When you’re at a concert that both moves you to tears and stuns you with the quality of musicianship, you know you’re watching the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, under the direction of Dr. Thea Kano, who put on another spectacular concert on June 2, 2018, at Lincoln Theatre titled “TransAmerica.”
… you will be missing one of the most intensely moving and exquisitely musical performances of your life if you miss a single GMCW concert.
As the name suggests, this concert focused on the experiences of members of the transgender community – both in the heteronormative community and within the broader LGBTQ+ community. The concert was punctuated by deeply emotional testimonies from members of the chorus who spoke on topics ranging from familial acceptance to familial and peer rejection and bullying during childhood, to sexual assault, to suicide attempts, to rude and hurtful questions endured from almost everyone, including sometimes members of their own chorus.
The bravery of these individuals in sharing their truths, even truths that were difficult for their own chorus to hear, was extraordinary. The bravery of the GMCW to explore and shed a light on these truths and commit to hearing them and growing in their own understanding of how to be better trans allies was also powerful and hopefully an inspiring lesson to members of the audience who perhaps realized through the course of this concert that they, too, needed to work on becoming a better ally.
Not only were there powerful monologues, but the concert projected quotes and definitions relating to the trans experience on a screen before the concert and also provided a very detailed list of defined terminology as an insert in our programs (taken from pflag.org and transbodies.com) My concert companion, who works as a public health nurse, was beyond grateful for the list and said it would help her enormously in her work. Later that evening, as we left the concert, PFLAG had made a free resource available for concertgoers which was a very thorough booklet titled “Guide to being a trans ally.”
It is a notable aspect of GMCW that they not only seek to provide entertainment, but to educate and motivate others. However, let’s not ignore the music, because once again, the GMCW put on a phenomenal show!
The concert opened with spiritual themes as the chorus sang “Let the River Run,” which speaks of entering a New Jerusalem (land of love) and “I Am Willing,” a gospel styled piece with the powerful line “to be hopeless… dishonors those who go before us.” The chorus’s attention to dynamics and balance in both pieces made for two powerful anthems. As someone with a gospel choir background, my only wish was that they would have added some rocking or stepping (and yes, even clapping) on “I Am Willing” as I think it would have made the emotional impact even higher.
Next, the chorus went into a brilliant arrangement of “Everyday People” which raised spirits in the audience to a beautiful high, setting us up to have our hearts ripped wide open in the raw and spiritual duet “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” sung by Michael Dumlao and Ellery Rhodes. I got chills and tears from this powerful duo and they received a standing ovation because they sang their hearts, souls, and grief out in a spellbinding, transformative way for we who had the privilege of hearing them.
That was a hard act to follow, but Rock Creek Singers came behind with a creative and touching acapella arrangement of “Blackbird,” followed by the GenOUT Chorus made up of LGBTQ+ teens and allies. GenOUT began with a chorally challenging work entitled “Caitlyn” which demonstrated their significant growth as individual vocalists and as a chorus since their debut a few years ago. What a pleasure to see their musical growth at each concert, as well as their boldness and confidence shining out more and more!
GenOUT member Daniella Zapata was the next soloist to stun us with their soul-wrenching vocals on “You Will Be Found.” They, too, received a standing ovation. Their heartfelt passion seemed to touch every member of the audience.
“At the Heart” by Gerald Gurss followed, which was a unique original composition that blended music and narration from an essay titled “That’s Good Enough” by Debi Jackson, parent and advocate of a young daughter who is trans. The piece was narrated with powerful passion by another mom and advocate of a child who is trans, Vanessa Ford. I really enjoyed how the chorus either completed sentences for Vanessa or echoed her words.
The segment where the choir voiced the ugliest, most hurtful comment about her daughter that Jackson had received on multiple occasions used music as a weapon to pierce our hearts. (The phrase? I’m sure you can guess: “Your child is going to HELL.”) The resolution of the piece where Ford (in Jackson’s voice) speaks of her God of love who judges not the outward appearance, but the heart, was sweetness in itself. How lucky some children are to have such supportive parents – and how our hearts ache for those who don’t, who feel driven to suicide at a much higher rate than other populations.
One of the evening’s speakers worked for The Trevor Project, which is a 24/7 suicide prevention resource for LGBTQ+ or questioning teens. The Trevor Project website states that “Our trained counselors are here to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 866-488-7386.”
The final piece of Act One was “I Love You/What a Wonderful World” featuring soloist Michael McGovern as well as 17th Street Dance. The ending where all dancers joined hands to look at the soloist was especially touching.
Act Two featured politically apt works (“We just want to pee!”), a capella group Potomac Fever, and a mashup of True Colors and Brave with assistance from GenOUT. My heart was ripped out of my chest on 17th Street Dance’s work entitled “The Village” which showed the shunning that people who are trans frequently endure. The entire 200+ voice choir turned their backs on the dancers at the beginning of the number which was a devastating statement in and of itself. But what followed was worse. The lead dancer, dressed in pink, tried desperately throughout the dance to engage with his dancing peers, who continued to exclude and shun him, and at the end he frantically attempted to copy their dance movements only to engage in deeper and deeper despair when he continued to be just a little bit behind and off. The emotional impact of that piece was profound and I remain deeply affected by it.
“Please Stay” was another heartbreaking work featuring soloist Dana Nearing and focusing on the theme of suicide prevention. At the end of the piece every member of the choir reached out a hand to the audience and I hope that anyone attending who was struggling with depression or suicidality felt encouraged to reach out for help.
The concert closed with guest soloist Breanna Sinclaire, a classically trained soprano (and trans woman) who is a Baltimore native. Ms. Sinclaire holds a Master’s degree in opera from San Francisco Conservatory of Music and graced us with an eloquent performance of “Somewhere,” followed by “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” She ended the concert with soloist JJ Vera, GenOUT, 17th Street Dance, and the GMCW. Ms. Sinclaire recently performed the Duruflé Requiem with GMCW. She was lovingly supported in the audience by her uncle and her partner, both of whom happened to be sitting just in front of me and were beyond proud of her, although the rest of the audience was equally enthusiastic about her performance!
Sadly, the GMCW has finished its run of “TransAmerica,” so I can only recommend that you make sure that you don’t miss a single future performance, because you will be missing one of the most intensely moving and exquisitely musical performances of your life if you miss a single GMCW concert.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.
GMCW has finished its run of “TransAmerica.” Visit their website for information on upcoming shows.