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    Not Just a Choir, but a Family

    The year 1986 was huge for me. My entire life changed from being a married man with children and a Southern Baptist minister of music to an out gay man. There is not time to share how that went, but you can imagine.SFGMC_0220 - Copy - Copy

    A year later, I heard there was this thing called a gay men’s chorus. I had no idea. In fact, there was a struggling one in Dallas, Texas, looking for a conductor. I applied, got the job, and started work with 37 singers. My entire life changed.  In fact, it saved my life. I remained the conductor of that chorus as its conductor for the next 20 years.

    Let’s back up a bit – not in my life story, but how there came to be such a thing as a gay men’s chorus. Eight years prior to my coming out, during the fall of 1978, word went out to men in the Castro who liked to sing. The dream was to start a chorus. The driving force was Jon Sims, the conductor of the “San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps.” October 30 was chosen as the date for the first “rehearsal” and Everett Middle School the location.

    Interest mounted leading up to that first gathering. By the time the date arrived, around 100 men showed up. The atmosphere of excitement was palpable as the men rousingly sang “If They Could See Me Now” and “Stouthearted Men!”

    Suggested names for the group (seriously) were “Men About Town,” “Foggy City Chorus” and “Homosexual Choir” (“gay” was still considered denigrating). They ultimately settled on the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

    At the 4th rehearsal, on November 27, having spent the day with the news of Harvey Milk and George Moscone’s assassinations, the singers showed up to rehearsal grief-stricken and in shock. They went from there to City Hall steps for the candlelight vigil where they performed publicly for the very first time.

    In 1981, the Chorus took an historic national tour with stops from coast to coast – including Dallas Texas! Those concerts inspired hundreds to come out, share their stories and even start their own gay choruses. Little did the men know they were actually giving birth to a worldwide LGBT choral phenomenon that now boasts hundreds of choruses around the globe.

    The Chorus’ milestones and mountaintop experiences have been countless.

    Three years ago this January, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. I applied for, and was offered, the position of Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. It was a long way from Dallas, Texas. I literally jumped at the chance. It has been incredible.

    The first 35 years of Chorus life culminated in an absolute blaze of glory with the world premiere of “I Am Harvey Milk.” This incredible work by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa had its premiere on June 26, the very day of the Supreme Court’s astounding decisions regarding gay marriage. It was a momentous day and concert series. It also garnered the Chorus worldwide attention. The recording reached #2 on the iTunes Classical chart.

    Now, we are taking the very first steps into the “next 35 years.” Like those men who gathered in 1978, we do not know exactly what lies ahead. We do know it is going to be glorious.

    We know without a doubt that SFGMC will continue to make the glorious music it has made for 35 years. It will continue its tireless efforts to touch the hearts of all who hear our music. The Chorus will continue to be a voice of community, activism and compassion.

    Embarking on the next 35, we chose a season theme of “Illuminate” for many reasons. The chorus has certainly helped make the world a brighter place for 35 years. But this amazing journey has also brought light to the lives of the singers themselves. The Chorus is not just a choir. It is a family. It is a light in sometimes dark times. It is a force of nature in its music-making.

    We may not know exactly what the next 35 will look like, but based on the phenomenal journey of the last 35 and with your help and support, we do know the future is incredibly bright.

    Dr. Timothy Seelig is the Artistic Director and Conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.