate,
and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,
for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite…
As I walked out the door toward the gate
that would lead to my freedom,
I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind,
I’d still be in prison.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear,
but the triumph over it.
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid,
but he who conquers that fear.
Nathan Hall’s “I Am In Love with the World” is likewise based on Sendak’s own words. The lyrics are taken from a 2011 interview with NPR’s Terri Gross on Fresh Air. Sendak, who’d come out publically in 2008, had just lost his partner of 50 years and gave remarkably open and heartfelt responses, which captivated the composer. The piece was written in June 2012—just one month after Sendak’s death—and premiered in Baltimore. Conducted by Artistic Director William Sauerland, LGCSF’s performance this June will mark the West Coast premiere of the piece.
As with every Pride Concert going back to 1979, Nowlen and Sauerland put together a program that also features fun and festive numbers to carry you into Pride weekend. Emcee Joe “Trauma Flintstone” Wicht is featured on the Gershwin standard, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” A section of the concert pays tribute to LGBT activist and entertainer José Sarria with a sing-along of three of his favorite songs, including a splashy version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” led by LGCSF with the Freedom Band accompanying. That’s the spirit of this concert titled “Together Strong.”
“As a community we are stronger when we work together,” Nowlen wrote. “…(This concert) represents the long-standing partnership between our two organizations, which in their genesis brought our community together to make music and create social change. Together and strong.”
Trumpet player Heidi Beeler has been a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band since 1991. She is also a founding member of the Dixieland Dykes +3, which you can read about in this issue.