I had wanted to hear the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus ever since I first joined the Salt Lake Men’s Choir in January of 2011. So when I discovered that their Christmas concert was to be performed the weekend we’d be in San Francisco, it was a no-brainer to plan to go. I’m so glad we did.
We’d had lunch in the Castro with Chris and Jason. Chris is from Utah and used to work at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake before moving to San Francisco. While at LDS, Mark (who was an ER physician there) had the privilege of mentoring Chris when he came out, and they’ve been close ever sense. We’ve made a point of seeing him, then him and Jason, ever since our first trip together to San Francisco in September 2011. After lunch, they accompanied us to the concert.
The message of the performance was, from start to finish, one of love, acceptance and inclusion. This is one of the reasons I love coming to San Francisco, where I feel as though I’m one of many, rather than one of a few and where differences are celebrated, rather than regarded with suspicion. Yet there was something more I felt during the concert: I felt the true spirit of Christmas – of love, of caring, of acceptance, shorn of the heavy trappings in which the holiday is often draped.
There were a number of very funny moments throughout the concert featuring dancers as well as ensembles of singers. One of the most hilarious was a song about fruitcake that was accompanied by dances and four posters of “fruits.” The fourth was a picture of Donald Trump. The audience erupted into laughter. Another number featured an elf who wanted to be a Rockette. Another featured a member of the choir in drag. (He turned out to be the man that Mark and I had already agreed was the cutest guy in the choir.)
There were also a number of tender moments during the concert, three of which in particular stood out for me. The first came during a moment of humor, when the director told the story of a narrative/musical set that paid tribute to mothers. “All of us,” he said, “have mothers who at SOME point in their lives were tender, who at SOME point in their lives were loving.” The audience laughed, as did I, but in my case the laughter was followed by a wave of emotion as I thought about my own mother, who had been anything but tender and loving to me as a child. The director’s comment made me reach out in love to my deceased mother who, I thought, surely at some point in her early life was tender and loving.
The next tender moments occurred as the chorus performed a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night,” in which the men sang not only with their voices, but also with their hands, signing the words in perfect unity as they sang. Then, when the carol was completed, the choir continued the sign language in silence. The only sound that could be heard was the occasional whoosh of hands being raised in the air, particularly for the phrase, “sleep in heavenly peace.” Other than this sound, one could have heard a pin drop in that theatre. It was so incredibly beautiful; tears rolled down my cheeks.
Another emotional moment occurred as the artistic director spoke to the audience of how the chorus’s first public appearance was four weeks after its founding when they sang at the candlelight vigil following Harvey Milk’s assassination. He then spoke of the decimation that the chorus experienced in the 80’s as AIDS ravaged its ranks. He talked about a 1992 San Francisco Chronicle article that included a picture of what the chorus would have looked like had they not replenished their numbers. Over 300 members had died. To give us, the audience, a sense of that time and space, the director asked one group of men after another to turn their backs to the audience, each man representing one who had died. By the time the director was finished, there were only six men left facing the audience. It was an incredibly poignant moment as the spirits of those 300, as well as thousands of others, temporarily pervaded the theater.
I felt privileged to be there.