Celebrating 30 years of music with the men and women of Bayou City Performing Arts.
By Nancy Ford
Photo by Yvonne Feece
Make no mistake, there is an agenda. And they do recruit.
In the past 30 years, members of Bayou City Performing Arts have trolled karaoke bars, church choirs, and maybe even a few shower stalls in search of new members willing to contribute their talents to a group of impassioned, largely gay and lesbian warblers.
It all began in 1979 when Montrose Marching Band (now the Houston Pride Band) conductor Andy Mills branched out to add voices to the concerts the band was presenting.
In those 30 years, the singers have melodically represented Houston well beyond Texas, with appearances at the 1990 Gay Games and Cultural Festival in Vancouver, as well as concerts in Denver, Tampa Bay, San Jose, and Montreal.
“We have clarity about where we’re headed and what we’re going to do, and how we are going to do it,” BCPA artistic and managing director James Knapp says with confidence and enthusiasm.
“We have grown into starting a women’s chorus and a mixed chorus,” he says. “We are reaching out and I hope the community will hear us and come see us and [know] that we’ve got an incredible year planned for next year. We have a vision for the future.”
Knapp credits the choruses’ growth to the “tremendous dedication and the love and the nurturing that’s taken place” within the organization. But the successful road BCPA currently traverses hasn’t always been a smooth one, he admits.
“We got into a real financial hole about four years ago,” Knapp says. “The organization made some hopeful decisions to move to downtown venues because we wanted to raise the bar of our musicality and where we made that music. But we didn’t do as much research as we should have.”
Following this dark period, Knapp says, the chorus’ move downtown eventually proved expedient.
“We went from about zero dollars in grant money to about $60,000 in grant money. And we now have five CDs and we’re getting some good reviews.”
The choruses’ Pride concert, presented in June at Jones Hall in Houston’s downtown theater district, proved successful despite heavy competition the same night from Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Tour. And Houston Mayor Bill White himself is a fan, honoring BCPA’s 25th anniversary in 2003 by calling the group “one of the best faces of diversity in Houston.” Since then the chorus has been a prominent mainstay at city events, including being chosen the featured chorus for Mayor White’s tree lighting ceremony at City Hall.
One of the places the chorus is “clear about where they’re headed” this summer is Miami.
“Our celebration really begins in July when we attend and perform with over 100 Houston singers at the Gay and Lesbian Choruses Festival VIII,” says Knapp. “This festival is held every four years, and this festival is a particular special one for us,” Knapp says. “We are the only choral organization of the GALA choruses attending that will be bringing a women’s chorus, men’s chorus, mixed chorus, and a small ensemble of 12 voices. The only one!”
The 2008 concert, dubbed Echoes of Unity, marks the GALA debut of the Bayou City Women’s Chorus, as well as the men and women’s Bayou City Chorale and the Bayou Rhythms small ensemble.
BCPA has prepared performances of four newly commissioned works by gay composers Steven Milloy and Alan Shorter, “one for each group attending the festival,” Knapp says.
Scheduled July 12–20 at Miami’s Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, the GALA Festival is an international GLBT choral organization of more than 10, 000 vocalists who sing in 200 choruses from all over the globe. No less than 130 choruses and ensembles are set to perform during the weeklong festival, with more than 5,000 singing delegates registered.
“It kind of reminds me of the Super Bowl in that all of the eyes of the GLBT chorale movement are in Miami at this gathering,” Knapp says, barely containing his excitement. “Five thousand singers in one room lifting up songs to the movement and to each other and to empowerment. It is amazing.”
This is not Knapp’s first time conducting a mammoth chorus. In 2006, he conducted 300 voices at the Gay Games and Cultural Festival in Chicago. But Knapp accentuates the fact that the GALA concert is not a competition.
“One of the great things about it is that it’s very much a supportive wonderful, wonderful festival as with the games in Chicago. You’re there to support your personal best.”
Knapp also appreciates the diversity the GALA gathering represents, in terms of the sizes and experiences of the choruses participating.
“You can have a group like Turtle Creek Chorale from Dallas or The Muse Women’s Chorus from Cincinnati, an outstanding, highly auditioned group that has 15 CDs [and] performs for the top-notch conferences in America. And then you’ve got a group of 11 singers from Billings, Montana. They are a fantastic inspiration.
“Here in Houston we’re light years ahead of where they are in Wyoming, in terms of GLBT issues,” Knapp continues. “It’s interesting to see the pulses around the country. I remember distinctly four years ago in Montreal, when I heard that group from Montana, the tears coming down my face. Because their story was like what our story was like 12 or 15 years ago. These people have the courage to stand up—in Billings, Montana! They walk into rehearsal and have their personal security threatened.
“These people are heroes.”
Bayou City Performing Arts is always looking for new members who are willing to sing with the groups, or support those who do. Details: 713/521-7464 • www.bayoucityperformingarts.org.