As it turns out, most major cities – including those in the south – have gay men’s choruses. Atlanta has one, Nashville has a huge mixed chorus as does Charlotte, while Birmingham has two – they are really all over. I didn’t know anything beyond our own, Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus, and the fact that the first time I every heard them, they stopped me in my tracks with a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and broke my heart.
Currently under the directorship of Dr. Alan Stevens, they’ve been together for five years since their founding in 2011 by Bleu Copas and Chris Hamblin. Dr. Stevens is a member of the music faculty at ETSU and travels to Knoxville each Monday night for rehearsal. The group has around forty-five members, though around the time of the Christmas production it grows a bit, making them a small group compared to those some cities, but they a thriving young organization, nonetheless.
I met with Josh Purvis, vice-president and board member, and Kyle Schellenger, board member and production supervisor, as well as chair of public relations and marketing. Kyle confessed, “this is a big reason I stayed in Knoxville. It’s like a family.” Josh added, “Sometimes a song will just ‘get me.'” Kyle agreed, noting that “Tell My Father,” is that way for him.
Along with the larger Knoxville Choral Society, the group represents one of the few non-church or school-affiliated choral groups to be found locally. Members range from eighteen-years-old to sixty and represent a full range of professions.
The two told me that for gay men there are limited options or “scenes.” The bar scene and softball leagues not appealing to everyone, there needed to be an artistic outlet and the Knoxville Men’s Gay Chorus provided that for them. Starting with fifteen men, the group has grown to include professional opera singers and men with little background in music.The chorus welcomes all males – straight or gay – and the auditions involve only minimal requirements. Mostly they want committed members who are willing to grow their musical skills. Members pay dues which helps finance operations.
As with most non-profit groups, they need financial support. Kroger has partnered with them and customers wishing to do so can donate a percentage of their purchases to the group. Prestige Cleaners donates use of tuxedos for performances. They also are in need of additional corporate sponsors – they already have Regal Entertainment and Clayton Bank – and “sound supporters,” which are patrons agreeing to set up a monthly tax deductible donation.
They have a number of appearances, trips and fundraisers in the upcoming weeks and months. For starters, you can hear them tomorrow at 4:15 on the choral stage at the Rossini Festival. You will be treated to a range of the genres the group presents, varying from traditional choral music to spiritual and pop music. It’s the first performance I put on my list at the festival each year.
In June the group will present, “Chandelier,” at the Civic Auditorium. One highlight will include a performance of Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” arranged specifically for the group. Tickets are now on sale for this event ($13/$16) and are available as a super secret deal to you here. Use the promo code “KGMC2016” and you’ll receive a $2 discount. After Sunday the link for tickets will be www.knoxvilletickets.com.
In August the group will host, “A Little Night Music,” a fundraiser for the organization, at Jackson Terminal ($75). The gala will include everything from food, drink, a silent auction and music to aerial acrobatics. Then, in December, the very popular annual Christmas show has been moved to the Civic Auditorium to accommodate a larger crowd.
Between performances, they have a trip planned to Denver in July for G.A.L.A. The conference for choruses is held every four years and this will be the first time the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus has sent a group. Some of the current fundraising events are being planned with this trip in mind. The highlight will be a Sunday performance at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
They have an ongoing connection to downtown and want to build on that. Indicating Knoxville is a progressive city and it has been very supportive of their efforts, they want to, in turn, be an organization of which the city can be proud. As an example of the connection and support they feel, they mentioned that while they had performed at Mayor Rogero’s inauguration, she recently helped with their new introduction video (included here) for the Denver G.A.L.A. event.
And they want more. They want to be a chorus for Knoxville, not “just” a gay group. To be a part of the larger arts community in the city promoting choral music and the arts is an ongoing goal. Expansion has also been discussed regarding other choruses, such as a mixed chorus some cities have incorporated. An event inviting high school choral members to sing with them is also in the works, which fits nicely with their plans to award their first choral scholarship in 2017.
I’d encourage you to seek them out at the festival tomorrow. I can promise you a sublime musical performance that will have you feeling good all evening. Support them by attending concerts and donate to the organization if you are able. They have already achieved one goal as far as I’m concerned: they are an important part of our arts community and I’m very proud to call them ours.