Posts Tagged ‘diversity

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

08
Sep
18

The Perfect Day

Weather radar picHere where I live, it has been raining all day today.

It also rained a bit yesterday, but then it rained a LOT the day before.

All this rain helped me remember an innocent, idle thought from Monday… the day before all the rain decided to come calling. It was nothing… just a blip that briefly flitted through my brain.

When the thought came I was out walking. The sun was shining, a light breeze was blowing, and the temperature was a perfect 73 degrees.

In fact, everything about that moment was perfect… including my health and overall disposition. In concert with this amazing symphony of perfection, I thought, “Wow! How cool! I wish I could hang on to this moment FOREVER!”

I am sure everyone has had at least one “golden moment” like that… if not recently, then certainly in the not-too-distant past.

I hardly had time to wipe the smile off my face when that thought balloon popped, only to be replaced by the next one, which said, “Are you sure you mean that?” followed quickly by one that read, “Do you realize what you are actually saying?”

“Well, yes, I thought I did,” I said. “What’s wrong with yearning for a perfect life and perfect world?”

But then I began to visualize the answer to my own question. What if it was ALWAYS 73 degrees? What if it NEVER rained? What if clouds never formed in the sky above me? What if I was always chipper and pain-free and strong?

I suppose residents of San Diego, CA can cope with that kind of horrible nightmare, but the more I thought about it, the less that vision appealed to me. I realized it would be a life of utter monotony. All of the color and texture and variety of life would dry up and blow away… not to mention the grass and trees in my front yard.

And then I wondered; is that really what I mean by the word “perfection”? An endless monotone progression of bland, pleasing sameness? Do I really yearn for a life devoid of change, challenge, or uncertainty?

Taken to its extreme, of course, the concept of “perfection through uniformity” is the vision that gives birth to systems where difference is punished and variation becomes the enemy.

On second thought, no thanks. I’ll opt instead for the world God created. And by that, I mean the world where the weather changes, where seasons are different, where people speak different languages, prefer different foods, love different movies, and vote for different candidates.

Yeah. Give me that kind of perfection. Give me the perfection of change, difference, diversity, novelty, and surprise.

Bring on the rain!

11
Jun
18

INDIVISIBLE

Indivisible banner artAll that hard work for the last three months… and suddenly POOF! it’s done.

As I write this, I have just finished singing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus in a concert called, “INDIVISIBLE: Songs of Remembrance and Resistance.”The weekend included one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon performance at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The concert consisted of two halves: the first half featured the world premiere of a series of songs telling the story of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As you may or may not be aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in March 1921 to the memory of those who died in that First World War without ever being recognized or identified. This piece of music was written because this year – 2018 – marks the 100thanniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.WETU photo 1

As we rehearsed this moving and powerful music over the past three months, members of the chorus had an opportunity to talk with a soldier who actually served as one of the guards (they call themselves “sentinels”) at the Tomb.  His testimony of standing by that tomb in the darkness of early dawn with no visitors around was very poignant.  The special bond he said he felt with that soldier who served, fought, and died, all without any kind of recognition touched each of the Chorus members deeply.

The half of the concert was the Songs of Remembrance part. Members of the Soldier’s Chorus of the U.S. Army Choir sang the oratorio with us.

The second half of the concert was the Songs of Resistance segment. It included an ensemble singing Michael Jackson’s hit, Man in the Mirror. We also performed a recently written piece called This Grass, recounting the recent controversies in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere over the removal of statues dedicated to soldiers of the Confederate army.

But the most difficult piece – both to perform and to listen to – was a number called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.  In an incredibly creative and provocative arrangement, the verbatim last words of African-American men killed by police officers since 1999 were set to music. There was Trayvon Martin’s voice saying, “What are you following me for?”,Michael Brown pleading, “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”,Eric Garner gasping for breath, pleadingly saying, “I can’t breathe!” and four others.

WETU photo 2The one that I always struggled to sing without openly sobbing was the part of Amadou Diallo. When he was shot and killed in February 1999 in New York City, his last words were, “Mom, I’m going to college.”

It was an incredible concert to be in and – according to my wife – to watch. I loved the music… I loved the staging… I loved the emotion it generated… but what I probably loved most was the title: INDIVISIBLE.

This single word speaks Truth and fills me with hope. It boldly declares that we cannot be divided… despite the best efforts of some to divide and isolate on the basis of color, gender, sexuality, or any other criteria. It speaks of a strong, deep bond in the core of our souls. It defiantly raises a fist and says a loud “NO!” to the forces working actively to pull people apart because of their differences.

And even though it involved three months of damned hard work to learn this music and commit it to memory, I am really sorry to see it end. I wish we could sing this concert in every city in every state. I want to remind TONS MORE folks that our differences are the MORTAR that holds the bricks of our country together… it isn’t some kind of menace or aberration. From the earliest days, we have always understood that the strength of our country is our diversity.

Fortunately, for folks in the Kansas City area, our local ABC television affiliate, KMBC, produced and will air a special documentary on the making of the concert. You can see it on June 20 at 9:00 p.m.

For everyone else I would just ask: take that word – INDIVISIBLE– grab it with both hands… hold it tightly to your chest… let it fill your heart with courage and your spine with steel.

It really is who we are.




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