From Southern Baptist church boy to Queen City queer chorus director, Gerald Gurss’ life has been a continuous journey of vibrancy, innovation, energy and passion. This fall, Gurss takes the helm of the city’s One Voice Chorus, an LGBT-affirming ensemble of men and women of all ages.
Gurss, 30, recently moved to Charlotte from Emporia, Kan., where he grew up and attended college at Emporia State University. He also attended graduate school at the University of Miami, where he served as the assistant conductor of the Miami University Men’s Glee Club. He also served as an assistant and chorister to keyboardist-composer Howard Helvey’s chancel choir.
But it was in his Midwest hometown where Gurss would be first introduced to the world of music and choral performance. Ironically, it was the Southern Baptist church that would serve as the institution enabling the birth of the blossoming gay choral director.
Gurss said he was in middle school, attending a Baptist church when he and three other friends got the idea to emulate a Christian acapella vocal group. “We actually found some success — if you can really call it that — and did some recording,” Gurss told Q-Notes.
“I was never really good at sports although I tried,” he said. “Growing up my dad was the coach on some of my teams. Even in tee-ball, I couldn’t even hit the ball. I knew then I didn’t have any ability for sports.”
Gurss said while his family wasn’t always overly religious, the anti-gay doctrines of some faith communities did have an affect on him.
“My mom and dad got divorced when I was one,” he said. “My dad never really went to church, but my mom became a hardcore Southern Baptist. In the summers, I’d go to church with her and if I didn’t neighbors dragged me there. They felt like since I was with a single mother I didn’t have any guidance, I guess.”
His coming out experience came later in life, while in college, when he met another guy and became attracted to him.
“At the time I was dating this Baptist preacher’s daughter,” Gurss said. “It was kind of a do or die thing. I started dating him. About six months after dating him I didn’t like hiding the fact I was living with him. The two most important people to tell about me being gay were my mom and dad. As long as they knew it didn’t matter about anybody else.”
He told his father during a football game. “I kept encouraging him to have more beer. I told him then. He said, ‘I want you to know that I love you and God loves you.’”
His mother, Gurss said, was a little less receptive. “She was very much like, ‘It is a sin,’ but she’s come to accept it.”
Coming from a teaching job at a Catholic school, Gurss is finding his life in Charlotte is much different than that in Kansas.
“I taught two years, grades 4-12, at a Catholic school in an environment where I had to be extremely closeted,” he said. “I find that some of the people here are little bit wild. The aspects of what flavors whet their sexual palates seems to be a little spicier than where I’m from; they lean more toward the mild there.”
The young maestro hopes he can bring about good and meaningful growth to One Voice and that with change will come more opportunities to serve the community. One of his goals is to reach out to younger people in the LGBT community.
“There’s a lot of music out there that deals with losing lovers from AIDS…stories that are more focused on folks who have been in the community for longer. I’d like to bring in music to address a younger generation’s experiences — a generation that hasn’t dealt with the HIV/AIDS epidemic like others have.”
Gurss also said broadening the age range of the chorus can bring more perspective. “I value a lot of input and team work. I also think that bringing in a bit of younger members will bring balance to the choir. I think that every generation has specific bonds with people of their own generation. That’s why it is important to have a wide age range.”
He also said he’s excited about planning each year’s season and hopes to have multiple seasons planned years in advance. The most exciting, he said, will be the chorus’ 20 th anniversary during their 2009-2010 season.
“As an artist and as a person who wants to excel in my vocation, making something better is always the goal. You can’t let what you do become stagnant.”