Arts & Culture » Music

SFGMC marks 40 years

by David-Elijah Nahmod

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus in performance. Photo: Gooch
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus in performance. Photo: Gooch  

The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus celebrates its 40th anniversary this month with special events during the weekend of Oct. 26-28. There will be a concert at St. Ignatius Catholic Church, a groundbreaking at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park honoring chorus members lost to AIDS, a "Fabulous at 40" birthday party, and toasts at a "Sunday's a Drag" brunch in the Starlight Room of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel.

"The chorus was founded by Jon Reed Sims in October 1978," the chorus' artistic director and conductor Dr. Timothy Seelig recalls. "The first rehearsal was on Oct. 30 at Everett Middle School. The approximately 100 men attending selected the name San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. It was the first of its kind." Four weeks later, after gay Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall, the Chorus had its first public performance. "The chorus went to the candlelight vigil," Seelig said. "They sang Mendelssohn's 'O Lord Our Refuge.' They also joined Holly Near in singing a piece she composed on a napkin in a cab on the way to the vigil, 'Singing for Our Lives.'"

When the chorus appears at St. Ignatius on Oct. 26 at 8 p.m., they will offer a performance of "When We No Longer Touch." Composed in 1991, the piece is the first requiem dedicated to those lost to AIDS. The chorus, backed by an orchestra, will be accompanied by soprano Ellie Dehn. The St. Ignatius performance is significant because in 1981 the Bishop cancelled a scheduled chorus performance at the church.

"The chorus filed a lawsuit against the Diocese and won a small settlement," Seelig recalled. "Here we are almost 40 years later, and we'll be performing at their invitation!

The chorus will break ground on a permanent memorial tribute at the National AIDS Memorial Grove to the singers who died of AIDS on Oct. 27 at 11 a.m.

"It's so special to have worked with the SFGMC over the last year in the design and creation of the new Artist's Portal entrance to the National AIDS Memorial," said AIDS Grove executive director John Cunningham. "In the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic the chorus was devastated, lost so many of its members. The chorus has never forgotten them, and now all those lost will forever have a place within the memorial."

That same evening the chorus hosts its "Fabulous at 40" birthday party at the Empire Ballroom. "We are throwing a fabulous 'ruby' luncheon," said Seelig. "Yes, there will be slippers! The party will feature Beach Blanket Babylon's Curt Branom, and Armistead Maupin, who wrote about the chorus in the very first 'Tales of the City.'"

For more information on the SFGMC birthday weekend, visit www.sfgmc.org

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