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A 40th Anniversary Celebration

Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston commemorates four decades of music and Pride.

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The Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston (photographed by Dalton DeHart).

T he Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston (GMCH) celebrates forty years of music-making with its annual Pride Concert on Saturday evening, June 15th, at 7 p.m. at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. According to director Kenneth Clayborne, “This concerts looks back to where we started, but also says something musically about where we are headed in the future.”

Clayborne, an established figure in Houston’s choral-music scene, has been conducting choirs for 33 years and has been the GMCH director since 2016, succeeding the group’s longtime director, James Knapp.

Kenneth Clayborne, GMCH director

“James and I were fellow music directors in Houston and, like many of us, I just wanted sing,  without the additional responsibility of leading an ensemble. As a native Houstonian, I had always known about the GMCH, and James and I were familiar with each other through our work in local churches. When I expressed an interest, he invited me to join the group. A year later, James (who had also created the Bayou City Women’s Chorus) asked me to be the GMCH assistant director.” When Knapp then left to join Denver’s Rocky Mountain Arts Association, Clayborne became the new GMCH director.

Now in his sixth year of leading the chorus, Clayborne is excited to commemorate the ensemble’s 40th anniversary. “To celebrate this milestone, we are reaching back to the group’s first concert from Houston’s famed Tower Theater,” Clayborne said. “We will perform a piece from that first show, by composer Dave Faber. It’s significant in that it was specifically commissioned for that occasion and sung by our predecessors, The Montrose Singers.

The original group was formed (as so many were) in response to a need that existed within the community at the time. “In those days there were several men who were seeking something to do, away from the bar scene,” Clayborne said. “At that time, gay men tended to be more isolated than they are now. Today, there are numerous LGBT artistic and social outlets for men and women, but that wasn’t always the case. Originally, these musicians wanted to be a part of an organization that satisfied them artistically and socially—a tradition that we uphold  today. Even in its current form, the group maintains that special ambience—we still sing and socialize together. I think this blend of friendship and musicianship makes the chorus unique amongst Houston’s musical groups.”

The group also plans its concerts collaboratively. “Designing a program is a community effort,” Clayborne said. “We have a committee that helps determine what music we perform. There are a number of things we look at when creating a concert. Our two yearly programs—one in December, and our upcoming concerts—are usually a mixture of levity and inspiration. Our June show, of course, highlights Pride, but has a few thought-provoking elements as well.

We try to be cognizant of what’s happening around us. Sometimes the chorus will present a specific message or theme that relates to who “we” are, and the world in which we live. That said, our message is always in our music—the best vehicle for us to share with others.

“This concert includes a few classically inspired, beautifully wrought works by LGBT composers. ‘This Is Our Time’ is an historically oriented piece by Rich Cook. It’s an anthem that encourages individuals to follow their dreams,” Clayborne said. “Its central message motivates us to stand up and be unapologetic about ourselves—a freedom that’s just as important today as it was 40 years ago. Also on the program is ‘I Am in Need of Music,’ David Brunner’s breathtakingly arranged piece about the importance of music. Additionally, there’s a lovely Pride-themed composition entitled “Color Out of Colorado,” which is a spoof on every state in the nation.”

Clayborne notes that GMCH has traveled far since its humble beginnings. “We have performed at Carnegie Hall, collaborated with the Houston Symphony, and have participated in numerous events in the city for years. And still, I love what is at the core of this chorus—I love our comradery. I love it when we work on a piece of music together, especially if it’s challenging, and then during the rehearsal process, each member reaches their own ‘Aha!’ moment. This is when the group fully comprehends what we are about, and then can fully communicate that to others. I love being part of that process.”   

What: Gay Men’s Chorus of  Houston Pride Concert
When: Saturday, June 15, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 W. 11th Street
Info: bcpahouston.org

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Rich Arenschieldt

For the past two decades, Rich has written about a wide variety of subjects, mirroring his interests in music, theater, opera and the individuals who pepper Houston’s creative landscape. Additionally, his longtime career as an HIV/AIDS educator enabled him to share life-saving innovative treatment strategies with thousands of patients and their healthcare professionals. He also developed the nation’s finest HIV-specific leadership training program, one whose many graduates are now seasoned local activists, advocating for HIV funding and services.

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