LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Rise Up!: Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus’ Call To Action

For over 37 years, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus has built a large following, this past year attracting over 12,000 fans, to its concerts. Attendees have come to expect “adventuresome programming” (as their playbill promises) from this award-winning group of 150 singers.

The spring concert was no exception as evidenced by rousing standing ovations. No one left disappointed Saturday night accompanied with a call of 12 Action Steps — Rise Up! in the program.

Jane Ramseyer Miller, artistic director of One Voice Mixed Chorus, designed and directed RISE UP, due to the departure of the previous artistic director, Ben Riggs a few months ago.

This was the first TCGMC concert I’ve attended. OMG! I had no idea what I was missing. Until Saturday night, that is. Luckily for us, my husband’s daughter, Maureen, who sings in the Twin Cities Women’s Choir, invited us since her choir also participated in this concert.

For starters, I found it surprising that the men walking on stage of the Ted Mann Theater on the University of Minnesota campus wearing a rainbow of solid-colored shirts, were of such varying ages from their 20s to 70s.

The first song was An Exhortation based on the lyrics from President Barack Obama’s victory speech of Nov. 4, 2008. That was a clue we were in for a real treat!

The TCWC opened — almost by surprise — singing from the third-floor balcony overlooking the full audience. TCWC also joined the men’s choir on stage for one of the final numbers wearing multicolored pussyhats — in solidarity with women’s rights — as they came together to sing “We Rise Again.}

(Caveat: I had a good laugh during intermission, when I observed the line for the men’s room was four times that of the women’s room! That is a first in my 72 years!)

The Lux String Quartet also joined the choirs for several selections throughout the evening. I found it interesting during the second half of the evening before the quartet played its one solo piece, “Summerland,” that the TCGMC, now all dressed in black, turned their backs in silence so the focus was on the quartet. Very effective!

It was even more noticeable and garnered a few chuckles when the men turned around to face the audience sporting solid-colored ties aptly in a rainbow of colors contrasting their black attire, for their next song, “1,000 Grandmothers.”

Without question, the highlight of the evening was a seven-part world premier of “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” written by Atlanta composer Joel Thompson and directed by Steve Milloy, guest conductor from Ohio. The piece features the last words of seven unarmed African-American men. All were killed by authority figures.

As Christians around the world mark Holy Week plus the current volatile political, social and gun rights situation, Thompson’s timely piece aligns closely with the classical structure of Joseph Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.”

Thompson is quoted in the program, “I wanted to process my personal feelings about being a black man in this very racially tense time … and also figure out a universal way to remember the men who had lost their lives too soon.”

As the piano struck slow, low chords and the violins played high, piercing notes, the choir sang, chanted and sometimes shouted the last words repeating them over and over and over and over as each man’s photograph, name and age was displayed on an overhead screen, one after the other.

  • Kenneth Chamberlain, 66: “Officer, why do you have your guns out?!”
  • Travon Martin, 16: “What are you following me for?!”
  • Amadou Diallo, 23: I’m going to college!
  • Michael Brown, 18: “I don’t have a gun! STOP SHOOTING! STOP! STOP! STOP!”
  • Oscar Grant, 22: “He shot me! He shot me! He shot me!”
  • John Crawford, 22: “It’s not real … Ohhhh … ahhhh!!!!”
  • Eric Garner, 43: “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! Can’t breathe!”

It was the most powerful and moving performance I’ve ever seen. I look forward to the TCGMC’s next concert.

The music of Freddie Mercury and Queen will be featured in the choir’s annual Pride concert June 15 and 16 at Ted Mann Concert Hall. (tickets.umn.edu)

12 Action Steps – Rise Up!

  1. Listen to people of color.
  2. Speak out against gun violence.
  3. Support Clean Water Action Minnesota.
  4. Read books by immigrant authors and people of color.
  5. Listen to and support victims of sexual assault and harassment.
  6. Attend a Justice Choir  www.justicechoir.org.
  7. Support immigrant owned businesses, events and festivals.
  8. Join Women’s March Minnesota  www.womensmarchmn.com.
  9. Contribute to the Philando Castile School Lunch Fund.
  10. Demand rights for transgender and gender non-conforming students www.glsen.org/students/trs.
  11. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about race and white privilege issues.
  12. Join the ACLU in urging ICE to abandon plans to significantly expand immigrant detention centers. www.aclu/org/action.

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