Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Sounds groovy


San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Guest Conductor Tim Seelig leads a musical throwback

Two members of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus show off their "groovy" costumes.
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Haul out your paisley prints and get ready for a psychedelic sing-along at The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' annual spring concert at Davies Hall, Thursday May 21. The chorus will sing classic hits from the 1960s, and welcomes guest conductor Tim Seelig, local retro band The Whoa Nellies, and iconic folk singer Joan Baez.

What is it about American 1960s pop music that still resonates? I asked Tim Seelig, who had just returned from London with the SFGMC's Lollypop Guild, where they had performed at a European gay choral concert.

"I don't think any other decade is such a complete dichotomy of having fun on one hand, and complete societal upheaval on the other," said Seelig. "Because of that, we were looking for something for people to entertain themselves with while the whole world was shifting. We had changed from the big band era and doo-wop. All of a sudden, the '60s hit, and there was a depth in the music that describes this dichotomy in what was going on. Even while the music may sound fun and silly, there is an underlying seriousness to what was happening."

SFGMC Guest Conductor Tim Seelig

"It was very interesting bringing this to the chorus," said Seelig. "We have singers who weren't born then. They absolutely love this music. It's been a lot of fun to introduce it to them. The first half is very fun, with Mammas and Pappas songs, and lighter songs from that era. The second half of the concert outlines the major societal upheaval. It gets serious with civil rights. The younger guys have had their eyes opened, particularly with one piece, 'Abraham, Martin and John.' They not only didn't know the song, but who the song mentions."

The 1968 song, written by Dick Holler and first recorded by Dion, is a tribute to the memories of icons of social change, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

"There's been a lot of educating," said Seelig. "We end the decade and the concert with a nod to the 1969 Stonewall Riots with 'Make Your Own Kind of Music.'"

With the chorus' conductor Kathleen McGuire on sabbatical, the Dallas-raised Seelig stepped in and has been cross-country commuting to rehearsals for four months. Seelig is not only artistic director of the acclaimed Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas, he also helps run the board of GALA Choruses.

When he heard that Baez would be part of the concert, he said, "I just dropped my jaw. We'll be performing a whole Woodstock set, and she sang there."

Seelig also sees the SFGMC as appropriate performers of such a concert, with "San Francisco as the epicenter of the 60s movement." His daughter lives in San Francisco, so his weekly commutes include a little family time.

Having conducted the Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas for 20 years, Seelig has plenty of experience with gay choruses. He also founded their women's chorus twelve years ago.

Folk music legend Joan Baez

How do gay choruses get appropriate choral arrangements? Music score writing has come a long way with new technology, and Seelig said that many choral directors these days simply email each other PDFs of potential selections.

"Fifty percent of this show's songs were arranged by David Maddux, with some of them by a Dallas arranger, Danny Ray," he said. "We use a few by Eric Lane Barnes, too. Ten years ago, each of us were reinventing the wheel," he added, mentioning that in previous decades, choruses repeated repertory, not realizing the same scores were available.

"Considering the fact that there are so many gay men's choruses now, there's a lot of music out there. GALA provides an online music resource center. All the choruses have access to a music center. It's really helpful. We have arrangements geared for men's choruses, or mixed chorus, or men's or women's. Turtle Creek Chorale has 3500 pieces of music in PDFs."

Seelig frequently conducts at Dallas' Myerson Symphony Center, designed by I.M. Pei, so performing at Davies Hall doesn't phase him. They do, however, only have an afternoon to rehearse in the impressive hall.

With the second half performed in formal tuxedoes, the first half is informal and quite colorful. Said Seelig, "It's going to look like Haight-Ashbury a virtual 60s explosion."

The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus performs 'Tune In, Turn Up, Sing Out' at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Street, San Francisco. Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 8 p.m. $20-$75. Tickets can be purchased at the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market St., by calling 865-ARTS (2787), or online at

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