When Jerry "J.R." Foust moved to the East Bay in May 2000, the handsome 29-year-old former assistant director of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus brought with him a long-nurtured vision of what a gay men's chorale might accomplish. On July 12 and 13, Foust will have the opportunity to share his vision, as the twelve founding members of Opus Q, the East Bay Men's Chorale, present their first concert.
Foust first became involved in the gay chorus movement ten years ago, when he was a college sophomore. His conducting teacher also served double duty as the founder and music director of the Indianapolis Men's Chorus. Drawn to join the chorus, Foust took part in one of its first public appearances, a Pride 1991 performance on the steps of Indianapolis' Monument Circle.
As a large group of Bible-toting protesters tried to drown out the Pride Celebration with chants and epithets, the chorus director said to the chorus. "We are controversial and political by who we are, not what we do. And today what we do is hopefully going to tear down walls of misunderstanding, fear, and hate." Inspired by these words, the chorus began singing the National Anthem. Protesters lowered their signs, stopped shouting that dykes and fags were going to hell, and instead saluted the flag. When the singing finished, the protesters gathered up their Bibles and signs and left in silence.
"My realization that music speaks a universal language and can be used to build bridges and tear down walls got me involved in the GALA Association of Gay and Lesbian Choruses," explains Foust. "After ten years of singing baritone in various GALA choruses, I wanted to bring this sense of inspiration and vision to a group of my own."
Foust wasted no time. After putting links to the www.opus-q.com Web site in every conceivable location, most of the Chorale's twelve initial members found him through the Internet. Members range from a recent college graduate to two men in their fifties.
It's no secret that concerts by nonprofessional choral ensembles often prove more involving to those onstage than to their audience. Aware that "most of the time, choral concerts are boring," Foust has assembled "a menu of repertoire that has something for everybody." The chorale's small size has also enabled Foust to do "some interesting things with staging," adding bits of audience-pleasing theater and visuals.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts, the Chorale's eclectic debut program will include a unison performance of Handel's "Art Thou Troubled"; a Copland songset featuring "At the River" and "I Bought Me a Cat"; a Bach Chorale with organ; incidental music from Bernstein's "The Lark"; and "For Brandon Teena," an original composition by Timothy Snyder.
"I think people will hear not only a lot of talent, but a lot of potential for our first full season next year. Besides, we're all good-looking, and our shirts and ties are absolutely fabulous."
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