Don we now: SF Gay Men's Chorus holiday concerts

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022
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San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 2021 holiday concert at the Sydney Goldstein Theater (photo: Gooch)
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 2021 holiday concert at the Sydney Goldstein Theater (photo: Gooch)

Christmas will commence early this year when the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus returns with "Holiday Spectacular," an all-new holiday show in four venues: December 2 at 8pm, and December 3 at 3:30pm and 8pm at San Francisco's Sydney Goldstein Theater; on December 11 at 7pm at Berkeley's Freight and Salvage; and on December 17 at 5pm at Rohnert Park's Green Music Center. And on December 24 at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm, the chorus will return to the Castro Theatre.

This will be the first time the Christmas shows will be led by Jacob Stensberg, the chorus' new Artistic Director and Conductor. Stensberg replaces longtime conductor Tim Seelig, who chose to retire. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Stensberg said that he was loving what he calls his dream job.

SF Gay Men's Chorus' new Artistic Director and Conductor Jacob Stensberg  

"In the first four months, San Francisco has made me feel more at home than anywhere else," Stensberg said. "I wake up full of gratitude every morning to be in this place, doing this work with these people at this time."

This year's presentation promises to be filled with showstoppers. According to Stensberg, there will be 234 singers appearing on stage. In addition to performing holiday favorites like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" there will be songs in a variety of languages such as Tagalog, Swedish and Hebrew. There will also be classical compositions, like "Sure On This Shining Night" by California composer Morten Lauridsen.

"The show entails everything our audiences have come to love about the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus," said Stensberg. "The chorus will deliver powerful moments of inspiration, joy, laughter, chills, and holiday warmth. If you've never been, it's not your traditional choir concert. The chorus puts on a production of dancing, singing, and costumes as well as serious, silly, new and classic music.

The chorus will sing some fun holiday classics, a little classical music, songs in four different languages, and even a little bit of Cher."

Sharing Cher
The show's Cher medley has its roots in an Abba medley that the chorus performed five years ago. Chorus members let Stensberg know that they loved doing this medley and wanted to do it again, but Stensberg felt that it would be best to homor another pop icon and come up with a fun new holiday parody.

"Cher felt like such an obvious choice," Stensberg said. "Do you believe in Santa Claus, echo Santa Claus, Santa Claus, Santa Claus. It writes itself!"

This year's show will also be the inaugural year of the Chorus' holiday composition competition that focuses on emerging composers. The winner will be offered a cash prize, an audio recording, a concert performance, and tickets to the show.

"This year's winner is Ryan Fielding Garrett, who composed a piece for us titled 'Snow'," said Stensberg. "Ryan's music is dramatic and theatrical. He uses the entire range of the voice and the piano keyboard, and he expresses the poetry so beautifully in the ways he plays with melody and harmony."

Return to the Castro
In addition to these shows, the chorus will return to the Castro Theatre on Christmas Eve for the first time in three years. The three concerts on December 24 will offer a more intimate version of their holiday show and will feature 125 singers on the Castro stage. As Stensberg tells it, the Christmas Eve shows came about 33 years ago, when it was far more common for some families to not want their gay, bi, trans or queer kids to attend family holiday gatherings.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 2021 holiday concert at the Sydney Goldstein Theater
(photo: Gooch)  

"The chorus, being the open and loving family that it is, decided to make a home for the community it loves so much," explained Stensberg. "We started performing at the Castro Theater on Christmas Eve so their chosen family —we call it logical, as opposed to biological family— had a place to celebrate themselves and each other."

The song list at the Castro will be similar to the song list at the earlier shows, though scaled back somewhat since there are three shows back-to-back. The chorus wants to give one audience time to leave the theater and time for the next audience to enter.

Stensberg hopes that whichever of the shows are attended that the audience comes away with a sense of being uplifted, with a sense of family.

"I hope the audience leaves feeling like they have permission to dream big for themselves," Stensberg said. "What we do onstage is so much more than singing. We hope to refill and refresh our audiences and send them out feeling empowered to be themselves, to love themselves, and to love others."

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