Lonnie Green, a new member of One Voice Chorus, says that joining and singing has been a great experience for him. Green says that the chorus is a “very warm, friendly, cordial” environment for LGBT people as well as for people who have no musical experience. According to their website, “a sense of humor, a little patience, and a willingness to learn something new” are all you need to join; there are no auditions.
In spite of what might seem like lax requirements, this chorus is highly professional and after two decades of singing and service to the LGBT community, One Voice will celebrate its 20th anniversary this month. In anticipation, chorus members look back at what has changed since the birth of Charlotte’s first LGBT chorus.
“We can have two men or women on stage singing about loving each other,” explains Jeff Brown, board member and singer of One Voice. Brown says that at as an organization, it serves both on an individual level and on a community level. The group serves as a “touchpoint” particularly for new Charlotteans to integrate with the community. But, perhaps more importantly, the chorus provides a “safe place for people to gather” and “share their music,” Brown says.
Marketing volunteer and soprano member since 2002, Pam Young says that in addition to helping other community organizations by performing at their fundraising events, One Voice brings a “public face and voice” to the LGBT community. She says the group uses “the power of music to promote acceptance” for all people. Young believes, as other chorus members do, that by singing empowering songs, they have been a part of helping Charlotte’s LGBT community to come out.
Young points out that both the chorus and community have grown since One Voice was born. She says that when the chorus was started, some members would not even allow their last names to be listed on concert programs. In 1992, qnotes caused quite the stir when an editorial by then-associate editor Dan van Mourik encouraged One Voice leaders and members to “come out or get out.” Young says the chorus was founded by “courageous people” whose actions ultimately opened doors for more LGBT organizations to form, as well as helping the members of those groups to come out of the closet.
In a history-making moment of “outness,” One Voice Chorus performed the National Anthem at a Charlotte Checkers game in February, making it the first LGBT/ally chorus to sing the Anthem at the opening of a Charlotte sporting event. Seven-year member, singer and straight ally Liz Fitzgerald says the event was a good example of the chorus being a visible part of the entire Charlotte community, not just the LGBT community.
Fitzgerald believes that it’s important to recognize that we “share the community.” She feels pride that the chorus is part of the entire community, that it is mixed not only between men and women, but also between straight people and gay people. Fitzgerald feels that too often the LGBT community is unduly divided apart from straight people. For her, there’s one song in particular that speaks in a special way because it’s “the voice of the straight ally” who’s known and cared for friends who were gay.
That song is to be a feature of One Voice’s June 19 anniversary concert. An LGBT chorus favorite, it tells the tear-jerking story of fictitious Jonathan Wesley Oliver, Jr. The song was written by Tom Brown in 1988, one year after he learned he was HIV-positive, and four years before his death at the age of 34.
In 2008, Gerald Gurss was selected to be One Voice Chorus’ new artistic director. Former board member Ted Messner, who was key in selecting him, describes Gurss as a “genius” who has been “a creative shot in the arm.” According to Messner, the number of chorus members has doubled approximately from 20 to 40, because Gurss has such a positive attitude that people want to be around him.
Gurss describes the coming anniversary celebration as “musical meets choral concert.” There will be two acts, of sorts, in the concert, with nearly a dozen songs woven throughout. In the beginning of the concert, the singers will be characterized as high school students in the ‘90s. Then, in the second act, the class will return 20 years later for its high school reunion where they will reflect on what has happened since high school.
The concert will be a reunion in more than one way though. Jeff Brown says the chorus has “sent out the call” to all previous members. One Voice Chorus alumni are invited to come back for the celebration of the chorus’ 20th anniversary. Among others returning, Kathryn Mahan will be conducting, John Quillin will play cello, and Steav Bates-Congdon will accompany on piano.
Prestigious, award-winning composer Greg Gilpin has written a musical piece to the words of a poem by gay artist and activist Steven Reigns. Gilpin composed the piece specially for One Voice Chorus and it is to be debuted at the anniversary concert.
More information on the chorus and concert is available at onevoicechorus.com. : :