Matt Alber :: The Talented Singer at Feinstein's
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A gay community favorite, singer-songwriter Matt Alber will perform at Feinstein's at the Nikko next Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14. But while he's been hard at work on an unusual new recording-a fully orchestrated recreation of Mel Torme's Swingin' On the Moon-his mind is focused elsewhere until the release of that album later this year.
At a social event in their hometown of Portland, Oregon back in 2016, Alber was introduced to Erik Gullickson. As it turns out, that chance meeting was the first step toward a passion project that has taken up a large part Alber's creative life ever since.
After chatting about their shared dedication to music and LGBT causes, Gullickson invited Alber to attend a rehearsal of Bridging Voices, the five-year-old community chorus for gay, straight and questioning youth for which he serves as Artistic Director.
"Hearing these kids trying to figure out their identities are and understand who they are through singing was incredibly powerful," recalled Alber-a former member of San Francisco's Chanticleer-in a recent interview.
Bridging Voices does not require kids to audition, he explained, just to commit their time. With music as a common denominator, the group provides young people from throughout the region with a safe space and opportunity to socialize.
Within a month of meeting them, Alber was featuring Bridging Voices along with the NYC Gay Men's chorus in a performance of his song "Monarch" at the GALA Festival, a national gathering of LGBT choral groups.
"Monarch," with its poetic lyrics about growing into one's own (How long was I asleep?/All these colors opening/Like bright kaleidoscopes of waking dreams) is now an integral part of Bridging Voices' repertoire, which expands as the group's 75-plus members submit songs that articulate feelings they're experiencing in their lives.
"They choose all kinds of music," says Alber. "From Pink and Hamilton to queer indie acts. They listen for songs that have an authentic, powerful message in them."
"There's a song called Lost Boy by Ruth B"-a Canadian artist first discovered on the Vine social media platform-"that has become a touchstone for many of the transgender boys I've met," Alber says. "It's helped them through some really tough times. One boy told me listened to it over and over the night he was hospitalized after attempting suicide."
Matt Alber at a recent Live at Lincoln Center concert.
After working with the choir through the soul-crushing final months of the 2016 presidential campaign, Alber says, "In my gut, I was asking myself what I was really doing to make the world a better place, and I started to think about how to share some of the experience the kids in Bridging Voices are having with other kids and parents and teachers beyond Portland."
Alber turned to his close friend, filmmaker Jon Garcia (creator of The Falls trilogy, a series of fictional films about Mormon missionaries in love) and the pair decided to join forces-and fundraising leads-to produce a documentary film about Bridging Voices.
Working with footage shot over three months last year, Alber and Garcia are first releasing an eight-segment web series, called Room to Grow, on Revry, a new LGBT digital video channel. The webisodes, which be released weekly beginning in late April and will be free to view, will focus on a single member of Bridging Voices, sharing stories of both troubles and triumph.
Meanwhile Alber and Garcia are continuing to raise funds for a full-length Room to Grow feature that will weave some of the webisode material into the larger story of the choir as a whole.
Among the donors who have helped make the web series a reality are longtime fans of Alber and his music. "I'm continually agog at how loyal my listeners are," he says gratefully. It's a big gay family at my concerts."
Alber will present distinctly different shows on each of his two nights at Feinstein's.
On Friday, he'll be joined by old friend and local vibraphonist Patrick McCaffrey.
"He's able to get the most beautiful almost glacial sounds out of his instrument," says Alber, "and he's super cute."
Saturday's show will feature Dwight Okamura, who Alber describes as "Pretty much the best pianist in the city. I'm going to do mostly originals this time," says Alber, who promises to return to town soon with a full-blown Mel Tormé show.
Matt Alber performs at Feinstein's at the Nikko, April 13 & 14 at 8pm. $19-$45 ($20 food/drink min.) Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St. www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com