The Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte (GMCC) has been an institution in the region’s LGBTQ community since 2006 when it was created by founding Artistic Director John Quillin. The chorus gives many performances and workshop seminars throughout their annual season, and the group also sponsors clinicians who go into those public schools that already have choral departments. In addition to this, GMCC performs in many venues throughout the region that are located outside Mecklenburg County. Quillin organizes these types of events to help generate buzz for smaller regional groups, in order to help them grow. In those instances, GMCC cedes all ticket sales to the up-and-coming chorus in question. The Charlotte-based chorus also plans events specifically in areas with a homophobic voting history where its performances might help local people understand the LGBTQ community better.
Visibility is at the heart of these efforts, and not only for promoting GMCC. In speaking with Quillin, he mentioned that his top priorities are social change, artistic excellence and family, which thrive during the events provided by the chorus’s extensive education outreach program. For this reason, it has been a central mission of GMCC to create opportunities for dialogue with disparate communities (particularly those that might be unfamiliar with or hostile toward LGBTQ people), training and performing opportunities for adult singers and safe spaces where gay men can bond during rehearsals and performances. In fact, Quillin described a scene where practically every rehearsal becomes an emotional epiphany for those singing together.
Another vital component of the programming at GMCC is the creation of new work. In mainstream choruses, it is very common for those groups to perform popular classics. These types of programs are based upon a history and tradition that already existed. Those types of programs preserve pre-existing works, and although that serves a vital purpose in its own right, it does very little to bolster Quillin’s mission of social change. To that end, he has focused much of GMCC’s resources on supporting LGBTQ composers who write LGBTQ music for LGBTQ audiences. This practice serves not only to support and empower the LGBTQ community, but also allow straight people to learn more about the perspectives of LGBTQ people.
One of the reasons Quillin considers this to be so vital is that LGBTQ history in general is terribly neglected and comparatively poorly documented or studied. By sponsoring the creation of new work, GMCC is proactively contributing to the ongoing development of the community’s legacy. Since there is little or no tradition for GMCC to inherit or preserve, that material must be made de novo. After approximately 30 years of gay chorus organizing, there is finally a generation’s worth of collected songs about the experiences and views of LGBTQ people that can serve as time capsules to be opened again and again in successive performances for many years to come.
The high quality of this new work is important, not only because no one wants to experience lackluster music, but also because the LGBTQ community has made remarkable strides in the intervening years. When the first gay choruses were established in the 1980s and 1990s it was enough to be gay and on stage. That visibility in and of itself was an important part of the evolution of queer liberation. However, underwhelming performances of cliché dirges about death and isolation are no longer acceptable as staples in an LGBTQ performance. What is necessary is that this new music properly record and represent the degree to which the community has made strides away from oppression, beyond tolerance and toward broad acceptance.
In light of these priorities, Quillin has assisted in the creation of a piece called “Unbreakable” by Andrew Lippa, an up-and-coming Broadway composer. This work looks at the ways in which LGBTQ culture has evolved from 1900 up to the present day. Quillin also commissioned a new arrangement of “Proud,” the theme song from the American version of “Queer as Folk” (one of the seminal LGBTQ television series, which focused exclusively on LGBTQ characters in the United States at the turn of the millennium). Also, two new songs have been added to the GMCC repertoire: “Our #1 Problem” (which humorously explores the implications of HB2, the transphobic North Carolina bathroom legislation that prompted a global conversation about transgender bodies and rights), and “At the Heart” by Debi Jackson. In this song she comes to grips with her four-year-old coming out as transgender.
To underline the importance of creating this legacy, Quillin observed the degree to which he invests in commissions, collaboration and workshops: GMCC typically spends more on creating new work than all the other music organizations in Charlotte combined. And how could it not? There’s an entire history to analyze, record and celebrate.