Boston Gay Men’s Chorus :: Ready For Their Close Up

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday December 11, 2012

This EDGE correspondent is a proud member of the Boston Gay Men's Chorus, a 31-year-old organization that exists, as do it fellow gay and lesbian choruses elsewhere in the United States and around the world, to "create a more tolerant society through the power of music."

But the BGMC, like any other arts organization, has faced these tough economic times with more than a touch of trepidation. Coupled with the ongoing challenge of remaining relevant in a rapidly-changing social climate that now accepts and celebrates GLBT people as never before, the economic constraints of the past four years have provided the Chorus a multi-level array of problems with which to grapple, not the least of which is putting on three full-scale concerts each season along with outreach efforts, often at area high schools.

The artistic bar is high and perpetually getting higher; the mission of GLBT visibility and awareness of our issues remains critical, especially for youth; and with so many other forms of culture and entertainment competing for audiences, Music Director Reuben M. Reynolds, Accompanist and arranger Chad Weirick, and Choreographer Michelle Chasse always seek to outdo themselves.

Add the group's new Executive Director, Craig Coogan, into the mix. Craig announced recently that the Chorus has, for the first time ever, purchased commercial advertising time on television. This is an expensive proposition, but by working with Comcast to acquire essentially orphaned spots of ad time, Coogan has been able to secure the ads on a budget.

"It's time for the BGMC to be known to a wider audience and the most efficient way to access that audience is by television," Coogan told EDGE at a recent tech rehearsal at Jordan Hall, as a group of Chorus members ran through a number titled "Boogie Woogie Chanukah."

"That's where the audience is. It's time for the BGMC to be known to a wider audience and the most efficient way to access that audience is by television," Coogan noted, going on to say that potential audience members don't rely on any one form of impression any longer, be it a poster, a post card, or what have you. Rather, to invite an audience to partake in the fun and musicianship the Chorus has to offer, multiple media and avenues of outreach are the order of the new, digitally-driven day.

The TV ads dovetail well with recent efforts to promote concerts through social media. Longtime singer and BGMC Board member Peter Crosby orchestrates occasional Facebook "flash mobs," and made videos of Chorus members sharing their stories for an "It Gets Better" project two years ago.

Indeed, the Chorus has taken another novel step this Yuletide season in creating a short film for release on YouTube (and sharing on Facebook). The two-and-a-half minute black and white film is presented as a silent movie and ties into the Holiday Concert's skit, in which a group of monks "sing" the Alleluia Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" by flashing placards.

At this point, journalistic ethics demand that I reveal my own participation in the short film. I play "Brother Buster," a cineaste monk who is conscripted to direct a short film for the brothers of the Sissytine Chapel in order to raise money for roof repairs. (What other role would a film critic play?)

The experience of making a film, even a short film, is far different from the illusion projected by the end result. A video of less than three minutes' running time required two full rehearsals, totaling six hours of filming, not to mention countless hours of editing. Behind the camera, and at the laptop to assemble the footage, was professional filmmaker Michael Cox, a new but already invaluable member of the BGMC. Longtime member Tom Choinski, who for years has been the creative force behind the group's skits, wrote the script and co-edited the production.

Cox has made a number of documentaries, and worked as a producer on the TV series "Everwood." The chorus was only too glad to have his talents on hand when Choinski hatched the idea of creating a short film to promote the Holiday Concert.

"Tom Choinski came up and said that he was planning to do this skit," Cox related, "and to promote it he wanted to do a short silent film. I said, 'What's your plan?' He said, 'I'm just going to shoot it on my iPhone.' I said, 'Do you want it to be better?' "

As it happened, Cox had the goods ready to demonstrate his ability and familiarity with the silent film genre: He starred in a 20-minute silent short titled "The Salesman," in which he portrays a character very much like silent era giant Buster Keaton.

"I sent him a link to 'The Salesman,' " Cox recalled, "and he said, 'Yeah, I'd love to use your talents.' "

Being one of the amateurs Cox directed for the film. I was amazed at his patience and his way of working with the cast to get performances that would work for the camera.

"It's not at all a challenge," Cox reckoned. "I've taught acting before, and I worked with amateurs a lot."

In addition to directing, Cox came up with a dance sequence.

"I would not say that dance is one of my fortes," he reflected. However, "I thought, what would Buster Keaton do? He would use the camera to bring something funny and interesting to this placard gag; he'd make it visually alive and exciting." To that end, Cox worked out a variety of kinetic sight gags, including a scene in which a number of placards are seemingly flung from one character to another at a rapid clip, spelling out "HALLELUJAH" in time with the soundtrack.

The silent film "is a teaser for what you'll see in the concert -- it's a cliffhanger," Cox noted. "It's got a catchy tune, it's got ridiculous behavior that people look at and laugh. What make silent films work so well is they cross the border between high and low comedy; they work for all classes of people. That's also what makes for viral videos: They have something for everyone."

So does the Holiday Concert. Titled "Hallelujah!," the program boasts not only Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," but also Leonard Cohen's iconic "Hallelujah," a Native American Indian "Solstice" chant, and Stephen Schwartz's "The Chanukah Song."

Also on the program are soulfully delivered rockabilly-infused selections that include Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" and Irving Taylor's "The Man with the Bag," as well as new renditions of old favorites like "Silver Bells" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" -- to say nothing of the gorgeous contemporary Gregorian Chant that is Ola Gjello's "Ubi Caritas" and the roof-raising Gospel fire of "Children Go Where I Send Thee."

There's also a guaranteed show-stopper in the world premiere of Michael E. Dansicker's up-to-the-minute comedy number, "There's No Mrs. Santa Claus." (I won't spoil the song's plot, but from the title and general context I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.)

"The BGMC is one of the cultural icons of the city of Boston," Coogan noted. "Sharing our story consistently through television, internet, social media and on the stage is one way that we fulfill our mission of creating a more tolerant society through the power of music.

"The short film is a terrific example of so many talented members of the chorus coming together and creating a collaborative work," Coogan added. "Putting it out through a variety of distribution channels -- YouTube and Facebook -- [has] certainly driven traffic. And we've sold out for Sunday!"

But fear not: Tickets are still available for the remaining three performances of the Holiday Concert, which will take place on Friday, Dec. 14; Saturday, Dec. 15; and Monday, Dec. 17, all at 8:00 p.m. and all at Boston's Jordan Hall. Tickets and more information are available at the BGMC website.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.