Submitted on Mon, 12/24/2007 – 18:16.
Singers ranging in age from 19 to over 60 filled the basement of Lake View Presbyterian Church for rehearsal this holiday season. As the Chicago’s Gay Men’s Chorus practiced an untraditional parody of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” they belted out sharp notes and held fierce expressions.
“I need you to be more threatening. You’ve got a switchblade in your pocket!” said Patrick Sinozich, chorus director, who says the song is about a Santa who isn’t that sweet and jolly man of childhood, but instead “a threatening purveyor of justice.”
Besides the scary Santa song, which the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus performed at its annual holiday concert at the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview, they also included a comedic take on “We Three Kings,” and a song about “Fruitcake.”
These songs demonstrate the lighter focus of the chorus, which formed in 1983 in part so that members could sing a greater variety of music, including show tunes and pop music. For many members, it has created a tight-knit family in the last 26 years.
“It’s the most wonderful extended family that a person could ever ask for,” said Mark McConnaughay, 40, who has been a chorus member for three and a half years when here from California.
In addition to annual performances in Lakeview, on Nov. 30 the Chorus performed at Millennium Park. For the second annual “Caroling at Cloud Gate,” hundreds of people gathered on a frigid night to join the chorus’ holiday sing-a-long.
About 50 chorus members in red scarves and headbands stood in front of the sculpture commonly called “the bean.” After singing, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Sinozich and the chorus encouraged the crowd to join in “Joy to the World,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“It was really great to see so many people standing in the cold with candles,” said McConnaughay, one of the performers. “We couldn’t see because of the bright lights in our faces, but we could see their candles.”
Hop Baskus, 56, flew in from Washington D.C. to attend the caroling event. A fan who has seen several shows, Baskus said he wanted to hear the chorus perform and get into the holiday spirit.
“It was festive and fun,” said Baskus. “People endured the cold and they enjoyed it.”
This is the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus’ second performance at “Caroling at Cloud Gate.” Last year the Chorus was one of four chosen to represent Chicago, Sinozich said.
“Oh we loved it. It was fantastic,” said Sinozich about last year’s performance. This year, the chorus is one of five groups that also included the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and the Chicago Children’s Choir.
Although warmly greeted at Cloud Gate, the chorus has faced some hostile audiences. In July 2006, the chorus performed at the Sondheim Music Festival in Grant Park to honor Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim.
The chorus sang at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Sinozich said, and as soon as they finished their set, a group of people in the back of the audience started shouting at them.
“They started yelling ‘God hates fags’ and ‘you’re going to burn in hell’,” Sinozich said.
Instead of shouting back, the chorus sang. “They were completely disarmed,” said Sinozich, who felt because the performance was outdoors, they were prone to more abuse.
Afterward, the chorus made a statement reminiscent of one made almost 30 years ago in San Francisco.
“No matter what you do to us, we’re still here. We’ve been through it all, we’re still here,” said Sinozich. “We’ve lost brothers to AIDS, we’re still here. We’ve been beat down, we’re still here.”
Members of Chicago’s gay community were inspired by the first gay men’s chorus, which started in San Francisco in the late 1970’s as after the assassination of Harvey Milk, the gay San Francisco Supervisor.
“The gay community in San Francisco was obviously very upset and up in arms,” said Sinozich. A group assembled on the steps of City Hall one night and started singing, Sinozich said, and realized what a political statement they were making by uniting in a way that wasn’t screaming or picketing.
At the time it was “still hard to be gay and hard to be ‘out’ in public and just to get 100 guys on a stage singing was a political statement,” Sinozich said.
Including holiday concerts, the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus has three performances a year. Their spring musical is just like one a community theatre would do, Sinozich said, with costumes, choreography, lighting and an orchestra. The next performance is in June for Gay Pride Month.
The Chorus has also performed at special events for the Howard Brown Health Center, for a cancer wellness benefit and some members sang at a civil union ceremony.
A few chorus members have professional experience and one performed on Broadway in “The Phantom of the Opera,” but the majority have no background in performance, Sinozich said.
Nick Koele, 31, was a member for four years before leaving in 2003 because it conflicted with his new job. He now supports the chorus by attending performances. He said the chorus was “a good social environment and nice place to make beautiful music.”
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