COVER STORY: Queer Caroling
Pride Chorus Houston offers something for everyone this season.
As Judy Garland once sang, “Let the yuletide be gay.” Pride Chorus Houston will be heeding her advice during its always-popular holiday concert on December 11 in the Heights.
“This is our holiday show, and we’re trying to balance expectations for a traditional holiday with some gestures toward other holiday traditions. We’re going to LGBTQ+ it up with a drag surprise and a little choreography. It’s going to be a good show—a mix of serious and fun, campy stuff,” says Interim Artistic Director Matthew Jones.
The “Holiday Traditions” themed concert promises to help everyone get into the spirit of the season with beautiful new selections, holiday classics and, of course, that Pride Chorus Houston cheer. Jones highlighted some of the standout numbers. “We are performing a really fun ‘Santa Baby’ that starts out with disco and ends with a jazz-hands Broadway moment. There’s a piece for the solstice and some secular, wintery pieces. There’s a small group singing ‘California Dreamin’’ by The Mamas & the Papas, and a beautiful piece named ‘Am I Welcome Here?’ about a gay man walking by a church on Christmas Eve and wondering if he is welcome to come in and celebrate. We’ve got a great a capella version of The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas, Darling,’ and a wonderful wintery piece called ‘Stars I Shall Find.’”
Whispers around the rehearsal hall also allude to a song performed by a whistle-range singer who is ubiquitous this time of year.
Jones recognizes that the holidays can be a difficult time for some. “I’m of two minds about the holidays. On one hand, it’s the most wonderful time of year for some people, and on the other hand, it’s not. Particularly for LGBTQ people, this time of year can be very complicated—negotiating family or the religious aspects that emerge this time of year. What I had in mind when I was putting this concert together is that Pride Chorus Houston is a place where the chorus and our audience members can feel included, can feel community, can feel love, and can feel celebration, regardless of what else might be going on.”
Overall, Jones feels that both this concert and future ones will communicate that message to everyone. “I want [both the choir members and our audiences] to see themselves represented on the stage, hear themselves represented in the music, and know this is a musical home for our various tribes and communities,” he adds.
“Pride Chorus Houston is a place where the chorus and our audience members can feel included, can feel community, can feel love, and can feel celebration, regardless of what else might be going on.”
The audience can also enjoy a reception both before and after the show, when they can bid in a silent auction for decorative wreaths made by chorus members and friends.
This concert will have approximately 45 singers on the stage, but the organization is always welcoming new members to the fold—in both singing and non-singing roles.
“We think the future is wide open for us. We’re approaching this season with a sense of flexibility. I have high hopes for the organization. We know how big the organization was at one point, and what is possible for gay choruses in Houston,” says board president Matt Leslie, recalling the days when 100 singers performed downtown at Jones Hall.
Pride Chorus Houston has been entertaining audiences for over 40 years, making it one of the oldest LGBTQ choruses in the United States. “I don’t see why we can’t be that big again. We’re a world-class city. We deserve to have a world-class gay choral organization. We have the people and the talent. Now, with our rebranding and new staff and leadership, it’s the perfect time to figure out what the community needs and provide it for them,” Leslie adds.
Leslie moved to Houston four years ago without knowing many people, and found Pride Chorus Houston to be a place he could call his second home. “I was looking to get involved in the community. I’ve been a musician and performed a lot of musical theater in the past. It’s become such an important part of my life in Houston. That’s why I joined the board and am devoting a lot of time to rebuild this organization into something we can all be proud of.
“Pride Chorus Houston offers a way to meet creative and talented people in the LGBTQ community. We love giving people the opportunity to express themselves, to practice their music, and to learn in a safe and welcoming environment,” he says.
Jones encourages everyone to check out the chorus and not to be afraid of the singers’ audition process, as the organization has a “no one is turned away” policy.
“We’ll have open auditions in January for the spring and summer shows. We welcome everyone. You can be an experienced singer who can sight-read flawlessly, or this can be your first time in a chorus. The audition process is only about placing you in the right section of the choir. We meet people where they are and build them into better singers and help them find community and family.”
What: Pride Chorus Houston’s Holiday Traditions concert
When: December 11 at 8 p.m.
Where: Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard
Tickets: From $10 to $20, available at pridechorus.org
The Voices of Pride Chorus Houston
Photos by Victor Contreras (@closeyoureyesphoto on Instagram)
Founded in 1979, Pride Chorus Houston is one of the oldest LGBTQ music organizations in the United States. Formerly known as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston and the Bayou City Women’s Chorus (under the umbrella of Bayou City Performing Arts), the choir has gone through several evolutions to reflect its commitment to inclusivity. According to the group’s website, “every person, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, creed, age, or ethnicity, has a place in our chorus so long as they want to sing with Pride.”
Members of the community choir spoke to OutSmart about what the group means to them.
Alto 1 or Soprano 2
“The chorus is home to me. It’s a space where I get to escape from the chaos
of the week and make music with some really great people. When I first moved to Houston from El Paso, it helped me make new friends. I am a Chicana and a proud chorus member. I serve on the board of directors as the development chair.”
“I have not been a part of a performing group in 10 years, so finding the chorus was like finding a new home.”
“Being in Pride Chorus Houston has allowed me to get back into what I love, and being back in a family. Singing and being with this chorus has helped me find myself again with people who are always supportive.”
Interim Artistic Director
“I want both the choir members and our audiences to see themselves represented on the stage, hear themselves represented in the music, and know this is a musical home for our various tribes and communities.”
“Pride Chorus Houston
offers a way to meet creative and talented people in the LGBTQ community. We love giving people the opportunity to express themselves, to practice their music, and to learn in a safe and welcoming environment.”
“I feel immersed and enveloped by voices, music, connectedness, and magic in Pride Chorus Houston. I love being a part of this community. The music and community helped me heal through a rough time in my life, and I feel renewed and stronger than ever.”
“I joined the chorus in January before the lockdown, so last year we had to rehearse and perform virtually. It’s been so much fun this year to rehearse and perform in person and get to know the other members. Everyone is super supportive and hardworking, but we laugh a lot, too. Rehearsals are one of the highlights of my week.”
“I believe our music can affirm and change lives. I know that it has changed mine since I joined in 1993. [I’d also like to share that] the journey to equality is far from over, so we’ll keep on singing until we are heard!”
This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.