The opening words of Keval Harie of GALA (Gay and Lesbian Archives Memory in Action), the organisation tasked with preserving the history of gay, lesbian, transgender, queer and bi people in South Africa, are chilling. The persecution of people with alternative sexualities is once again rising in South Africa. This despite our wonderful constitution which guarantees their rights.
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus states that their mission is to create musical experiences to inspire change, build community and celebrate difference. Their South African tour certainly achieved this mission on Saturday evening, 16 June 2018, at a benefit concert for GALA at the Great Hall on the Wits Campus.
The concert commenced with an extremely popular appearance of the Wits University Choir dressed colourfully and singing four numbers a capella. The unnamed choir mistress is phenomenal and the choir did her credit. I was a little surprised at how small the choir is, given that South Africa is a singing country, but I enjoyed the presentation as much as the rest of the audience did.
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus is under the direction of Reuben Reynolds with Chad Weirick as the principal accompanist and assistant music director. Michelle Chasse is the choreographer and stage director, with costume design by Rebecca Shannon Butler. The vocal coach is Bill Casey, but it is Courtney Furno who is the unseen star – she is the diction coach. I do wish the people who screamed at me for finding some production’s diction unacceptable could have heard the diction of this choir. It is outstanding. Every word was clear. Dr Lewana Clark is the American Sign Language Interpreter who brought us the words in sign language. There were several deaf and hearing impaired people in the audience and one of them informed me that there are some similarities between American Sign Language and South African Sign Language. I thought Dr Lewana Clark did a wonderful job and I enjoyed watching her interpret the words.
Where we have a choreographer we also find dancers drawn from the chorus itself. (I will detail their names at the end, but I do want this to be vaguely readable, so I will keep this clear of lists of names.) There were two dance numbers with different costumes for both. This is a fun part of the production and it was much appreciated.
The concert items blessedly actually followed the printed program accurately – a rare happening in choral concerts. The songs were all chosen to inspire the audience to be loving to and accepting of all the people around them. Make them Hear You is from Ragtime, was followed by a Quaker Hymn, How Can I Keep from Singing. The familiar Simple Gifts, a Shaker Song written by Elder Joseph Brackett and arranged by Aaron Copland. The traditional Bright Morning Stars are Rising was followed by When the Saints Go Marching In which got the audience clapping in time to the Spiritual.
A blending of I Love You and What a Wonderful World featured Bill Spera as the soloist. There is a chamber chorus who presented in this number, but once again I will list this at the end. From Brokeback Mountain (if you never saw this movie make a point of getting to see it) we heard A Love That Will Never Grow Old. I Sing Out was followed by Africa, a rhythm item which is not new to most of the audience but was still much appreciated. The first half concluded with the Spiritual Down By The Riverside.
Interval was mostly spent in greeting and chatting to old friends. The gay community came out in force to support this wonderful event.
After interval we heard the appropriate Together Again, followed by Baba Yetu, a Swahili adaptation of The Lord’s Prayer featuring Nicholas Everage as the soloist.
The next item was “Tshotsholoza” (alternative spelling for Shozaloza). It is billed as a traditional South Africa protest song sung in Zulu and Ndebeli. I thought I would pad this information for American readers. The Nguni group of languages includes both Zulu and Ndebele. It is not a traditional protest song, but rather a song sung by the all-male African workers from many of Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia as it was then called), South Africa, with both Swaziland and Lesotho, and as far afield as Malawi, Zambia (Northern Rhodesia) and Mocambique. No one knows the origin of the song, but it was widely sung en route from Zimbabwe to South Africa and back again. Some of the words are “stimela si phume Rhodesia“. Stimela means steam train.
It was certainly used in a call and response style wherever men did hard physical labour – in the mines, in street work gangs, railway workers and, according to former President Nelson Mandela, even in the prison work parties on Robben Island where he was set to breaking rocks. He did compare the apartheid struggle to the motion of a train, but that is the sole reference to the song as a protest song. He pointed out that “the singing made the work lighter”.
In contemporary South Africa it is also used as a sports song, and whenever South Africans want to express solidarity with one another. It was heard in The Gods Must Be Crazy and a rough translation follows:
- “Go forward
- Go forward
- from those mountains
- on this train from South Africa
- Go forward
- Go forward
- You are running away
- You are running away
- from those mountains
- on this train from South Africa”
I must mention that the audience loved this and sang it back to the choir.
My favourite song of the whole concert followed. Would you Harbor Me? is a direct challenge to each of us to love and protect one another regardless of religion, colour, sexual orientation or any other artificial division that we perceive. Rise Up featured Blake Gronlund and Christopher Murray as soloists. The Human Heart from Once on the Island featured Thomas L Collins, Matt Magrath and Robert Pimentel as soloists. The concert officially ended with This is Me from The Greatest Showman.
A well deserved standing ovation ended this marvellous concert.
It really is a feel good concert and if you know anyone near where the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing, you need to tell them to go. Each of the concerts benefits some group in South Africa. Their Soweto concert funds went to the Kliptown Youth Program LGBTQ Support Initiative. The forthcoming concert in George will take place at the Conville Community Hall on June 19, 2018 at 18:00. It is a free concert for the community – a group of people who rarely have the opportunity to hear such fine music. In Cape Town on 21 June 2018 the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing at the Langa Community Hall for PASSOP’s LGBTQ refugee outreach program. The final concert is on 22 June 2018 at the Hugo Lambrechts Music Centre for Triangle Project’s Health & Human Services (AIDS/HIV) Program.
Right. I promised the lists. The dancers are Izzy Berden, Tyler Brewer, Bill Casey, Kyle Crand, Jaime de Sousa, Matthew Robert Honeycutt, Nick LaPete, Christopher Murray, Nick Panaglotou (Dance Captain), Derek Ternullo and Stephen Trumble.
The Chamber Chorus comprises Jonathan Beebe, Paul Consoli, Sean Crookes, Andy Chau, Courtney Furno, Paul Gabrys, Christian Grenier, Geoffrey K. Hahn, Georoge Hinds, Jeffrey Hovis, Taylor Lindsey, John F Moran, Matthew Moura, William Neely, John Strumwasser, Walker Weatherly.
I will add the entire chorus touring members list in the morning, if I get time. I simply can’t manage the list by artificial light (a reminder to me that I am still visually impaired, even though things are definitely improving).