Why do so many in the LGBTQ community love coming together to sing? Is it musical, social, or political? Pride Chorus Houston’s new artistic director, Dr. David York, believes it is the synergy of all those things. Singing is a way for people in the gay community to have a voice, and for that voice be heard through a shared experience. York even calls it “healing.”
Perhaps that is why Pride Chorus Houston (PCH) has grown so much that it is moving to a larger venue for their upcoming season. Or maybe it’s just because a PCH concert is great entertainment. In any case, it is a way for the community to come together with one voice to celebrate each other through music.
York first discovered his love for gay men’s choirs when he lived in Portland, Oregon. His partner, Chris, was one of the founders of Portland Gay Men’s Chorus in the 1980s, and together they sang songs of hope throughout the darkest days of the AIDS crisis. Years later, they sang songs demanding action during the cry for legalizing gay marriage.
As the chorus grew, the couple’s life in Portland flourished until everything changed in 2017 when Chris passed away from ALS. “As much as I loved Portland, I loved Portland with Chris. Without Chris, the overcast skies and the 65-degree temperatures were just not as comfortable as they once were.” So in 2019, York, along with his son, decided to leave Portland and move to Houston.
Soon after moving, the world shut down due to COVID. Once it was safe to be in crowds again, York realized he needed community and to be with people like those he felt connected to when he was in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. After some research, York discovered Pride Chorus Houston.
PCH has been a part of Houston’s queer community for decades, but it wasn’t always a blended chorus. Founded as The Montrose Singers in 1979, it was later renamed the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston and would eventually broaden to include the Bayou City Women’s Chorus. The inclusion of all genders is something that drew York to the chorus. “Something really magnificent and unique happens in Houston. We are one of the few cities that has a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass Pride Chorus. There are several cities that have a men’s chorus and a lesbian chorus, and sometimes they do collaborative things together. But not too many of them identify as a solid unit.”
York admits that in most cases, people simply want to be with their tribes. And while that may be appealing to some, PCH is special because all are welcome. “It creates this celebration of figuring out who you are, and it attracts allies. There are several people who sing with the chorus because they have gay family members. They sing in Pride Chorus because of the safety they feel. They want to set the example of loving, embracing, and celebrating these really colorful people in their lives.”
York also sees it as an opportunity to learn more about others in the LGBTQ community. Not only is it a way to create a safe, loving space, but it’s also educational because singers learn how to be inclusive in their language with gender and pronouns. “It’s a learning environment where there is a huge spirit of goodwill and a generosity of understanding. That has value, and adding music to it is a winning formula.”
In the spring of 2022, York sang for the first time with PCH and immediately loved it. “I was there just to have fun, but when [artistic director] Matt Jones left, I was invited to help out as the artistic director. I was hired in July of 2022 and had to put together my [first] season in just a few weeks.”
York’s choir enjoyed a successful season that involved some hard work and a focus on his mission to always have fun and to choose joy. “Enrollment in the choir went up. Audiences have been robust. Spirits have been high. We are doing good.”
But he doesn’t believe the choir’s growing success has anything to do with him. He thinks it has more to do with the current political climate in Texas, and the sense of safety and solidarity in taking a stand against hate that PCH provides. “Texas politics are for shit. It is a hostile environment for those who do not conform to traditional gender norms. It’s incumbent on me, and people like me, to hold vigil for people who do not conform easily, because they are under attack and we should all feel it personally. And the gay-chorus community is a wonderful place for us to act that out. We incorporate drag and trans folk as much as possible, and it is a beautiful part of who and what we are. We create space for it. We create a safe space for all kinds of people.”
With a new season approaching, PCH is looking to add more members. Auditions will be held on August 17, and for those who aren’t singers but want to get involved, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities. The first concert is scheduled for October 14 in the new performance venue at Unity of Houston.
For more info, visit pridechorus.org.